Stop Praising the Differences in Men and Women

For years, I have been writing about the differences in the brains of men and women. I have touted the innate strengths women bring to the workplace. I have supported communication skills training that teach us to adapt to gender-based styles.

The men in my life are indirectly teaching me that I may be wrong. Additionally, new research supports the perspective that sex differences in the brain are small. Societal assumptions work to magnify them.

If we are biologically different, then strengths should be recognized. However, if our differences are socially learned, then we might be ignoring an evolution of behavioral traits that is occurring in both men and women that is bringing us closer together.

After 15 years of studying brain-based behavioral research, I am beginning to see that many of our differences are learned. Whatever traits, habits, skills and perspective that can be learned by one gender, can definitely be learned, or unlearned and never learned, by the other. I believe the younger generations are proving this to be true.

I was talking to a client of mine in her early thirties about an article on women “dating down,” meaning the men had less education and earning power than the women. She said, “That thinking is so eighties.” She went on to explain that she and her female friends aren’t looking at potential mates for those factors. They are looking for men to be good life partners, meaning they would share homemaking responsibilities, seek to have a good time together and support each others growth.

“Times are changing,” she said. “Shouldn’t we allow our stereotypes of men and women to change too?”

I used to teach that women changed the subject more frequently when speaking, eventually circling around to the original point they were making. The man I live with does this far more than I do. I used to teach that women were more into collaboration than commandeering. The male coaches I work with have demonstrated collaboration and sensitivity as much if not sometimes more than the women. I used to teach that women multitask better while men focused more concisely. These days, we all multitask, for better or worse, and many women can hone in on a subject with intensity.

I do stand for women being recognized for all the gifts they bring to the table.

I do stand for women being publicly honored when they demonstrate good leadership so younger women can create tangible models for their own development.

I do stand for women being seen as full contributors and excellent leaders. I stand for these women to be mothers as well if they choose to and to have the freedom to accomplish their goals in the manner that best suits their lifestyles.

I do stand for women having equal opportunities for development as men and as many chances to be successful in their business endeavors as men.

I do stand for whatever it takes to breakdown the entrenched masculine cultures in business and politics that keep women from realizing their potential and their dreams.

I stand for these things because women are valuable, not because we are better.

I want these things for men too if they also stand for women to have the same opportunities as they have. If not, I stand against men — and women — who choose to stifle the growth and development of women around the world.

I don’t believe it’s time for women to take over the world. I believe it’s time that men and women support each other as full partners in economic success, world peace and cultural progress.

I think we should:

  • Stop arguing about which gender does certain tasks better.
  • Stop negatively labeling each other when a man shows sensitivity or a woman is firm and ambitious.
  • Start acknowledging the strengths individuals bring to the table, and recognize that most desirable behaviors can be learned if there is a willingness to try and a discipline to practice.
  • Start pairing men with women in leadership capacities so we can learn to honor the richness we both, as humans, offer each other, our companies, and the world. Lets model what working together looks like, demonstrating we know how to blend and collaborate as leaders.

Yes, I believe more women should be leaders in companies, in their communities and in politics. Not because they are women, but because there are remarkable women that can do amazing work just as there are remarkable men as well.

If we promote women only because there should be more women in leadership, then we accept some women who abuse power, suppress progress, and stand for themselves more than they stand for the advancement of women.

I believe that as women become more economically self-sufficient, more educated and more business-savvy, they will naturally rise in power. Companies will be smart to do whatever they can to retain their top talent women. Countries will develop faster if they support women starting their own businesses. Society will be healthier and more stable as women come into their own.

It is the good for all that we support the rise of women in the world. It is the good for all that we do this as equal partners with men. Let’s quit praising our differences and start honoring how the best of us, both men and women, can be powerful together in a more collaborative society.

P.S. Check out the interview Katie Couric did with Gloria Steinem and Jehmue Greene on today’s feminism and workplace issues. They too want to stop the “either/or” and “win/lose” conversations of competition and promote men and women coming together. Steinem said she is disappointed that we lack “…the imagination of cooperation, equality and community.” It is time to move on to come together.

Marcia Reynolds is an executive coach and delivers leadership programs around the world. Read the reviews for her latest book, Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction.

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