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Gender Intelligence: The Next Step in Inclusion

By Melissa J. Anderson

How can companies better galvanize support for building inclusive cultures? According to proponents of Gender Intelligence, one way is to focus on the differences between men and women, rather than the similarities.

John Hart, Founder and CEO of the Impact Center, explained, “For me, as a man coming into this, the unique nature of gender intelligence speaks to the next challenge… to make sure men are included in the conversation. For me it came down to the data.”

He explained that research on Gender Intelligence showed him the importance of including multiple diverse points of view in the workplace. “We believe the true sustainability of the conversation going forward will be in collaboration with one another.”

Hart was speaking at the first ever Gender Intelligence Summit, held in Washington, DC, on Friday. The conference featured preeminent scientists on the neurobiological differences between male and female brains, as well expert diversity practitioners on how companies can take advantage of these differences to build more inclusive and productive workplaces.

As Barbara Annis, Founder and CEO of Barbara Annis & Associates and Chair of the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said, “The business case is compelling. You can’t deny it anymore.”

Why Gender Intelligence Matters

For years, many people have focused too much on the similarities between men and women, and hoped that by throwing them together in the workplace, differences would be worked out on their own. Gender Intelligence encourages workplaces to focus on and value the differences.

For example, Hart said, while 54% of men think both genders have an equal chance to advance up the corporate ladder, only 25% of women feel the same. Rather than focusing on just the women in the equation, Hart said companies should work on figuring out why the genders feel differently on this issue and communicate it in a way that does not place blame on one gender or the other.

When everyone recognizes the differences in how men and women experience work, and the unique values both genders bring to business, the result should be a more organic, productive inclusion, rather than something that feels forced or mechanical.

For example, Dr. Ruben Gur, Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry and Director of the Brain Behavior Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania explained that women are, in general, much better at moderating and perceiving emotion than men – while men are generally better at spatial reasoning and motor skills. None of these skills should be discounted, or considered more valuable than the others. Rather than being in competition, teams should work to cultivate diverse skill sets that ultimately make them perform better.

Gender Intelligence in Practice

Jennifer Allyn, Managing Director in the Office of Diversity at PwC, explained that bringing the scientific Gender Intelligence piece into the diversity conversation helped build a more inclusive culture at the firm.

“What was interesting for me, when I brought the science in, for men, the socially constructed arguments were less compelling,” she explained. Just because it was “the right thing to do,” she said, men weren’t buying the value of diversity.

The reason, she suggested, was that men felt that since gender differences were constructed socially, then it shouldn’t be hard for women to change their behavior and fit into the workplace better. “It’s very had for successful people to value difference,” she explained. When the firm’s men learned the biological aspects of the issue, they figured out that diversity isn’t a matter of changing one type of person, but appreciating that person’s differences.

Allyn continued, “We learned in the 80s that women don’t do such great impersonations of men. You have to be yourself. You have to be authentic.”

At the same time, she said, focusing too strongly on the basics of Gender Intelligence runs the risk of stereotyping. Any biological and behavioral expectations around the way men and women work should be tempered with the understanding that individuals can display a range of characteristics.

“The danger is you fall into stereotypes as soon as you make generalizations about millions of people,” she explained. The meaningful use of Gender Intelligence means understanding the generalizations, while valuing the individual.

As Marie Wilson, Founder of The White House Project commented, “Wiring doesn’t mean everything, but it means a lot.”

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