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Leveraging the Energy of Genders: Betty Ann Heggie Newsletter
June 9, 2010
Can a Woman Think Like a Man?

It’s an age-old question -- why can’t a woman think like a man?
 
Sometimes a woman can think like a man. I’ve seen it in real life. But the truth is men and women have some basic underlying differences. 
 
These are partly due to socialization but the real story is in our biology and in our brain.

The brain contains two types of tissue -- gray matter and white matter. The gray matter is for processing tasks, such as mathematics, while the white matter focuses on assimilating information and handling language. Research shows men rely more on their gray matter for thinking and while women use white matter for processing thoughts. 
 
It explains why men tend to compartmentalize and divide information into categories. Women, on the other hand, are more inclined to integrate the information that comes to them. 

 

In their groundbreaking book “Brain Sex,” authors Moir and Jessel argue the differences between men and women are apparent right from the cradle. Two-to-four-day old girl babies spend twice as time making eye contact with a silent adult than boy babies do. Boy babies thrust their little arms and legs in the air, showing a natural masculine energy and the desire for action.

As the months go by, the boys are keen to explore their small world, striving for masculine independence. Meanwhile, girls cry more for their mothers displaying the feminine desire for connection. In pre-school, girls prefer quieter, more sedentary games. The play structures they build (if they build them) are long and low. The boys, on the other hand, build for as much height possible. 
 
Little girls treat newcomers to the playgroup with curiosity and interest – their little feminine energies focused on building relationships. The boys treat newcomers with indifference. 
 
It’s my view, that as they journey through life and career, women are better off playing to their strengths, rather than trying to think like a man. 
 
In her best-selling book “The Female Brain”, Harvard neurobiologist Louann Brizendine, breaks it down this way. Women, she says, have more brain circuits for communication, reading emotions and nurturing.
 
The ability to communicate effectively builds trust and trust builds your organization. Those superior communication skills are one of the natural born strengths of women – and a mainstay of successful women. 
 
When I first entered business more than 30 years ago, talking about emotions was perceived as a weakness. But our understanding of emotional intelligence has grown and the ability to read emotions is seen as a competitive advantage. In fact, we now know that managing our own feelings and those of others is just as important as traditional cognitive intelligence. So we have another valuable attribute in our arsenal.

Nurturing skills is about doing for others, which is the basis of service. Women are service-oriented and it’s another bred-in-the-bone value we can bring to the table. 

When I started working at PotashCorp plenty of guys wondered what a woman was doing in the traditionally male worlds of mining and fertilizer. But my customer service skills won over the skeptics. In my investor relations role I listened to shareholders, made sure their views were presented to management and the board and found ways to deliver the information that they required. Service was the driving force behind my business success. 

Alas, we are human and there are many shades of gray when comes to gender behavior. 

Even though men and women have obvious biological gender differences, University of Iowa researchers used a questionnaire to assess a person’s masculinity and femininity found we also have a ‘psychological gender’ – a kind of personal gender profile based on strengths, abilities and preferences. 

It confirms my experiences and theory of gender behavior. 

We may be programmed to be a certain way but we can develop our opposite energies. If we take the best parts of our masculine and feminine energy we become critical thinkers with the capacity for maximum creativity. We’d be able to work independently when the situation calls for it, but be equally comfortable working in a group. We would have the ability to focus strategically on the task but would have empathy for the people affected. Most importantly, we’d know when to drive forward and when balance that with the necessary downtime to rejuvenate. 

Who knows whether these good Gender Physics are a product of nature or nurture but we do know that they can provide greater personal fulfillment and professional achievement.

Betty Ann Heggie
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