Gender Balance: What Women Bring to the Table
Thirty years ago, statistics showed that fifty percent of the college graduates in the United States were women. Thirty years later, women still only hold a small percentage of leadership positions in government, business and industry. This means that women’s voices are not heard in the decisions that most affect our lives.
Warren Buffett said recently in an interview in Fortune Magazine, “ For most of our history, women—whatever their abilities—have been relegated to the sidelines.” Mr. Buffet points at the amazing progress that has been made even when society has used only 50% of its human potential by sidelining women. He says, “If you visualize what 100% can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about America’s future…Women are a major reason we will do so well.”
As women rise to positions of power they need to bring their unique brand of power and leadership to the world. Gender equality—requiring that women have the same opportunities in life as men (equal pay for equal work)—is good. Gender balance may be a better term, and it is not necessarily just about bringing greater numbers of women into positions of power and responsibility. Gender balance is about an approach to problem solving, administration, and policies where women’s voices are being heard in the decision-making processes. Both men and women rising together, realizing their full potential and bringing their best offerings to the table, should define gender balance.
Experts have long known that there are actually differences in the way male and female brains are structured and in the way they see, hear and react to events and stimuli. A UC Irvine study shows that women have more white matter and men more gray matter, revealing different types of brain designs. “These findings suggest that human evolution has created two different types of brains designed for equally intelligent behavior,” said Richard Haier, professor of psychology, who led the study with colleagues at UCI and the University of New Mexico. A gender-balanced approach in leadership should embrace these differences and unique strengths.
Not recognizing the unique contribution that women in positions of power could make by virtue of being women is detrimental to both women and society as a whole. Making the world a gender-balanced world could literally transform it. (For example, according to a study conducted by researchers at A.T. Still University in Arizona and McMaster University in Canada, women in leadership positions are more likely than men to consider competing interests and take a cooperative approach when making decisions.)
There is one approach that will lead to the full development of potential for men and women equally, and that is practice of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique. Psychology Today referred to new research that showed the TM technique produces a unique state of “restful alertness” and creates greater coherence between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Fred Travis PhD, says TM increases blood flow to the brain’s prefrontal cortex (the CEO of the brain), strengthening communication between the prefrontal cortex and other areas of the brain, and develops total brain functioning. As a result, the TM practitioner displays stronger executive functions (regardless of the brain types—male or female,) with more purposeful thinking and farsighted decision-making. When the brain’s CEO is fully “online,” the emotional responses of those in leadership to the world is more balanced and appropriate.
In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, looks at the role of women in corporate America. Ms. Sandberg advises women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto. But, I would add that women should not do this by simply fitting into an old worldview. Women can and should bring a new paradigm to leadership, develop their full potential, be true to themselves—to their unique creative nature and to their most enlightened nourishing power—which is much needed “at the table,” and society as a whole will be the beneficiary.
About the Author
Vanessa Vidal is the national director of TM for Women in the USA