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Barbara Annis and Dr. Keith Merron on the Need for Gender Intelligence, An Exclusive Interview (Pt 5)

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Though we alluded to it in last week's post, today we'll go into why Barbara and Keith, authors of Gender Intelligence, are so willing to share the core aspects of their business for the price of a book and how the technology industry's employment struggles provide us with an opportunity to revise the conversation.

On Gender Intelligence, Innovation, and the Conversation Ahead

JC: What's your current level of involvement with the Harvard Kennedy School? Are you planning to direct your work with them toward national policy?

BA: Right now we're looking at a couple of initiatives: one is to reach the younger generations and teach them about gender-intelligence and how we embed that with the universities and schools and in partnership with Pearson Education, which is hosting the Clinton Global Initiative.

We're also addressing the technology industry, which as the Initiative projects will, by 2021, have 1.5 million new jobs. And so we're looking at how we can create a better gender balance in those jobs and a workforce, in the US, that is poised to fulfill and retain them.

JC: And by ensuring the conversations at both the hiring and development levels are gender-intelligent, your hope is to create a more open and receptive environment for future generations of employees?

KM: I believe that managers and leaders and their level of gender-intelligence--in other words, their conduct and character--are the biggest fulcrum points for effecting positive change in hiring, overall. The more these individuals can own their blind spots and capabilities and hire for the strengths that complement them, the more likely we are to see work environments that reward and encourage different modes of thought and innovation, and that enable individuals to join in the conversation.

BA: It's a big job, yes. And you've got three areas to address all together, when you look at how to make technology more open: one being that women don't choose that career path often; the second is that those who do follow through don't complete their degrees because of a university culture that's not welcoming to them; and the third being when they get their degrees and enter the technology companies, only to discover that cultural conflicts emerge there as well.

So it has to be a three-pronged approach. And I think that with the first one, there's a lot of work being done right now in shifting the perception or mindset of girls toward technology, which is critical for the future of the economy. The two areas that need more work are in colleges and universities and in companies. For example, Facebook has declared that they want to be a gender-intelligent company, so we're embarking this year with them to provide that training around the world. That will create a bit of a domino effect, you know; you start with one technology company--

JC: --and show them adopting the behavior, the process, and the model effectively. How does that conversation change or evolve though, or does it, when your engaging with innovative companies? Do they bring their own solutions and ideas to you?

KM: We're constantly in conversation about whether we want to take on a particular client or not. One of the things that will tip them in our favor is an earnest or heartfelt desire to take action and consistently follow through on it. Another is how willing they are, from the leaders on down, to look in the mirror and see how their own behaviors and choices are inhibiting the development of gender intelligence at the company. So for me, there's some degree of self-awareness required to start the process; though Barbara's favorite challenge, I think, is to approach the leaders who are completely unaware of the need for our work.

BA: The great thing about companies that focus on innovation is that they will take this on much faster and embed it within their organizations. With traditional companies, we tend to partner for a long time; with innovative ones, we tend to have a shorter partnership and then they just take and roll with it. And then there's a touch base, you know, where they'll come back months later and say 'what about this?'
But they're quite self-initiating and it's truly fascinating and wonderful to see it happening. I know most consulting companies might be worried about that because they like to have eighty percent of their business be returning customers. For us, though, the sooner you can go and run with it, the better.

JC: Given how much of consulting is built on enticing your client to use and acquire a proprietary model or service, what's the intention behind making yours public?

KM: We're making it public because of our commitment to creating a more gender-intelligent world and to encouraging, on a national and global scale, the level of consciousness and self-aware thought that's necessary for good leadership and honest, authentic dialogue.

So while our consulting may be an application of our work, it's not the totality. Our primary role, at this point, is to shift the paradigm towards that conversation. And because of that, we're more than happy to share what we've learned and discovered with anyone who's willing and open to talk.

BA: You know, it's an interesting paradox, right? And Keith and I have been talking about it for years since we're giving away the store. And we agreed that yes, we are, and that it's what we need to do. To create a handbook for cracking the code on gender-intelligence that people and organizations around the world can take on and embed.

So does that mean that it puts us out of business? No. But certainly it does create an accelerated solution for companies and organizations, to stand on the shoulders of what we've learned in twenty-seven years.

And I kind of like that--and I know it sounds altruistic and all that stuff--but you know I see all these books that come out that simply entice you back for more and I think, 'let's create a movement, globally.'

Coming up: Interviews with authors Eric Brach, Julia Robinson Shimizu, EM Lewis, Maria Burgio and others...