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Hardwired or Re-Wired?

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Take a little boy and a little girl. A little boy falls down and the first thing we say as parents is 'Get up, shake it off. You'll be OK. Don't cry.' When a little girl falls down, what do we say? 'It's going to be OK.' We validate their feelings. So right there from that moment, we're teaching our men to mask their feelings, don't show their emotions. And it's that times 100 with football players. You can't show that you're hurt, you can't show any pain. So for a guy to come into the locker room and he shows a little vulnerability, that's a problem. That's what I mean by the culture of the NFL. And that's what we have to change.

Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall's insights on the culture that surrounds the alleged bullying of an offensive lineman extends past the locker room to the boardroom. Most business cultures may not rival the gridiron, but a litany of cultural norms contribute to unconscious bias and problems like the startlingly few number of women in technology. (According to Women Who Tech, only 2 percent of open source developers are women.)

There's something we can do about it. In our book, The Athena Doctrine, feminine skills and competencies not only improve company cultures, they enhance their ability to innovate, collaborate and navigate change. Recent work in the Administrative Science Quarterly also reveals that hubris in leaders and their cultures creates more volatile and risky decision-making and less desirable economic performance. We witnessed this first hand in Iceland, where Halla Tomasdottir tried to stem the impending 2008 financial collapse by facilitating discussion between her country's financial leaders, who were all men. Her efforts were stymied by ego, yet five years after the Icelandic crisis, the small investment firm that she founded was one of the few that weathered the storm well. Her strategy was rooted in culture and values. "I always believed that the way to make progress was to support principles, and principled people. And to get people involved."

But is there a distinction between a competitive culture and a brutal one? The Miami case seems to contradict the very notion that sports are lessons in leadership and what a team stands for. Recent research in The Academy of Management Journal (2010) found that trust within an on-going team is positively related to team performance, because each individual needs to feel included in striving for the team's goals. (The Dolphins have lost four of their last five games).

Any manager or leader should look at this story and interrogate their organization's culture, systems and policies. Change begins, as Brandon Marshall suggests, with social coding. We visited Stockhom's Egalia Preschool, where teachers consciously try to avoid gender stereotypes. Robots are piled alongside dolls in toy boxes, and teachers calls kids ''friends'' rather than ''boys and girls'." Even when a 'boo-boo' occurs, empathy is applied in equal measure. This pursuit of equality permeates Swedish culture. Anne-Marie Slaughter points out that paternity leave has existed for men in Sweden since 1974. And fathers must take at least two months of leave in order for mothers to receive like benefits.

In a world where people mistrust institutions (86 percent of people by our research), we can rewire companies with the right incentives and messages to make them more fair, more competitive and more attractive to talent. In our research, 60 percent of people globally (and 67 percent of millennials) said they would work for less money at a company whose values and culture they admire.

Because money alone doesn't keep talent for long. Earlier this week, Denver Bronco John Moffitt walked away from pro football by saying "I don't want to risk health for money." There has to be something more.

John's New York Times Bestselling book, "The Athena Doctrine: How Women (And The Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule The Future," examines the rise of feminine skills and values with Pulitzer-Prize winner Michael D'Antonio.
@johngerzema on Twitter