2012-01-11

Co.Exist

Why Genderalizations Make Sense For Female Entrepreneurs

Is it unfair to say that women bring different skills to business than men? Jean Brittingham says it’s not, and that women’s way of approaching problems and collaboration are what we need to re-orient business for the future.

I champion women to pursue entrepreneurship and help them build next-generation companies because I believe that they will build businesses aligned with a thriving planetary future. Many of the women that we feature and help in the 100x100 Project are not creating what would, at first glance, seem like "sustainable" or eco-friendly businesses. But what they all share is an awareness that things have to shift and that they are open to this shift. They bring their heads and their hearts to the table every day.

This combination of heart and head thinking isn’t particularly quantifiable, but it’s nonetheless important to the decisions we have to make now for the future. The next 25 years are critical. Not just because of the stress on the ecosystem and the very real threat of tipping points, but because we have to create a culture where caring matters and is considered core to our economic system.

A recent comment on my response to Penelope Trunk’s article on why women shouldn’t do startups suggested that I was making "genderalizations." This comment was from a man who had the impression I was "uninviting him" to the party that the redesign opportunity ahead of us represents. On the contrary; I hope the entrepreneurial men out there with a passion to innovate and activate a sustainable future (and the products and services it needs) get on with it right away.

But the thing with generalizations is that, if they stand the test of time (and even scientific scrutiny), it’s often because they are true. Generalizations become a problem when exceptions or misinformation are used to generalize or discredit individuals. For example, you shouldn’t mistrust your teenager because most teenagers—with their excess of hormones and lack of key brain development—are less than capable of consistent behavior. Even though there is clear scientific evidence, it’s neither rational nor practical to extrapolate that to mean you should never give your teenager your car keys.

The same is true for almost every generalization that you can think of, including the idea that men are more aggressive in business than women. We do know that women entrepreneurs don’t get VC funding as frequently as men, but we don’t know if it is because they are less aggressive about going after capital in the first place. There are always exceptions.

But we do know that the female brain works differently than the male brain in a few critical aspects—some of which are related to nurturing, care, and collaboration. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)—a personality assessment—skews along gender lines in only one aspect: The T/F (thinking/feeling) quadrant of decision-making. Thinking-Feeling differences affect how we make decisions. Thinkers make decisions objectively and impersonally using logic. Feelers make decisions subjectively and personally based on what they feel is "right." One study indicates (PDF) that, as a gender, the majority of women skew toward the Feeling scale. Another study (PDF), found this was true of the general population, but when corporate managerial women executives suddenly were surveyed, they skewed toward the Thinking quadrant.

Does that mean that only women who fall in the Thinking side of the MBTI will be successful? Of course not, but it may indicate that feelings in the business world get ignored and that these women have adapted a new way of interpreting data in the decision-making process.

Take, for example, the business strength of intuition. When leveraging intuition in business, the majority of women entrepreneurs are more likely to consider an inner voice telling them "what they feel is right" when making a decision. In hundreds of interviews we did with successful women entrepreneurs, intuition was considered a powerful piece of data women tap when making logical decisions about all aspects of their businesses, from the types of partners they bring into their businesses to the capital they choose to take on.

This has incredible implications. Combine this with the numerous studies of the generalization that women tend to be better and more frequent communicators, and that our right brain and left brain exchange more information through our more active corpus callosum, and you have a great set of skills for bringing a little more balance and consideration of others to decision making—in your own business and in the design of the future.

I’m not sure how many women it will take to bring this balanced view into play, but I know it will require many more women leaders—including entrepreneurs—than we have now. I’m also confident that it will be a good thing for all of us when generalized behaviors that go along with the ideals of caring, communicating, and nurturing prevail. I’m happy to have a little "genderalization" in my future.

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