This morning I saw Theresa May, the British prime minister, on television discussing the recent terror attacks on her country. Prior to her, Margaret Thatcher (the Iron Lady) held forth as the country’s leader all during the eighties. Angela Merkel is the highly regarded prime minister of Germany; Canada has a female Prime Minister; and we recently came within a hair’s breadth of electing a woman President. Nevertheless, at last count there were women heading 9.1% of countries worldwide and 4.6% of fortune 500 companies with female CEOs.
In my last blog, I discussed the significant progress women have made towards gaining equality and respect, but these numbers tend to confirm that they have a great distance to travel. The evidence presented also points to major differences between women and men both in the way they think and the way they relate to others. I reported on research which demonstrates that some of these differences are evident at birth. My interest in this subject originated from the random speculation on what the world would be like were it operated by women, which of course raises the question as to the effect these female qualities would have on their ability to lead.
TELL ME IT ISN’T TRUE
My daughter, Maggie, thinks that men lead by controlling while women seek to find consensus. There can be little doubt that women are more nurturing than men, and studies I mentioned in a previous blog confirm that they are also more empathic and observant of others’ communications. By contrast, she feels men are not as open to suggestion, are dogmatic, less tolerant, and less patient. You may be thinking “Oh sure, just another man hater,” yet a study of 7,280 leaders published in the Harvard Business Review shows women scoring higher than men on 12 out of 16 competencies thought necessary for good leadership. More surprising was the fact that the gap was even wider between men and women in upper levels of management.
ITS NOT MANLY TO ASK FOR DIRECTIONS
This latter factor could be explained by results contained in the same study indicating that women continue to consult with others as they reach a higher status, while men do not seek other opinions as they climb the corporate ladder. Perhaps men are more likely to become satisfied with their accomplishments as they reach the top of the corporate chart; consequently, they don’t feel the need to look for input, new ideas, etc. Or it may be that as men reach the top of their game they don’t like to admit they need help, whereas women are probably less likely to see inclusiveness as a sign of weakness or incompetence.
YAK, YAK, YAK
We guys know that on average women are more talkative than men, and that most women seem to hunger for conversation. It makes sense that with all that practice they should be better listeners. In a prior issue, I quoted a study indicating that females are more attentive and interested in both verbal and non-verbal cues, even at birth, so little wonder that in this study they were found to “communicate powerfully and prolifically.” As one would expect, women scored well above men in the “nurturing competencies,” i.e. building relationships or helping and inspiring others. What was surprising is that they also beat out their male counterparts on categories traditionally ascribed to men. For example: the largest disparity was with the competency “takes initiative,” which seems to negate the idea that women are too meek and passive to lead. We men can take heart that we were victorious in the category “develops strategic perspective.” Even so, I suppose those women’s libbers would say this means we guys can’t see the forest for the trees.
MITE MAKES RIGHT
Men have evolved to have superior upper body strength, which adapted them to be hunters and warriors. This has also made men uniquely qualified for many jobs in the industrial age. Women, on the other hand, are less physically powerful but posess superior manual dexterity, adapting them for infant care, food preparation and making clothes. Now, society is on pace to virtually eliminate the need for physical strength as robotics take over the jobs which required muscle. Conversely, most jobs, if there are any, will involve pushing buttons and fine tuning instruments. Even the warriors of the world will be out of work, for all the strength needed to fight a war will be the ability to look at a screen and push buttons. In that regard, women’s fingers are known to be more facile than men’s.
NEVER FEAR, WE CAN DO JANITORIAL WORK
If the foregoing assessments are correct, male employment prospects may soon be in jeopardy. In order for women to take over the world, they would also need to take the lead in politics. In addition to the aforementioned qualities needed for leadership, effectiveness in government requires consensus building, another talent in which women are said to excel. It has not been so many years ago that the thought of a female president of the United States would have been laughable, so lookout guys—they are gaining on us! All those strategies which we have used so effectively in the past to keep them in their place are not likely to be effective much longer.
NOT FIGHT FOR OUR COUNTRY?
In the event that it comes to pass that women are able to make use of their advantages in a digital world and become the top dogs, would the world be different and, if so, in what way? In pursuit of the answer to that question, I queried my favorite expert on the subject of women. Barb replied without hesitation that there would be no more wars. If that is true then she has answered the question of how to eliminate the most horrible activity of man—an answer that has been right under our noses for thousands of years. That idea seemed overly optimistic to me, but the idea certainly was appealing. Imagine a world without defense budgets and the ability to use resources to benefit people rather than to kill them. Of course there would be a down side in that the military industrial complex would no longer be needed, and that could cause some economic problems. Unfortunately, we cannot be sure that all women share Barb’s anti-war sentiments. After all, there was Joan of Arc, and women in the military continue to lobby for more involvement in combat roles; although, in general, men seem attuned to the so-called glory of war while women focus on its horror. Thus, it is reasonable to expect women to look for other means of problem solving.
COULDN’T SOLVE THIS ONE BY BEING NICE
If women should achieve the highly unlikely status of leaders in those countries famous for the most barbaric treatment of women, would they see fit to stop those practices, even though their religious leaders and judicial systems condone and even encourage such practices? Would rape victims be punished while their assailants go free? Would so-called honor killings continue to go unpunished? Would there be any serious consequences for those men who carry out genital mutilations in order to guarantee chastity? In many cultures, women are denied the most basic freedoms and are virtually imprisoned. Would women in leadership roles be prone to accept many of these practices as appropriate since they had been firmly ingrained in their culture for hundreds of years?
THEY ARE NOT PERFECT EITHER
The premise that power corrupts was accepted as gospel by our founding fathers, who took pains to see that nobody had too much of it. Since one of the highest scores for women in the Harvard study was “Displays High Integrity and Honesty,” one would expect women not to be as susceptible to such corruption, yet there is one example of such a happening. Indira Gandhi was the first female Prime Minister of India. She was much admired all over the world for the policies she had initiated to help achieve equality for a people who had been victims of a caste system throughout their history. She initiated many reforms including equal pay for women, which was indeed a revolutionary concept in those days. However her legacy was tainted by an about face in her style of governance when faced with an economic crisis. She became authoritarian, jailing her political opponents, limited freedom of the press, and was eventually convicted of “dishonest election practices.” I find it interesting that she was quoted as saying: “To be liberated, woman must feel free to be herself, not in rivalry to man but in the context of her own capacity and her personality.” It sounds as if she was on the right track, but slid off the rails.
Can we take from this example that women would exhibit the same flaws as men when it comes to governance, or would they function differently in a world dominated by women, where rules from a male dominated world no longer apply? Research cited in Psychology Today confirms that “men are more oriented toward impersonal or invidualistic goals, and women are more oriented toward social integration,” a result consistent with Baron-Cohen’s studies (see Part II of this series). In other words, men tend to gloat over a victory while women feel sorry for the loser.
“WINNING IS NOT THE THING, IT IS THE ONLY THING?”
Revered football coach Vince Lombardi also said “No leader, however great, can long continue unless he wins battles. The battle decides all.” For women, the most satisfying resolution to conflict would be that negotiations result in a happy outcome for all; most would probably prefer to avoid the battle. This does not mean that women are not competitive, far from that, but “happy ever after” is still their favorite ending. We men also have that problem with testosterone, which stimulates aggressiveness, a need to dominate, and may affect our judgement in some cases. Vince said one can’t lead unless he or she wins battles, but women would rather discuss the matter over tea.
Conflict has undoubtedly caused more pain and suffering throughout the ages than all other factors together. Politically, this has not changed since Cain and Abel. Nations in particular respond to an attack, real or imagined, “proportionally,” which is not much different from the way children react i.e. if you hit me, I will hit you back, and the excuse is always: “He started it.” Conflict usually results when one entity feels it is under assault of its person, possessions, beliefs, or integrity.
Early in my career (before the days of the 15 minute session), I was very involved in attempts at conflict resolution due to a special interest in family and couples therapy. We were able to categorize conflicts based on the methods the participants used to deal with alleged assaults by another person. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the most malignant and destructive relationships were the result of an attack-attack system: a perceived attack, physical or verbal, is reciprocated by an attack of equal or more intensity. As you might expect, in such situations the level of anger escalates, and violence may ensue even though the basic disagreement(s) may be trivial, which is further evidence that “violence begets violence.”
That term was first published in this country nearly 200 years ago in an editorial in the New York Times. There are biblical references to that same truth, but we continue to ignore it. Our leaders continue to seek military solutions to the world’s problems. They give lip service to negotiations but refuse to talk to their enemies, while millions are homeless, starving, and face death or worse. My research in writing these essays has convinced me that in situations where women leaders come in conflict with each other, a non-violent resolution is more likely to occur, and winning will be defined by the degree of satisfaction felt on both sides rather than by a body count.
WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED?
Recently, in the midst of all these ruminations, I happened on to an interview of our ex-president. Mr. Obama admitted, in front of God and everyone, to being an avowed feminist. He even went on to say that he thought women would do a better job than men at running things. It is not clear to me the gender of his audience; however, I see no advantage for him by currying favor with any group since he doesn’t need their votes anymore. Although I am in basic agreement with his conclusions, I must confess to some reservations about a total transfer of power.
LITTLE WONDER THEY ARE PISSED
Feminists say their cause is equality, yet many of their leaders show signs of animosity towards men, perhaps aggravated by their prior experiences. Maggie recently allowed me to read an article she wrote about some of her experiences in the workforce. I was shocked to hear about the insults and unwanted physical contacts she had experienced. Although she had previously made casual mention of some of these experiences, I had no idea that she had actually been assaulted, which is probably just as well, otherwise she might have spent her free time visiting her old man in the slammer. There was probably also an element of my excusing much of those behaviors as only a little good-natured teasing as we men are wont to do. It is to their credit that women in “the movement” are educating us guys as to the hurtfulness of some of these behaviors. Laws designed to protect women from discrimination and exploitation have also led many organizations to initiate more stringent rules against such behaviors. In spite of all these attempts at protection, discrimination persists, as evidenced by such obvious things as unequal pay and opportunities for promotion.
While contemplating this vast change in the gender hierarchy, a number of questions come to mind. If women were to become leaders, would they be immune to the corrupting influence of power? Would their attitude towards men be conciliatory, or would they reverse roles and become the discriminator? Would they be inclusive, and allow boys in their sandbox? Would their means of problem solving be more effective? Would they be concerned about environmental issues? To what extent would they become peace mongers? Would they be staunch defenders of liberty or would they be too wishy-washy?
As is usually the case, when performing these kinds of mental gymnastics, of which I am fond, the quest for an answer only results in more unanswerable questions. I did conclude that when men and women are working together, it is best they leave their hormones at the door. In such an environment, they are most likely to reach a common goal by combining their unique talents and thereby gain in respect for each other. We could use a lot of that.