On a recent cross-country flight, I found myself sitting next to an executive of a large company—if I mentioned their name, you’d realize that you probably have their products in your home.
As we chatted through the normal "so what do you do for a living?" conversation, this man (let’s call him Tom) asked my opinion on how people are different in the workplace. The question could have been answered a thousand different ways, so I offered a brief and fairly generic response.
But as often is the case, the reason for his question was simply to set the stage for him to offer his own opinion. "I think," Tom said, "that the biggest differences in the workplace are between males and females. Men make logical decisions; women make emotional ones."
I wanted to tap my ears to make sure I was hearing this guy correctly. Instead, I swallowed hard and blinked my eyes a few times while I tried not to let my body language speak my true reaction. I collected my thoughts before responding.
Ignoring his erroneous conclusion, I chose a more tactful approach. "You know, men and women are different," I said. "One thing that women sometimes get upset about is the term ‘female intuition,’ but they should take it as a compliment."
Tom seemed interested, so I continued. "In the uterus, a male baby’s body creates androgen which washes over the brain. One of the results of the androgen wash is that about 20% of the electrical connections between the two hemispheres are permanently burned. Consequently, women have about 20% more connections between the two sides of their brain than do men, and they can process information much faster."
"Bottom line," I said, "men tend to think things through more logically, but it usually takes longer. Women typically reach conclusions intuitively and quickly, but they can’t always explain how they reached their decisions."
"I’ve never heard that before," said Tom, and he sat quietly, pondering this new information.
Silently, I thanked Leadership Development associate Diane Tinderholt for explaining this to me years before. Since that time, I’ve also read research by several leading universities confirming these facts. Such research has also revealed that because women tend to be more intuitive, they are more in tune with human emotion, as well. Most men, unfortunately, are unequipped with much natural gifting in this area.
Regrettably, Tom seemed to have an "us vs. them" mentality — which is genuine poison for the workplace — with the added detriment of pitting women against men. No doubt he was losing out on some great synergy that could take his organization to the highest levels.
Much literature has been appearing in recent years on the importance of intuition in the workplace, but its value has been recognized by leaders in many fields for quite a while.
Dr. Joyce Brothers, a renowned psychologist, understands the phenomenon of intuition. She says "Trust your hunches. They're usually based on facts filed away just below the conscious level."
And Dr. Jonas Salk, creator of the Polio vaccine, said, "The intuitive mind tells the logical mind where to look next."
In this day and age, it’s both sad and puzzling to hear top executives still hold such archaic beliefs about men and women. Yes, differences exist, but the differences are not detrimental unless we make them so. Both genders bring tremendous value to the table: Our job is to recognize and capitalize on those differences.
Men like Tom need to recognize that women tend to have more natural intuition than men, and that his company would benefit if he spent more time valuing these differences with a "team" mindset. I’d like to hope that after our conversation, he left pondering that very thing.