06/05/2014 04:32 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2014

Barbara Annis and Dr. Keith Merron on the Need for Gender Intelligence, An Exclusive Interview (Pt 4)

In our previous pieces, we spoke with Barbara Annis and Dr. Keith Merron about the need for gender intelligence in our everyday lives and how it's essential, in business and society, for "great minds to think unalike." For our last set, we'll take a closer look at how pervasive our own blind spots are and see where, in society, we're most likely to change.

We'll also receive an answer from Barbara and Keith on why they're giving away the heart of their business at BAA Inc. for the price of a book.

On Evolving our Businesses toward the Social Good

JC: Do you think there's a greater need, now, for companies to be agile, to adapt to their workforce and provide for solutions when their employees face challenges, both at home and the office?

BA: I think we need to have, in this world of ours, some real and powerful examples of win-win conversations showing that it can be done. And sometimes that happens partly by design and partly by need.

Deloitte, for example, had a wonderful partner named Linda who was diagnosed with cancer--one with a low survival rate--and she had sixteen-year-old daughter, and was a single mom whose husband had passed away. And she wanted to go on part time; which was unheard of back then, for a partner. But they were right in the middle of rolling out gender-intelligence and it came out in the workshops.

KM: Any shift in the model also requires a shift in consciousness to accompany it; the leaders that have already adopted a more collaborative and inclusive process also tend to be more fluid in their actions and responses to different views and demands. Likewise, the companies that aren't gender-intelligent, that aren't as aware of the specific, and often, unspoken needs of their employees tend to overlook the opportunities that are already there.

And in a way, it's self-reinforcing: that what we see as true, beyond ourselves, is a reflection of what we believe, internally. So if your model is highly male, right vs. wrong, command and control-oriented, then you'll see the evidence you need to support that view and you'll follow the companies that serve as proof for it.

BA: We've done a case study, with the Harvard Business School and nearby law firms, on this, where we discussed the issue of taking time off for family or personal matters with a lot of the partners, and they said 'well, that's just not possible, you've got to be here to be a partner'.

But they went ahead and tried it out, and to their surprise, a number of the men requested to be a part of the program. In fact, there was one gentleman, who was young for a partner--in his early forties, I think--and he wanted to help his father, who had a huge farm in Vermont, during the spring and the fall, for planting and harvest. So this fellow went on an eighty percent part-time schedule and others went to fifty. And it's worked brilliantly.

And we need these models for success in order to create a place where we can even think about this; otherwise we will have that ageism bias where we say, 'okay, there are two thirty-year-olds I can pay on your salary'.

JC: 'Your experience is only so valuable to us.'

BA: Exactly.

JC: This brings us to your work with the Clinton Global Initiative, Harvard Kennedy School, and EDGE Certified and to the question of 'how do we reframe what our employment should look like?'

BA: For the Clinton Global Initiative, which we convened with on March 11th in New York, it's a matter of bringing the private and public sector together to take the biggest challenges we have in front of us, in society, and having gender-intelligent conversations about them. Because if you look at something like health or the economy, you need to have an understanding of how they affect men and women, boys and girls.

KM: The effect of our economic model and the way in which we define and measure health has tremendous implications for how children understand their world and the world around them. What's emerging through the Clinton Global Initiative, as well as other programs, is a heightened awareness of the unconscious patterns that drive our behavior.

You can see in the media, for example, how we're beginning to address the efforts we make to define what's beautiful; particularly through the extensive use of image editing, the emphasis on the tools needed for that perfection, and the message that illusion sends to young girls about their own self-image.

It's even more paramount when you consider how augmentations and enhancements are given or expected as a natural step or a rite of passage--when we could, instead, address and develop, through the wealth we have, the inherent strengths of our children.

BA: Definitely. And we're making it an inclusive conversation. As I mentioned in Leadership and the Sexes, in the past, society tended to see gender issues as referring to women only. For me, though, it's always been about men and women. And there needs to be a dialogue between them.

JC: As strange as it may sound, there is a good deal of anger, of backlash on the internet, for instance, from men who feel that they're being slighted, ignored, or no longer addressed. How do we bring that urge to express their interests and desires back into the conversation?

BA: Absolutely. And I think it's quite valid. And I see it in organizations as well. And we do have the best of intentions, as a society, in wanting to empower women and build women's networks. But it did create a bit of a backlash and a bit of exclusion, and it's time to shift that around.

KM: Just like the Civil Rights movement in the sixties and seventies, when the affirmative action laws were enacted, a significant degree of attention is paid to what makes us deserving of equal liberties and the same opportunities. Representation, in numbers, was seen as a means of ensuring that policy. We're at a point, now, though, where we need to move toward honoring our authentic differences and strengths and appreciating the qualities, capabilities and skills that men and women can both bring to the conversation.

In that effort to rewrite the balance, however, it's possible for some men to feel discriminated against or disenfranchised where they didn't see themselves as such before, particularly when attention is not paid to what they genuinely want. You'd be surprised by how often a conversation on 'addressing the needs of men in your employ' is met with raised eyebrows or a 'Don't we, already?'

Coming up: Barbara and Keith on the ideas they're giving away and the conversations they hope to inspire...