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What We Learned From Wienergate

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In the wake of all the buzz about Weiner's weiner, a certain controversial idea has bubbled up. And it's this: men and women are different. And we're not just talking anatomy.

It's a scary subject, one that leaves most of us -- women especially -- with a twinge of that don't-go-there feeling. After all, less than a generation ago, we were led to believe the only way to succeed in business was to be a man in a skirt, convinced that if we wanted to make our way up the corporate ladder, we had to turn off our feminine sensibility and act like men -- and if we really wanted to succeed, to act like the worst of them. But the chat has started to shift, and for that we have to thank the unfortunately named Anthony Weiner.

Case in point, a piece in last week's New York Times about why women politicians rarely get caught behaving badly:

"The shorthand of it is that women run for office to do something, and men run for office to be somebody," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "Women run because there is some public issue that they care about, some change they want to make, some issue that is a priority for them, and men tend to run for office because they see this as a career path."

Sunday, the Times followed up with a piece in the Style section (curious placement, that) interviewing scholars on why male politicos might be more likely than women to, as the author says, tweet and cheat. One possible answer: there's a correlation between testosterone and risk-taking:

"If you asked one of these guys 'What are the chances of you getting caught?' you would see an underestimation of the risks," [David C. Geary, curators' professor in the department of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri at Columbia] said. "And the severity of the consequences is underestimated." Women, on the other hand, said Dr. Geary, "tend to focus on the potential harm of the consequences."

(Studies about subjects other than sex -- like money -- have also reported a link between testosterone and overconfidence.)

According to [Helen Fisher, the biological anthropologist and a member of the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies in the anthropology department at Rutgers] women have on average more long-range neural connections than most men. As a result, she said, men tend to narrowly focus on the here and now instead of potential long-term consequences.

Disclaimers aside -- talking about gender differences, after all, was formerly a way to keep us in our place -- we've opened the door to a conversation that goes beyond politics. And that's this: Our differences are our strengths. Like we said, it's treacherous territory. Let's go there anyway. One of the women we interviewed for our book was 80-year-old Judith Rosener, who broke ground in 1990 by publishing a paper in the Harvard Business Review that ignited a firestorm. The title? "Ways Women Lead." Her point is that women bring something different to the table, and those differences have value. What are they? "Men are linear thinkers; women are holistic thinkers," Rosener told us.

"Men communicate on one level at a time; women communicate on more than one level at a time. Women view power as a means to an end; men view power as an end in itself. Women negotiate in a win-win manner; men negotiate in a win-lose manner. Women are interactive leaders; men are commanding leaders. Women are concerned about process as well as outcomes; men are concerned primarily about outcomes. Women see relationships as an end unto themselves; men see them as a means to an end. Women are sensitive to subliminal cues; men pay little attention. Women are multithinkers and multitaskers and are comfortable with ambiguity."


Which is not to say that men suck. The point is that each gender has different characteristics and that together, the result is often greater than the sum of our respective parts. As it is in the bedroom, so could it be in the boardroom?

If you're the type who needs numbers, check 'em: According one study by to Catalyst, companies with significant numbers of women in management have a much higher return on investment. According to the London Business School, when work teams are equally split between men and women, they are more productive. And according to a study from the Center for Women's Business Research reported in the Washington Post, women-owned businesses generate about $3 trillion in revenue and employ 16 percent of the workforce -- nearly double the number of the 50 biggest companies in the country combined.

Finally, check this month's Harvard Business Review, which suggests that the more gender diversity on your work team, the higher the collective intelligence. As Forbes.com reports:

What is it about women that tends to raise a group's IQ? Not even researchers Wooley and Malone claim to have solved the mysteries of complex group dynamics. But it doesn't take a Ph.D to recognize what multiple studies repeatedly show: women consistently score higher than men on social sensitivity test. Who knows whether it's because we're culturally conditioned differently than men or because of biology and hormones. The bottom line is that women tend to be much better listeners. We're more likely to draw others into conversations. And we're much less likely than men to dominate groups with our opinions.

For decades, ambitious women were advised to observe male behavior for examples of how to succeed and lead in professional arenas. But now we're coming full circle. When it comes to tapping group brainpower -- whether a small work team or a democratic society -- it turns out that behaviors that tend to be intuitive to females -- i.e. Emotional Intelligence - significantly impact the quality of a group's decision-making.

All of which brings to mind a classic line from Joan, Mad Men's brainy bombshell: "You'll never be a man. Be a woman. It's powerful business, done correctly."