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While men and women aren’t hard wired to be forever either masculine or feminine, the definitions of “masculine” and “feminine” have deep roots in nature and nurture. Remember, I am talking about two prototypes, Max and Fran, not you or me; I am not stereotyping men and women. In this third post on this topic, I will talk about hormones. In future blogs I will give you some tidbits on eyesight, tear mechanisms and other physiological differences between men and women.

In Part 1 of this series, I referred to hormonal events that shape the male vs. female brain. According to neuroscientists, at around 10 weeks some fetuses (generally male fetuses) are subjected to a “bath” of testosterone. This actually signals parts of the brain to grow and other parts to slow their growth. Then in infantile puberty, some babies (generally girl babies) get an extended surge of estrogen, which influences the structure of the “female brain.” Some experts say that these hormonal events affect the differentiation (or lateralization or specialization) of the hemispheres of our brains and determine whether the brain becomes “male” or “female.” These differences may actually explain some differences in how our prototypes Max and Fran operate in the workplace.

Hormones obviously continue to influence Max and Fran far beyond infancy. Max has ten times more testosterone than Fran, making him more aggressive and competitive and giving him a greater sex drive. His hormones are behind his “fight or flight” response to stress. Fran has more estrogen and more of a bonding hormone called oxytocin.

While Max gets a surge of oxytocin primarily from lovemaking, Fran’s body also produces it when she nurses her baby and shares intimate talk with her girlfriends. Oxytocin gives her an alternative to the fight or flight response to stress, often referred to as the “tend and befriend” response. Rather than run or fight (which could be terminal strategies for her), she may reach out to others to find strengths in numbers. The difference in Fran’s and Max’s hormonal responses to stress is said to be the greatest difference between the genders other than our reproductive organs.

The hormones testosterone and oxytocin may drive differences in how Max and Fran value relationships, what they expect from relationships at work, how they manage conflict and even how they talk! In my upcoming book and in a future series, we’ll explore these workplace differences.

Do you observe differences in how men and women, in general, handle stress? Where have you seen this in your workplace?