Archives for category: Brain wiring

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Growing up, success to me was all about getting the A grade. Yes, looking back, the perfectionist tendencies took a hold around exam time when getting a B would be perceived as a failure.

Moving to London, success became about financial independence – being able to afford to buy a flat (well – a dodgy studio flat in Oval), to have an annual holiday and to pay for dinners out with friends. Pretty quickly, success was framed in terms of the amount of money I was earning and how I was progressing up a linear career hierarchy. I doggedly pursued a Managing Partner position as a critical milestone in my career success.

Having children changed things for me somewhat. If I was going to leave my children to go to the workplace, I wanted to be making a difference. A second paradigm of success became available to me. What if my work could truly make a difference alongside being a present Mother? What if success was being able to pick my children up from nursery early each day whilst pursuing a meaningful career? I quit the Managing Partner role and started working for myself, meaning that my time was my own and that I could do the work that really mattered to me – supporting women in showing up and being seen in the workplace.

I confess it took a while to feel this new perspective in my bones, rather than just in my head. I would still get a pang of jealousy seeing peers being promoted, and realising the salary I could have been on. Practicing gratitude was always my way through this. It became a mantra – I am grateful for the opportunity to see my children every afternoon. I am grateful for being able to do meaningful work. I am grateful that my time is my own. And a couple of years later, I realised it had really landed for me. No longer did I look wistfully at the ‘big’ jobs in the workplace. In fact, I was offered a role recently and it was pretty easy to turn down as soon as I realised it was only my ego that was attracted to the pay and the title.

More recently, I find myself tentatively playing with a new paradigm, inspired by Gabrielle Bernstein – ‘I measure my success by how much fun I’m having’. This has been eye opening for me. Sometimes when I am engaged in the work I really care about, it isn’t fun. Sometimes the passion for creating change equals frustration when things change too slowly for an impatient type like myself. Other parts of my work – The Daring Way™, the group coaching – are always fun. I look forward to them and relish being at the front of the room. Equally some of the time I’m present with my children isn’t ‘fun’. As any parent knows, that time between picking them up from childcare and getting them to bed in the evening can be an exhausting battle of the wills.

So I am giving myself permission to explore this new paradigm and see how integrated I can make it for my life. It feels out of reach just now, just like the second one did a few years back. I am going to write myself beautiful reminders by my bed and by my computer to prompt me to make different choices. This morning, the children went to nursery and I went to yoga, had a walk in the park and a Mediterranean brunch at a local café. Writing this I have a much bigger smile on my face than if I had spent the morning engaged in admin and paperwork. I haven’t knocked anything off my to do list, but I suspect I’ve had a more successful day.

Delusions of GenderThose of you reading popular science books or media articles about gender will have most probably formed an opinion that male and female brains are wired differently in utero and that these different brains create different minds.

In a fantastic read, Cordelia Fine’s work ‘Delusions of Gender’ seeks to unravel these assumptions and show just how unproven they actually are.

With chapter titles such as ‘sex and premature speculation’ (which the immature part of my own brain found highly amusing), she shows just how hastily conclusions are being made about the brain’s potential – perhaps just as the Victorians attributed intelligence to measures such as skull volume and brain weight.

For a start, brains are inextricably linked to the social context in which they develop and function.  How can we be sure that the differences seen in brain imaging aren’t a result of a lifetime of living in a society with very clear gender expectations?  What if sex differences in the brain were preventing sex differences in behaviour by compensating for the physiological differences?  What if smaller numbers of neurons are compensated by greater transmission capabilities of the neurons?

Attempting to summarise the thorough research analysis in to a few key points feels reductive and clumsy; and yet most won’t have the time or inclination to sift the research yourselves.  And this is what makes some of the current claims so scary – they quickly become part of the culture in which our brains and minds develop.  The results seem intuitive, gender expectations continue to be learned quickly and are then primed by the social context.

I’ve seen this borne out in the research I’m doing in the corporate world.  Talk to anyone about why there should be more women on the board, and they say that women are better at developing people and they are more empathetic.  I get it, I really do.  It’s easier to convince senior leaders of a business case in which women are going to bring something different to the boardroom table.  I’ve been guilty of sneaking in a ‘research suggests that women make empathetic leaders’ type comment just to get in the door.

Unfortunately there’s also a lot of research that shows that women don’t actually make more empathetic leaders.  It’s pretty hard to measure empathy.  Women are certainly more likely to say they are empathetic – but is this because of the gender expectations on them right from the start of their lives?  Is that because the popular media is constantly telling us that women are more empathetic?

The problem is that these scientific explanations (based on flimsy science according to Fine) make their way in to our culture and then impact the decisions that women make – thus continuing to fuel the so called differences between the sexes.  Women are more likely to choose careers requiring caring for people and empathy that, incidentally, seem to be the lowest status ones.  Those not displaying empathy are harshly criticised (perhaps as ‘ball breakers’).  In many instances a limitation on capabilities is implied – if you are empathetic then it is implied that you can’t make the hard choices when they’re needed, that you won’t be able to make unpopular decisions.

The reporting of the science in the popular press continues to place an expectation of how to behave and what choices to make dependent upon gender.

I certainly think a greater amount of empathy in the boardroom would be a wonderful thing.  But… I don’t think it’s solely the role of women to bring that empathy in.  And I think women can bring so much more to the board room table besides.