Recessions inevitably bring pain but they can also be an opportunity for change, and the current global downturn, fuelled as it has been by the arrogance, risk taking and poor decision-making of a male-dominated financial sector, is no exception.
Economically we've lost our way and it is time to draw up a new map. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shift the dynamic of the workplace, and how decisions are made within it, from one that is inherently emotionally and physically masculine to one where there is a much more balanced collaboration of the masculine and the feminine within us all.
To explain how this might work it is necessary, first of all, to understand a bit of history.
Beginning with the rise of mercantilism and the Industrial Revolution, the blueprint we have used for business for the past 200 or so years has predominantly been a masculine one. Despite the ever-changing nature of work, men's roles in the generation of wealth and prosperity and, crucially, in how decisions are made have, by and large, changed little.
For women, however, there has been a massive shift in the past 60 years. Yet, as women have increasingly entered this male-defined world of work they have tended, for fairly obvious reasons, to adopt a working style which emulates that of men as the only way to get ahead. There is even evidence to suggest we are starting to see rising levels of testosterone in women, and that typical female bodyshapes and behaviour are becoming more masculine.
Although modern and more office and technologically-based working patterns have changed the way women are valued and perceived, business has not always made the best of what is truly "feminine". Traits perceived as distinctly "feminine" (ones that tend to use the right side of the brain) – altruistic, consensual, people-oriented, emotionally engaged, open, co-operative and so on – have often been seen as "softer" or deemed less valuable than the "hard" elements of commerce, profit and loss.
At Gender Dynamics, what we endeavour to do is to map out a different perspective, firstly understanding how the differences in brain chemistry, hormones and values between the sexes can affect decision-making styles, relationships and leadership preferences; secondly, looking deeper into the variations of women and men within each gender that have emerged over the past six decades and now influence new communication patterns. The goal is to enable people to value their individual gender dynamic type and therefore be put to best use.
Some women may, for example, be more "male" in their thinking, decision making and logical responses, while others will portray the classic all-female traits of nurturing, sensitivity and intuitive reasoning. Likewise, some men may be more "female" in their thinking preferences, emotional reactions, and actions and yet still be entirely male. We all have within us a mixture of masculine and feminine characteristics, preferences and behaviours, yet the pressure of masculine workplaces has for too long muted one in favour of the other.
Women biologically bring emotions and "life issues" to the workplace that are simply not factored into the masculine blueprint of many men. Men have a greater ability to be in business without emotions in a way that women often find challenging. Men, similarly, tend naturally to be more competitive than women, prompting many women in turn to take on that competitive edge and try to shut off their emotions.
President Obama is a great example of this mix of masculine and feminine tendencies. He presents the strength of a man with purpose and yet treats people with the gentle value of his feminine side. His even tempered, strong yet sensitive, highly intelligent logical mind displays a deep understanding about the importance of relationships, emotions, family and community needs. He has a natural balance in his physiology, his presence and natural style and his nurtured and learned experiences of life.
If we place all the traditional aspects of business operations – strategy, governance, corporate social responsibility, technology, human resources, marketing, sales, customer service, manufacture and so on – into "masculine" or "feminine" traits, it is much easier to align the best people (whether male and female) to activities that best suit them and where they will be best placed to deliver business growth.
The recession gives us a chance to promote more consensual ways of working as a way to help us get us out of the mess we have got ourselves into. If we are going to manage our way to survival, gender communication and collaboration are what counts, and co-operation (rather than competition) is going to be essential.
However, one of the worrying aspects of this downturn is that it looks likely it is going to make it, if anything, harder for women to break through and achieve positions of influence and power. In fact, more women currently appear to be losing their jobs than men.
In other words, women, and the vital skills they can bring to transform the aggressive, risk-taking, masculine mind-set of the workplace and haul us out of recession, are being lost just at the time they are most needed.
With business chaos impinging on the emotions and lives of everyone, we need to tap back into our natural differences and urgently create a more collaborative conversation. We need, in essence, to talk a new, gender-dynamic, language. Such a conversation will help us better understand who we are, how we have reached this point and, most importantly, how we can transform the current situation together