Men’s brains ARE bigger than women’s. I am sure that if men could hold their brains in their hands, they would immediately start comparing brain sizes. They have more brain cells than women do – in fact in the 19th century; science firmly believed that men had greater mental capacity than women do. Fast-forward to the 21st century. While the scarcity of women in the c-suite (currently sitting at about 16 percent) seems to indicate that men are smarter and better suited to leadership; quite the opposite could be true. Men and women differ profoundly in the neural configuration, structure and function of their cerebral organ. They differ in the way they process stress and conflict, solve problems, process language and store emotions.


It may be in an organization’s best interests to promote and develop women into senior leadership positions. When they do the organisation experiences an increase in money, better collaboration, greater productivity and a greater impact on society (Huffington Post 17/03/2016). It seems tactically wise to see how we could leverage female neural idiosyncrasies to optimize organisational performance and effectiveness?

Female strengths include: using their whole brain, a finely-tuned intuition; good collaboration skills; an ability to understand and leverage emotional states; a capacity manage diversity, and they develop greater resilience. They have the ability to defuse conflict and read faces and the emotions of others, as well as a remarkable verbal agility. 10 thousand years ago when our ancestors roamed the savannah, our brains were finely tuned for our particular gender roles. ………… Cavewoman Sally’s brain is wired for birth and nursing and tending the hearth, while Caveman Sam uses muscle and energy to hunt and protect his family. She evolves with finely tuned social skills for bonding; while he is designed to be mechanically proficient, powerful and to take risks. While some may still feel as though they are surrounded by Neanderthals fighting sabre-tooth tigers, albeit now in the boardroom – we really are facing the same gender strengths and limitations as our prehistoric ancestors.


Our left and right hemispheres control different functions. While the left is more active for linear, logical and analytical tasks; the right engages more when we are creative, holistic and intuitive. Women have a bigger corpus callosum than men do – the part that connects the hemispheres. This means she is able to process with both hemispheres, while he predominantly uses his left hemisphere. Add to the neural complexity, the fact that positive emotions are processed in the left hemisphere and negative emotions in the right --- maybe now we understand that men argue from a left brain positive, analytical/rational stance while women tend to use negative emotions and are creative, finding all kinds of links and past history to back their case. Now do you get why arguing with a girl is confusing and possibly pointless?!


2The Amygdala, tucked deep inside the instinctive brain is our alarm response to fear or pleasure. When we perceive danger – real or imagined, the Amygdala triggers the adrenal glands to release adrenalin into the body. Immediately a cascade of physiological responses ensues that readies us to fight, flight or freeze. While Caveman Sam has a tendency to kill or run; Cave-wife Sally’s response is usually to protect. So we can add an “F” to the response. Men fight, flight and freeze – women tend to flock. Translating this into Boardroom crisis; women will tend to use diplomacy, consultation and negotiation to defuse conflict, whereas a man will respond via the plentiful testosterone receptors on his amygdala and ready himself for combat. Men are 94% more likely than women to take on a job that is rewarded for competitive behaviour. (upstart.bizjournalatwork)


Talking neurochemicals: Women are endowed with plentiful oxytocin, serotonin, progesterone and estrogen. Oxytocin is known as the ‘cuddle hormone’. While you may feel alarmed at the thought of group-hugs in the Boardroom – oxytocin and estrogen enable social connections and collaboration. This also explains why women in senior positions tend to gravitate towards humanitarian and non-profit organisations while men thrive in the competitive financial and political combat zone. The testosterone and vasopressin they play with supports aggressive, cutthroat and territorial dominance.


3It may come as no surprise to the masculine gender that a woman’s language center is significantly larger than theirs – about 11 percent. Each day women speak up to 8 000 words and use around 10 000 gestures. Compare this to a man’s 4000 words and 3 000 gestures. Combine a woman’s verbal agility with their deep connection to their emotional states; and you have an ability to negotiate and communicate compassionately and effectively.

The main focus for emotion and memory formation in the brain is the hippocampus. Another structure that is significantly larger in women; this ensures that women are better at expressing emotions and remembering the details for emotional events. AAAh, I hear my male counterparts sigh, “Now I understand why she remembers and refers to every single past event in every argument – and she cries!” Yes, women are evolutionarily wired to cry 4 times more than men. How is this useful in the organisation? While we don't want to fall apart at the boardroom table – emotions may used to leverage action and motivate change.


Although women are able to access emotions more effectively than men, the larger Pre Frontal Cortex (PFC - decision making and executive function) combined with a more efficient Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) ensures that a women avoids anger and conflict and will rather chew and process information slowly – and then bring out their big guns – their verbal circuits! The ACC functions like a conductor in the brain between the Amygdala and the PFC. It makes the decision of whether to respond from the reptile brain or the conscious brain. With a significantly larger male amygdala – men will tend to avoid emotion and respond reactively. Women will be inclined to avoid reaction and take more time to respond. Strategic leadership leverages emotion, remains calm and balanced and effectively delivers the necessary message.


4While men tend to march to a left-brain dominant tune – using facts and logic and linear reasoning in their arguments; women sashay between the hemispheres, waltzing with big-picture, emotions and intuitive thinking. Cavewoman Sally has a
larger Insular – the part of the brain that processes gut reactions. Combine this with a bigger hippocampus and efficient ACC, all soaked in collaborative, empathic estrogen – we have the perfect ingredients for mind reading. Sally is far better able to assess another’s thoughts, beliefs and intentions based on the smallest hints. She is also better able to read expression on people’s faces, pick up subtle body language and tone. In a word – she is Psychic!

Oh, before I forget, I must mention that a mans sexual drive neural structures are 2 and a half times bigger than a woman’s – so while she is processing her hunches and historical wisdom – he is thinking about sex!


We have traditionally seen success and likeability as negatively correlated for women and positively correlated for men. Perhaps it is time to evolve from the neural savannah and find an optimal leadership strategy. Clearly men and women’s brains are profoundly different, so it makes sense to leverage both. Neuroplasticity assures us that we are profoundly capable of change. How exciting would it be to banish gender stereotyping and conditioned beliefs about ‘tough females’ and rather embrace the strengths and wisdom of the androgynous boardroom?


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