Ray wrote of the need for more female leadership in terms of augmenting the left brain (reasoning, quantitative, goal-oriented) thinking that has dominated our business culture with more right brain (creative, relational) problem solving. Kathleen Smith of AECOM pointed out in her presentation at Living Future that newer brain research shows that women, on average, tend to have more interconnectedness between the two sides of their brain, and the parts of the brain that govern integrative and relational skills are actually larger.
The characteristics associated with this pattern of brain activity and development are consistent with the overall theme of interconnectedness: being process-oriented, collaborative, empathic, able to pursue multiple goals at once, recognize multiple truths and think across multiple generations. The good news for my brethren is that while women statistically are more likely to have these traits, this same pattern of brain development is also found in men who test higher for these "feminine" talents. I'm sure Gandhi would have been off the charts.
Smith also pointed out that the same "feminine" traits show up as the key qualities needed in the Integrative Design process where all the key stakeholders for a building are consulted before the architects go to work. Collaboration creates a final design that is easier to build and better for the occupants.
This also begins to sound suspiciously like the collaborative, open-source approach to innovation that so many companies have embraced in recent years for new product development. Or the "sharing economy" of Zipcars and Groupon. Maybe this isn't so scary after all.
Perhaps we just need a better word to describe this interconnected way of thinking that seems to be emerging just when the world needs it. I am officially putting out the call to the GreenBiz community for an alternative term for these characteristics. I wanted to foist a clever name on you, but in the spirit of interconnectedness, we're crowdsourcing it instead. Let us know by email or in the comments below.
On a final note, lest anyone be left with the idea that I am emphasizing "womanly" virtues at the expense of "manly" ones, I want to clarify that I believe we need all of the above. For too long we have placed a lower value on people in business who do not think and lead according to a certain "masculine" archetype, but replacing that archetype with an exclusively "feminine" one is no solution.
Sustainable business leadership today is ultimately about using every means at our disposal to make our companies places where each person, be they man or woman, analytical or intuitive, deliberative or adaptable, can reach their full potential and contribute their unique strengths to the collective mission. As we strive to create a living future, we need to get all hands on deck, not spend time discussing which one is better left tied behind our back.
Woman holding globe photo via Shutterstock.