Women vs. men: Who’s better at business?

By Matthew Kirdahy, Forbes.com
June 5, 2008
Gender science tells us that women are more likely than men to remember they even read this story.

In Leadership and the Sexes: Using Gender Science to Create Success in Business, Michael Gurian and Barbara Annis offer decades of experience so we can decide who is better at what in the business world.

But it turns out that it’s not a question of better, just different.

“I think what we’ve been able to prove over the last 20 years is that there is not superiority or inferiority,” said co-author Gurian, who also wrote the best-selling The Wonder of Boys.

Leadership and the Sexes, published by Jossey-Bass, combines Gurian’s use of brain science in gender studies and Annis’ years of experience consulting top international companies on gender concerns. Annis adds real-life examples of what’s happening in business leadership.

Forget about individuals for a second, and observe everyone just as male or female on the job.

According to the book, due out in August, men are more apt to zone out in a meeting since their brains are designed to enter a “rest state” more easily than women. In that same meeting, women may run off topic before returning to the task at hand because they’re born multi-taskers.

Gurian talked to Forbes.com about how the book digs deeper into these differences and offers tips on improving communication, negotiations and leadership in the workplace based on the gender balance.

Forbes.com: Other than just years of practical experience, what type of research needs to be done to write a book on this sensitive subject matter?

Gurian: I’ve been in a number of corporations. That’s relatively anecdotal. [Barbara Annis] has done formal diagnostics and her corporation (Barbara Annis & Assoc.) has done over 2,000 workshops at corporations.

The brain science of the book is obviously the bedrock, and that’s my 20 years of that. Then my personal, anecdotal and then the book research, the scholarly research on what’s already out there. There are other reports already out there–women in leadership books, authentic leadership books–there’s a lot out there to see if I could match it with gender.

Then Barbara Annis’ workshops and all the anecdotal research she’s brought in … What I did is I basically wrote a book that brought together everything I could find that showed when you use brain-differences information, here’s the positive effect on people and on corporations.

What do you mean when you say that this gender science is a bottom-line issue?

There are two ways in which I’ve seen this happen. One thing, if you look at the endorsement blurb for Brooks Sports–I was working with them, and they saw immediately that when the folks learned about the brand differences, the workplace comfort increased, the power of that workplace increased. They understood, as leaders, how to help their sales teams. Help men market to women and women market to men. That’s an example of where it started with the HR level and the CEO level and trickled through.

Another example: Barbara and her corporation and others went into Deloitte & Touche about 10 years ago [to teach] the brain differences … the differences between males and females. In that case, their bottom line was affected by retention. They retained talent. [We] give that example in there of the $109 million that they claim they’re saving by retaining these people, especially women …

A third way to look at it is in the IBM way. They are a sort of a combination of both. They develop mentoring systems. They taught people male-female brain difference. And they made changes in both. They increased the diversity in their small business and market ability so they sold more products. They also retained more people.

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