Barbara Annis and Dr. Keith Merron On the Need for Gender Intelligence, An Exclusive Interview (Pt 2)

Although we touched upon the need for gender intelligence in education and leadership last week, in our next few pieces we'll dig a bit deeper with Barbara Annis and Dr. Keith Merron, authors of Gender Intelligence, into how our expectations can shape our decisions on policy and practice.

BA: I just had a call recently with a CEO of a big technology company who has this young woman in her thirties -- a brilliant engineer -- working as his CTO, and he was upset because she said to him that she was completely burned out, that she needed three days at least to recover and think about whether she wanted to continue working with him. And he confessed that he didn't know why.

So I asked him to walk me through what happened, and sure enough, she was sharing her stress level and all the different things she needed do -- the context of the problem -- and he was giving her his best problem-solving solutions. All while they were trying to launch this new landmark forum technology. And when she doesn't respond to his advice well he says to her, 'are you sure didn't make this all up?' And of course she nearly walks out, until we discussed that what she wanted was to be heard.

To return to your question on where we should begin, though, if we embedded this awareness in our education, we would have a muscle that we'd exercised and the understanding we needed to respond appropriately. We're only human, after all, and there's a lot of hard-wiring that goes into our behavior, both in our socialization and in our biological structure. And it takes that kind of vigilance, that constant practice, to step beyond our own mindsets and expectations of what men and women are like.

On Managing Talent and Our Expectations

JC: It speaks to the difficultly of teaching empathy and understanding, even on a one-to-one level. I remember traveling in New Zealand and meeting a jeweler there who explained to me that he was trying to show his four-year-old son what it was like to be a father by having them play each other's roles once a week. Sure enough, the son would immediately go into 'do this, do this, because I said so' and the father would respond by stubbornly refusing and saying "I don't want to."

BA: I know it's such a simple term when you say "to stand in the shoes of the other person"; but we still do it with our own existing mindset. And the example you were just using is truly a model of trying to see through someone else's eyes. And that completely alters your world, which, ultimately, is what gender-intelligence helps you accomplish.

The challenge is that we've become such a transactional society -- even the fellow I mentioned earlier, who's quite innovative and motivated by the desire to make an actual difference -- that we fall into the habit of reducing each other to just that relationship and nothing more. And she felt completely invalidated.

JC: Those perceptions of "What can you do for me?" and "How do you fit into what I'm trying to achieve?"

BA: Exactly. "Suck it up; we've got to get this done."

JC:How much of gender intelligence would you say is devoted to unlearning or letting go of our previous expectations?

KM: It's huge. If we hold to the notion that conscious leadership is inner-guided, then it means that an effective leader is clear about one's unique purpose in the world, has a set of principles to guide one's actions, and is willing act regularly on them. And that means that to become a great or truly conscious leader, one has to let go of the fundamental presuppositions that shape our culture -- that tend to blindly dictate who we are and how we see one other.

A conscious leader, one who's gender intelligent, wouldn't say "here's my vision, love it or leave it", he or she would say, "here's what's true for me and if you feel the same, come join me."

On Understanding the Nuances between Us

JC: It's fascinating, the transformative aspects of gender intelligence, as well as the scientific research on which the work is grounded. Have you noticed a difference in the brain scans or chemistry of the people who've participated in your workshops and programs? Where is that change stored or kept?

BA: First of all, I think the whole realm of neuroscience and brain studies is going, in the next twenty years, to be transformational. My husband, who's a judge, and I tend to go back and forth on this, since he's in criminal court and sees the things people do without even thinking of the consequences -- even well-known people who did truly idiotic things--and we talked about how amazing it would be if we could just scan the brain before people are in decision-making positions to determine whether they were biologically capable of understanding their choices.

My team and I have also had clients -- Deloitte and American Express were the first -- who've pushed us to think about this on a corporate level and asked if we can help them assess the gender intelligence of someone that they're thinking of promoting or recruiting at the executive level.

Coming up: Barbara and Keith discuss the need for social context and how 'great minds should think unalike'