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Barbara Annis and Dr. Keith Merron On the Need for Gender Intelligence, An Exclusive Interview (Pt 1)

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With almost 30 years of collected experience between them, Barbara Annis, the CEO and founder of BAA Inc. and Dr. Keith Merron, a Senior Associate at the firm and professor at Hult International Business School, are steadfast advocates for the needs and wants of men and women, as well as the scientific research and honest self-reflection that are necessary to bring our greatest and most inherent qualities to light.

And while talk of gender parity and equity are certainly far from new, Barbara and Keith prefer to speak instead of "gender-intelligence"; a term, they feel, that invites our curiosity and engages us in conversation about how we can better appreciate our natural and authentic differences, and where those strengths can be applied to issues of education, employment, and national policy.

In this exclusive feature length interview, we'll go in depth with Ms. Annis and Dr. Merron about their recent work and learn how their upcoming book, Gender Intelligence: Breakthrough Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Improving Your Bottom Line, can impact future generations.

On Corporate Responsibility

JC: What's the line between company policy -- between decisions on paid leave of absence for childbirth and elder care, for instance -- and the impact of it on the economy?

BA: Part of the Clinton Global Initiative, of course, has to do with -- and this is what they're very keen on -- learning from the private sector and applying that knowledge to social goods. We're all public servants, really; whether we admit it or not, we have an impact.

Companies that focus on becoming gender-intelligent very quickly develop a wider view of the world and what's needed on a global scale. That's why you have people like Ken Chenault, the CEO of American Express declaring himself as a public servant. And that's the paradigm shift occurring right now; the World Economic Forum, of course, has created a huge conversation around that as well.

JC: It makes sense. There was big shift for corporations to be viewed as complete citizens -- to have the full rights of them -- and it's come full circle now to the civic duties or responsibilities that should entail.

BA: It's something we need to encourage and create more dialogue around because we need to move beyond this short-term, just-feeding-the-next-quarter, behavior.

KM: Part of the reason why organizations do not take responsibility for their long term impact has to do with the consciousness of the individuals in a position of leadership. Early on in my career, I studied different stages of adult development and looked at the relationship between them and leadership effectiveness and what I've found is that a conscious or "self-aware" leader is mindful of his or her impact on the world. They think about the idea of sustainability, of what I'm doing now and how it affects not only the people around me but also future generations. This is essential to the leader's role.

Conscious leaders tend to be more systemic and more long-term. As I described in a previous book, The Golden Flame, they are people who are, "inner-directed and outer-focused." In other words, they're clear about who they are, what they want, and how that fits into the greater social good.

On Education and Where We Should Begin

JC: So much of your gender-intelligence work focuses on the greater awareness and sense of corporate and personal responsibility that it fosters. It's tough to talk about the future, though, without also discussing how we introduce these concepts to our children. What does that conversation look like? And where do we begin?

BA: It's almost as if we've been doing it backwards in the sense that we've been focusing on reaching the executive level and management level on gender-intelligence; but over the years, we've had both men and women come up to us after the workshop saying "Oh, my goodness, if I had known this thirty years ago, I would've parented my kids differently." And that's always pushed us to your question: "Where do you begin and why aren't we beginning at the beginning?"

And I think that there's been a lot of resistance -- and still is -- to differentiating between boys and girls. There's this concern about whether or not we're stereotyping or casting children into these roles. I remember with my firstborn son, Christian, who I wanted to grow up thinking gender-neutral, that he'd take out a block of wood and pretend it was a truck or an airplane. It was fantastic because we had never let him watch TV.

So I think that, in discussing where we need to start, we have to work on parallel tracks -- where we create education that is gender-intelligent, that has this intelligence embedded into the school curriculum and that also reaches out to the parents.

KM: I couldn't agree more with what Barbara's saying. And I also believe that how we conduct ourselves in the family setting is crucial. At home, my family and I are quite rigorous about communicating in ways that show respect to both men and women. My mother was a feminist, so I learned that when I was young and I carry the same torch in my own family. And my kids go to a school where that's also taught openly.

Indirectly, though, I'm also constantly encouraging my children to develop their own self-expression. So rather than saying "this is how you should..." I ask them: "What works for you?" And whenever we see or hear them express their thoughts or point of view, we just applaud. Even if we disagree, we are encouraging them to find their own voice. And what that does is create an environment for them to discover their own beliefs, and over time, find their own truth as an adult. It also enables them to accept others who may see things differently than they do.

Coming up: Barbara and Keith speak on Managing Talent and the Impact of Gender Intelligence on Practice and Policy...