Why do companies with women on their boards get better financial results and have higher stock prices? A recent New York Times opinion suggests it is because women make better decisions under stress. There are both masculine and feminine approaches to making decisions. When there is gender diversity in a group, it is more likely that there will be both kinds of decision process. It is the balance of these approaches to making decisions that explain better outcomes. Having women on boards enables this balance.
The adage is that two heads are better than one. Collaborating with my colleague to write a proposal reminded me of this. The research shows how and why diverse groups make better decisions, get better outcomes and create more innovation than homogeneous groups. Working with someone who thinks differently than I is harder than working alone or with someone who always agrees with me. But it is worth it!
At Halloween we enjoy putting on costumes and masks. At work, we sometimes assume roles. Doing so can have two opposite effects. It can undermine engagement — or promote effectiveness. The natural tendency to adapt in order to “fit in” can undermine engagement if we do it unconsciously and lose authenticity. But we can consciously shift our approach (e.g., from feminine to masculine) in order to be more effective Shifting in the latter way is no more inauthentic than speaking a foreign language in order to be understood,.
The prototypical masculine world view and feminine world view are different. The masculine sees things hierarchically. The feminine sees things in terms of relationships. One “driver” of differences in behavior is the differences in thinking. The male brain is wired for focus and linear thinking. The female brain is wired to gather and synthesize.The reason better decisions come from gender-diverse groups is because of the balance of these two ways of thinking. We need both!
Leigh Buchanan’s article talks about a new book by John Gerzema, “Between Venus and Mars.” I see many parallels. Both our work and Gerzema’s are based upon the importance of employee engagement to productivity and profitability. We both see that women have typically conformed to masculine workplace values and styles. Most important, we agree that the workplace needs both masculine and feminine styles of leadership and that the best leaders combine strengths of both. We agree that the best decisions result from having both masculine and feminine thinkers involved and find value in both masculine and feminine forms of communication. We need more women in leadership because a balance of men and women means we are more likely to have a balance of masculine and feminine strengths. And that leads to better business results.
If feminine ways of making decisions are “Fran,” and the masculine approach to decision-making is “Max,” we are all “Frax.” We are “Frax-wise” when we can use and appreciate both approaches. In the area of decision-making, Max’s approach (the masculine)) is to focus on the goal and approach it in a logical, linear and efficient way. Fran focuses also on the process, gathers ideas, involves others and synthesizes input. Both ways are valuable in different circumstances. Frax-wise people know when to use which; they appreciate someone whose approach is different from their own and know the value of having both on a team. Frax-wise leaders know this difference can create obstacles and work to lower those obstacles.