Can We All Just Start Thinking Like Women?

08/08/2013 03:59 pm 15:59:48 | Updated Oct 06, 2013
Christine Page, MD

So, it's official. According to a global survey led by the authors of The Athena Doctrine, most adults agree that the world would be a better place if men thought more like women. These findings reflect the recent emergence of a new generation of leaders who combine strength and focus with intuition, collaboration and empathy. In particular, it is those born around 1982 -- the Millennials -- who are inspiring change in post-economic boom societies, asking questions such as: "If money cannot be relied upon the bring happiness, where else should we look?" Consequently, Millennials are far less focused on money and status and more interested in human connection and community. This generation places a premium on friendships, ethical behavior and diversity enabling them to seek fulfillment despite financial hardships.

The study also revealed that it was men within highly masculine societies -- Japan, China and Korea -- who overwhelmingly agreed that societies based on the organizational skills of women would produce a better world, recognizing that the old patterns of seeking short-term goals using overly-focused vision and working so hard there is no time for family are no longer options.

To set the record straight, it's very generous of men to applaud female thinking, but they should not be misled into believing that merely being a woman always ensures such feminine talents. As women have fought to be part of a man's world over the past few decades, they have often been required to suppress their feminine nature to make room for masculine traits. That being said, there is much to be learned about the emerging skills of our future leaders by studying the female brain, recognizing that the word "woman" can also equate to "feminine."

A woman's strength is not traditionally seen as physical, but rather as coming from her ability to create community, which requires good communication skills and shared goals. To this end, women are known to have better social and verbal skills than men. This heightened desire to connect is reflected in the brain's structure: Men have more nerve cells or neurons in their cerebral cortex, while women have more spaces between the neurons. These spaces are filled with dendrites and synapses, the essential components for the exchange of information between the nerve cells -- in other words, for shared communication.

These findings mirror the tendency for women to gather and talk to one another when under stress rather than to activate the fight-or-flight response. UCLA psychologist Dr. Shelley Taylor calls this reaction "tend and befriend," and suggests that it arises as a result of the presence of increased levels of the hormone oxytocin which is released during stress. Oxytocin's effects are enhanced in the presence of estrogen, leading to a greater tendency for bonding, relaxation and trust. Testosterone, on the other hand, inhibits oxytocin, leading to the more classical response to stress -- fight or flight.

The two areas of the brain associated with language have also been described as being larger in women than in men, with women tending to communicate by telling stories and creating pictures to reach a more diverse and expansive audience while men prefer to make more direct authoritative statements.

In decision-making, a man tends to rely on his grey matter or nerve cells, the initiators of thought or action, while women activate their white matter, which consists of millions of nerve connections. This allows her to access the most relevant information to solve the problem. In other words, a woman will access information far beyond the mere facts -- intuitive insights -- providing her with the opportunity to make decisions that benefit the family and community as well as the individual.

However, despite the capacity to create community amongst our future leaders, there is a downside. Women commonly override their own heart centered intuitive advice when it comes to their own personal needs, focusing on family, friends and work commitments and denigrating their self-nurturing. Having taught intuitive listening for over twenty years, I see many women receiving an intuitive hit, only to ignore it when faced with the demands of others. Our ability to listen to and follow through on this still small voice inside each of us is inhibited by poor self-worth, insecurity and fear of change or alienation. Such attitudes are common in those who have used their masculine energy to shield them from further hurt, suppressing the emotions of past painful experiences. Unfortunately, disowned wounds from the past do not just go away but are turned into beliefs and stories which then become the soil for future creative endeavors leading to the perpetuation of the wound not just within the individual but within her family and her community.

Connection, compassion and collaboration are qualities which emerge from a deep trust in one's own intuitive knowing, which cannot appear while we attempt to hide any weakness, pain or vulnerability from family, friends or colleagues. Feminine power does not come from denying feelings or from being silently strong; these are masculine attributes. It comes from an acceptance of all aspects of the self -- weaknesses and imperfections included -- without shame or judgment, which mirrors the qualities required to create true collaborative communities. Future careers ask that each individual learns to respect, value and follow through on her own intuitive messages, leading eventually to healing and empowerment. Only then will women take their place as future leaders, leading not from the head but from the heart, willing to be vulnerable in order to create and support healthy and strong communities and families.

So, while 66% of the 64,000 adults interviewed in the Athena Doctrine study agreed that the world would be a better place if men thought more like women, it is not until women reconnect to the wisdom of their bodies -- and the inner wisdom emanating from their hearts -- that we will see the powerful and far-reaching qualities of leadership that those questioned had in mind.

WATCH: When Women Act Like Men

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power," which took place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.