This is not another article on feminism, women’s rights or the famous gender equality advocacy cliché. This is an article based on scientific research that forms the basis of differences between men and women, and what implications these biological differences will have at home, in schools and at the workplace. In essence, this discussion is on how individuals, both men and women, can make the best of gender differences to ensure that at the end of the day their relationships are improved, students receive the needed gender-based attention, and employees work at optimum levels to meet targets and increase profitability.
In their book ‘Leadership and the Sexes’, Prof. Barbara Annis and her colleagues revealed scientific truths about how men and women can lead and work effectively in the workplace to ensure productivity. Too often, men are chosen over women in leadership; and although this is based on deeply-rooted cultural beliefs and orientation at home, it always seems to find its way into the schools and workplaces. Thanks to their work on using gender science and gender intelligence, organisations have the opportunity to enjoy the full benefits of their employees – whether men or women.
After engaging with such insightful truths about the science of gender, I wondered if the discussion on gender intelligence had made its way into the Ghanaian education and corporate context. Are our teachers aware that boys and girls learn differently? Are head teachers and other managers privy to our varied qualities and abilities as men and women? Both sexes are intelligent, but as the authors put it: they are ‘differently intelligent’. The task therefore falls on the leaders of organisations to obtain a clear understanding of ‘how men and women work’, in order to make effective use of their varied skills and abilities.
Male brain, female brain
According to research, individuals can fall in different ranges of what is called the gender spectrum, indicating your maleness or femaleness. This implies that a person may be at any point of this spectrum irrespective of their sex. This explains why some people exhibit masculine qualities although they may be female and vice versa. The brain is wired to elicit certain responses to stimuli; however, the responses are determined by the individual’s brain orientation on the gender spectrum.
There is also the issue of women who do not follow the female stereotypes; they don’t like shopping, or dressing-up, or cooking. Rather, you will find such females being aggressive, enjoying sports – or perhaps having a strong desire to always lead. In our society, such females are sarcastically called names such as Ama Tarzan, Akua Hercules, etc. Some males may also not conform to the society’s stereotypes and will enjoy cooking, chatting or even having nurturing qualities. Society has a very important role to play in ensuring that people exhibit society-specific acceptable behaviour
My argument is simple: parents and teachers need to become more involved in creating the right stereotypes and role conceptualisation for the sexes. The kind of environment we create for our children directly impacts on their perception of gender.
It’s all in the hormones…
Ever wondered why most females appear more nurturing than most males, or why men always seem to need some ‘action’ going on all the time? How about the different styles of leadership adopted by men and women, with men being more task-oriented and women being relationship-oriented most of the time? There’s a scientific explanation for these differences: hormones. Women appear more concerned with the person to perform the task while men will concentrate on the task and not the person. Research shows that in organisations, leadership of women works best in times of organisational change and when rolling-out new products and ideas.
Men, who may also appear aggressive and uncaring or insensitive, have their hormones to blame. This knowledge, for example, is vital for every manager to appropriately delegate responsibilities at the workplace. Women are better at certain tasks than men, so do not push them to the background; rather, leverage on their strengths.
It takes two to tango
Gender is meant to be complementary; men need women and women need men. There is no need to look for the more important or significant gender. This is usually the error most people commit; they focus on male leadership as the best and only appropriate leadership. Evidence from various sectors of the economy, especially in education and health, show that women are also very capable of exceptional leadership success.
In the corporate world, women are usually detail-oriented and will remember far more than men during negotiations. Having women at the negotiation table will improve an organisation’s chances of winning. Men, on the other hand, are usually effective in ensuring the achievement of tasks in good time once the role becomes routine. So, men and women are needed at the workplace, and should be made to feel important at every stage in business.
Become gender-sensitive …
The sexes have a collaborative role to play in maintaining balance within our society. Managers must re-engineer workplace culture and systems to become more gender-sensitive. Be aware of the nature of women, who may not be as vocal or boisterous as the men. Be aware of their skills and encourage them to put themselves out there. Let them know they can get that new management opening if they apply and work hard for it.
Be ready to mentor both men and women in effective leadership skills and how to overcome the negative effects of their maleness or femaleness. As a leader, be willing to make the necessary adjustments to work schedules as women’s family situations change. This will give them the necessary support to continue being effective even after child-bearing.
Most women are frustrated out of their jobs due to inflexible, insensitive, working conditions for their changing lives. Encourage men also to maintain good work-life balance, so they can be supportive to their families at home. Assist both men and women with good communication and negotiation skills and career advice. If you are a woman leader, it is a good idea to have a male assistant; and if you are a male leader, you are better off with a female assistant. The opposite gender will help augment your own weaknesses as a male or female while relying on and harnessing the strengths of your assistant.
There is no need to fight for equality of gender, there is little society will have to offer. Rather, let us look at issues more objectively. Let the situation at hand determine who will be in charge. Carefully study the task to be done so as to determine the leadership needed. That way, everyone will be willing to support both men and women leaders, which results in successful organisations.
The author is the Coordinator of the Quality Assurance Directorate at Ghana Technology University College, and an Educational Leadership and Management Researcher at University of Ghana, Legon. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org