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Barbara Annis and Dr. Keith Merron on the Need for Gender Intelligence, An Exclusive Interview (Pt 3)

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Now that Barbara and Keith's new book on Gender Intelligence has been out for a few weeks, we'll discuss why there is such a need for conscious and gender-intelligent leadership and how it should be employed, both in practice and in the ways we think of success.

JC: Looking ahead, how should gender-intelligence and assessments tie into business practice and decisions of national policy?

BA: I remember in Canada, Ottawa, working with the Department of Justice and the policymakers, the deputy ministers and the ministers, and they mentioned during a session I ran that they'd held a meeting on abortions and the policy around them only to realize, as they looked around, that there were six men in the room and no one else. So I said to them, 'this is fabulous that you have the eyes to see it. Now what are you going to do about it?"

KM: The connection between practice and policy has to be a collaborative effort: and sometimes that means starting with an actual conversation in order to create an environment that allows for the expression of different ideas. When Barbara and I were working on the book, for example, every piece was a shared endeavor, from the overall structure and individual chapters to how much we needed to discuss the history of gender as a concept.

BA: To their credit, the next Therapeutic Abortion Committee meeting they ran (which decides whether an abortion is exempt from criminal charges) was sixty percent women in attendance. And it helped to give the ministers the social context that they needed.

JC: It's where you find the nuance.

BA: Exactly. You've got to do both.

JC: Particularly when you consider how often the people who make decisions on policy--on whether a particular candidate, based on gender-intelligence, for instance, should be eligible for a public or private office--are acting on limited information or as part of an expedited process.

BA: We do a lot of research around talent management, resourcing, recruiting, and interviewing; most recently with science, engineering, and technology companies, and it's amazing how quickly they hire. How they make that decision very quickly. And often it's based on comfort, do I trust and am I comfortable with this person? And the challenge with that--it's such a limited view--is going for sameness.

KM: And the impact of how that affects future generations can't be stressed enough. For instance, if you look at the women who were successful in the fifties and onward, through today, they are often told to be or to act highly masculine in their thoughts and how they operate at the office--in fact, if I'm not mistaken, even Barbara was referred to by her coworkers as 'the Sherman Tank'.

BA: (laughs) Yes, it's true. Fortunately, we've also been able to work with people like Lou Gerstner when he was CEO of IBM. And he truly shifted the thinking, saying--and this is when I speak about moving from 'great minds think alike' to 'great minds think unalike'--he said quite strongly 'I want to hire people who completely disagree with me'. Before that, at the company, everything was about fitting in and being of the same mold and consensus-driven choices, and here he comes and puts the grit in the oyster.

JC: Like Apple and the notion of 'Think Different': the idea that we can't progress if we're always in agreement. Going back to what you and Barbara have mentioned about trust, do the managers you've talked with ever say why they trusted the person they hired? Is it simply because of the belief that men will understand one another better along with the idea that fewer complications will arise?

BA: Absolutely. Can I travel with this person, you know. There's so much that plays into being comfortable, into feeling that you can trust someone. And there is a shift occurring, there are leaders emerging who are willing to look at competencies first. The challenge, and this is part of the book, is that the systems and their functions right now are still white-male oriented.

And it's not about blaming them, it's just that we need to understand that we have a mold called 'fit-in' and we often don't see it; because we--companies, that is--we have great diversity initiatives, we all strive for inclusion, we look for blended teams. But if your systems and their functions still operate in a traditional way, and you're assessing competencies on a white-male metric, you're automatically going to lose talented people--not just women--who don't fit into that mold.

KM: Most leaders would say that they believe all people should have equal rights and equal opportunities, and strive to create a fair meritocracy in their organizations accordingly. And they genuinely feel that way: they would also say that they have certain goals, certain aims, that the company must achieve; and there's this assumption or belief, perhaps conscious or unconscious, that the model by which they run the business is the right model, is the best model, based on the company's past and its history.

And it turns out that the model is very masculine in its orientation: with very specific short-term goals, clear measures and linear projections, risk-oriented, and driven by an economy that's highly focused on quarter-by-quarter results. These are, for the most part, taken as a given. When we enter into a scarcity mindset though--when we're fearful that we're going to lose or go out of business--this very same model becomes constricted, causing us to rigidly hold on to our current way of thinking or never question it.

So you have an economy and a business model and a success model that all support the way men, primarily, work, and that's the part that most male leaders (and even some female leaders) often can't see. And it's hard for an individual, even if he or she discovers empirical evidence for a new way of being, to change and adopt a new model; there's often a tension between what our mind knows may be true, what our values say are valuable, and what our safe way of operating would dictate us to do, so we go back to what's comfortable.

Coming up: Barbara and Keith explain how resolving gender issues requires solutions for both women and men...