Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we’re living in 2017. Technology is hurtling us towards the future at breakneck speed but the world of business (where many of us spend the majority of our lives) is still firmly anchored in the 1950s. Most boardrooms continue to have the diversity of a golf club committee. And pay packets continue to be slimmed down to fit the dainty little purses of the weaker sex.

It makes me embarrassed to be a middle-aged, educated, white man.

It makes me embarrassed to be a middle-aged, educated, white man.

The big challenge for diversity and equality is that we’re still trying to persuade business leaders that it matters. That’s where our energy is going; trying to change people’s minds. We’re still trying to get them to give women the same opportunities as men. But inequality is not just about the balance of ovaries to testicles in the workforce, it’s also about creating culture, processes and management styles that are more welcoming to women. Because if we don’t address the hangover of the historically male workplace we’ll stifle many of the benefits of creating a sexually diverse organisation.

This is a massive and broad issue that affects every area and function of an organisation. But because the focus of this publication is creativity, that’s what we’ll stick to.

Don’t be fooled into thinking ‘women be like this, men be like this’

However, before we get into the meat of this article, remember there are no hard and fast rules. Don’t be fooled into thinking ‘women be like this, men be like this’. When you’re looking at the differences between sexes, it’s all about generalisations. We’ll be covering that in more detail later this week.

With that caveat out of the way, let’s go.

Let’s work together 

In recent years, there have been a number of studies that indicate women prefer to work in groups while men prefer to work alone. Some of these studies also seem to indicate that men will choose to work alone because they are over-confident in their own abilities. In other words, men don’t tend to be as good as they think they are. (Hmmmm. Maybe I should have collaborated on this article.)

One study, which was a collaboration between Edinburgh and Lausanne Universities (how appropriate), used the classic prisoners’ dilemma test. That’s where two people have been accused of a crime, they’re put in separate rooms and asked to inform on the other person. If they become an informer and the other person doesn’t, they’ll go free. If they both inform, they’ll both serve harsh sentences. If they cooperate with each other, they’ll both get life sentences.

The differences between men and women was striking. Teams of females were twice as cooperative as teams of men.

Further research shows that women work best in small teams. And that they skew mixed team behaviour towards more cooperation and collaboration. I may be a man but I like the sound of that.

However, there’s an easy way to destroy all that good stuff.

Ready, set, fight!

Another more recent study from Washington University in St. Louis indicates that the way you manage creativity has a polar opposite effect on the sexes. (And I wish I’d known this when I was managing creative departments.) It seems that men’s creativity is enhanced by competition while women’s creativity is diminished by it. Competition just extinguishes their creative spark.

Here’s a short film about it:

Markus Baer, the lead author of the research says:

“Women contributed less and less to the team’s creative output when the competition between teams became cutthroat, and this fall-off was most pronounced in teams composed entirely of women,”

On the other hand, increased competition caused male team members to gel together and collaborate more. Maybe it’s easiest to understand this as a diagram:

Good management is about getting the best out of your workforce. ALL of your workforce. And preferably a diverse workforce. So we need to be looking at how we can create environments where everyone can thrive.

And that’s not about creating specific ‘do this, don’t do that’ rules.

Good management is about getting the best out of your workforce. ALL of your workforce.Click To Tweet

Learning to trust

Instead of sending management on courses that teach them how to lead, maybe we need to start teaching them how to empower

Embracing difference is really about adding flexibility into the workplace so that individuals can operate to the best of their ability. And that’s hard because it involves trust and autonomy and ambiguity – which are all things that most organisations have done their best to eliminate over the years.

So maybe instead of sending management on courses that teach them how to lead, maybe we need to start teaching them how to empower. That’s about helping them focus on other people’s qualities rather than their own.

Because that’s how you unlock the potential in everyone.

Regardless of their sex.

https://i1.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/frustration.jpg?fit=1024%2C576https://i1.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/frustration.jpg?resize=150%2C150Dave BirssDiversity & Divergencyequality,management,men,sexism,study,women
Sometimes it's hard to believe that we're living in 2017. Technology is hurtling us towards the future at breakneck speed but the world of business (where many of us spend the majority of our lives) is still firmly anchored in the 1950s. Most boardrooms continue to have the diversity...
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Dave Birss
Founder and Editor at OpenForIdeas.org
Dave is obsessed with creativity. He's been a musician, illustrator, stand-up comedian, poet, radio DJ, television presenter and advertising creative director. He also wrote A User Guide to the Creative Mind.
Now he runs Open for Ideas and helps individuals and companies become more creative.
You can find him speaking at conferences all over the world. And sharing his thinking in boardrooms, universities and dimly-lit pubs.