Feminists and equal opportunity campaigners will be disappointed to read the latest research which suggests that the more gender equality there is in a country, the more people revert to gender stereotypes and think differently.
A survey of 130,000 people from 22 countries by scientists from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that the more women there are in the workforce, parliament and education, the more they differ and diverge on psychological traits.
This counter-intuitive finding has been has been replicated so it’s worth considering – even if no-one really understands why!
Other research published by Plos One found that in countries ranked less equal in gender by the World Economic Forum, women were more likely to choose traditional male courses such as sciences.
Erik Mac Giolla, the lead researcher at Gothenburg, said if anything the research found bigger differences than previously. Measuring personality using the well-established “Big 5″ model OCEAN i.e. Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism, women typically scored higher on all of them although there is always an overlap with men’s scores on those factors.
For example in China, which scores low on gender parity, the personality overlap between the sexes is as high as 84%. In the Netherlands on the other hand, one of the world’s most gender-equal societies, it is 61%.
“It seems that as gender equality increases, as countries become more progressive, men and women gravitate towards traditional gender norms. Why? I don’t really know” said Giolla.
Steve Stewart-Williams at the University of Nottingham says this effect is also seen in other ways, not just personality. “The same counter-intuitive patterns have been found in many other areas, including attachment styles, choice of academic speciality, choice of occupation, crying frequency, depression, happiness, and interest in casual sex”
“It’s definitely a challenge to one prominent stream of feminist theory, according to which all differences between the sexes come from cultural training and social roles”.
He thinks that those living in wealthier and more gender-equal societies have more freedom to pursue their own interest and behave more individually, which would magnify natural differences.
He also believes we should stop thinking of sex differences in society as being automatically a product of oppression. They could actually be a sign of the living in a fair and free society.
To sum up you might think it’s reasonable for people brought up in cultures where men and women are treated differently and have different opportunities that they will end up a lot more different than they would in cultures where they are treated more equally.
However the opposite seems to be true. Treating mean and women differently makes them more the same and treating them the same makes them more different.
So perhaps once women have achieved parity with men in their chosen careers etc they then relax and revert to type?
That would explain the Queen Bee phenomenon.
They are better than men at using people skills, the ability to take others with you, to compromise with good grace and to make employees feel valued.
They also outperform men in getting things done, can set ambitious goals and follow them through methodically.
They are even better at entrepreneurial skills such as innovation and have the courage to seize the initiative and communicate a vision clearly.
So what’s the catch? Well when the going gets tough it’s men that get going apparently.
After examining personality traits among Norway’s managerial elite it seems women are more likely to lack the emotional stability required in leadership so they wilt under pressure.
The authors said ” The survey suggests that female leaders may falter through their stronger tendency to worry – or lower emotional stability. However this does not negate that they are decidedly more suited to management positions than male counterparts. If decision-makers ignore this truth they could be employing less qualified leaders and impairing productivity”.
The researchers looked at the correlation between leaders and emotional stability, an outgoing personality, openness to new experiences, agreeableness and a methodical nature (these are all traits in the Big 5 personality model).
They also compared managers in the public and private sectors. They found that public sector leaders showed higher degrees of innovation, stronger people skills and more meticulous attention to detail. This applied more to senior rather than middle managers.
The most effective managers were those motivated by a genuine interest in their work and a sense of its value.
After the recession there were lots of anecdotal stories of female CEOs being preferred to mop up the mess left behind by former (male) CEOs and research that showed that female CEOs were trusted more. And there is evidence that having females in your team can make it more effective.
Marissa Meyer seemed to have lost the plot at Yahoo after banning working from home and building a creche next to her office so she didn’t have to.
Here in the UK there have been some embarrassing examples of senior women managers in the NHS who have had to leave their posts in disgrace. Perhaps only proving that there is equality and that women can be just as bad leaders as men
Psychologists at Duke University, North Carolina, investigated the downside of being competent at your job and guess what? You probably won’t be thanked for it and will probably be given more to do as a result.
Lazy workers know how to mess up the simplest jobs so they don’t get asked again or to complain about their workload. On the other hand reliable workers – those who scored high on self-control, a trait similar to the Big 5 trait of conscientiousness which correlates highly with reliability – get work dumped on them by their colleagues and maybe even worse it happens when they get home too.
In general they found that “people not only have higher expectations of these (reliable) people but tend to assign them more work”. The researchers felt that such people deserved better recognition and more rewards. I can’t disagree with that.
In the Sunday Times business section this weekend Luke Johnson, Chairman of Risk Capital Partners and the Centre for Entrepreneurs, set out his list of the most important characteristics that a managing director should possess.
In brief these were:
The ability to motivate. The boss who can enthuse a workforce will generally do better than one who rules by fear.
Domain Knowledge. They must have sufficient technical understanding to gain the respect of their team.
The ability to listen. The best bosses don’t dominate debates but encourage feedback and leave their doors open. They listen to the shop floor by going there in person.
Decisiveness. Ultimately companies cannot function as pure democracies and someone has to make decisions rather than procrastinate. Employees need a sense of direction.
Financial literacy. Must be able to interpret financial statements and analyse accouts.
A sense of humour. Life is too short not to enjoy going to work .
Reliability in a crisis. Someone who doesn’t panic in the face of adversity and gets down to work in a diligent and professional way without histrionics.
Frugality. Having a thrifty approach to business. Extravagant CEOs set a bad example especially if they live beyond their means. A lean operation is the only way.
Delegation. The only way for start-ups to become large companies is for the proprietor/managers to learn to identify, promote, trust, and empower talent.
Adaptability. Modern companies need to be flexible and intelligent leaders thrive on change and are constantly learning.
Bravery. Outstanding leaders need the courage to make unpopular decisions. Those who fail to speak out on controversial issues and follow the consensus are followers not leaders.
That’s Luke Johnsons’ list and I can’t say I disagree with any of them. An interesting mixture of personality traits e.g. adaptability (being open to experience) and learned skills e.g. financial knowledge.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who meets all those criteria however! And when it comes to frugality it’s hard to say it abounds. When the average pay at the top of organisations is 130 times pay at the bottom and CEOs get rewarded for failure e.g. the Barclays CEO walking away with £28 million it’s hard to believe it exists at the very top of organisations.
If you want to comment or add to the list contact him at: email@example.com
These traits, which help their partners to be advance their careers are: conscientiousness, reliability, and diligence.
These are the traits commonly found in successful executives with conscientiousness linked to success in life generally i.e. you do what you say you’ll do.
The study examined 5,000 married couples aged between 19 and 80 years of age and tracked them over 5 years to see how well they did at work. They also asked them to describe their partners.
Those who progressed the most in their chosen occupation had a spouse who scored high in conscientiousness, regardless of sex.
The author of the study, Joshua Jackson, talking about the results said “ It is not only your own personality that influences the experiences that lead to greater occupational success, but that your spouse’s personality matters too”.
He said it’s not just about your spouse encouraging you to ask for a pay rise or promotion but the influence of your spouse’s daily behaviour which influences you over time.
Conscientiousness can mean a spouse sharing the domestic chores or emulating the other person’s personality traits making them reliable and diligent employees.
This is where HR has been getting it wrong! Instead of using personality questionnaires to assess the applicant they should be inviting the applicants’ spouses in for assessment as well. Of course that doesn’t help if the applicant doesn’t have one – unless they borrow one for the occasion from a successful friend.
Personality Neuroscience: Unlocking The Mystery of The Brain in Order to Understand The Whole Person
Brought to my attention via Dr Mark’s Business Psychology blog
This month, President Obama unveiled plans to fund a $100 million project to discover how different regions of the brain connect and result in the many complex functions that we as human beings are capable of. The BRAIN initiative, similar in its audacious attempt to push the boundaries of human knowledge as the Human Genome project, will endeavour to discover more about the most complex structure in the universe.
So, I was inspired to reconnect with my neuroscience roots myself and through a recommendation of our very own Psyche Editor; Mr Starkey, came across the intriguing field of ‘Personality Neuroscience’. The aim of this field, is “to understand both the biological systems that are responsible for the states associated with [personality] traits and the parameters of those systems that cause them to function differently in different individuals” (DeYoung, 2010). A leading figure within Personality Neuroscience is Dr Colin DeYoung, who…
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And that’s not bad for someone who has business and law degrees but is a self-taught psychologist.
She is described as an extreme leadership guru who uses neuroshaping or “playing chemist with your own brain” to help people become more charismatic and persuasive.
Like other top end coaches she offers shadowing and video analysis and concedes that the charisma label is just a hook she uses to attract clients.
Starting off by offering free charisma courses to students at MIT she soon developed programmes for Harvard, Yale and the UN. She says she still does pro bono work for charities and refuses to work with politicians.
She is adamant that charisma is not just a genetic gift bestowed on people like Bill Clinton but is mostly learnt. Cabane also says that there are different kinds of charisma e.g. a warm likeable charisma (think Tony Blair at his peak and Bill Clinton) or a colder uncompromising style such as personified by Steve Jobs.
Mmm .. I’ve used a model borrowed from actors which suggests that charisma is a combination of warmth and status. Think of Gordon Brown as high status but hardly warm and cuddly. And that model ties in with US research on charismatic Fire Chiefs who score high on the Big 5 factor of Agreeableness.
Despite the reference to “neuroshaping” (which hints at he current interest in neuroscience) it seems much of what she teaches clients is about assertiveness and the use of NVC (she mentions the MIT research I’ve posted about previously). She also uses visualisation and anchoring techniques used by sports psychologists and NLP practitioners.
Here are the 5 steps outlined in the Times article
Stand like a big gorilla and take up as much space as possible. This is a technique well known to actors and is an example of demonstrating high status
Don’t wave your head about or nod as it indicates low status and confidence. Especially important for women who tend to move their heads to the side when theys peak. This is more a courtship/flirting signal
Make good eye contact but with warmth. Again a sign of confidence.
Lean back rather than froward when closing a deal as this suggests high confidence. In the past people were trained to lean forward and invade personal space to intimidate people.
Be aware of how you are feeling. Be in the moment. Mindfulness is very popular now and anything like it will help you relax and concentrate.
Good emotional intelligence and empathy will also be invaluable.
One of my favourite blogs – Psyblog – recently posted on why people secretly fear creative ideas.
It seems we say we value creativity but don’t really want it. Teachers apparently don’t like creative kids – they are probably too disruptive and not good at following rules.
In organisations leaders say they want creative ideas – and then stick to the tried and tested.
I’ve seen creative people promoted only to find that they then have other priorities so they get frustrated and end up losing their credibility when they succumb to their dark side and their ideas are seen as totally unrealistic.
Experiments by Mueller and colleagues using implicit attitude tests showed that when people are uncertain they think negatively about creative ideas and found it harder to recognise them. This shows that people may dislike creative ideas because they increase uncertainty and that’s not a state we enjoy.
But of course being creative requires just that – doing something that hasn’t been done before or doing something in a different way.
Research elsewhere into the links between creativity and the Big 5 personality factors confirmed that openness and extraversion were significantly related to creativity, but agreeableness had no effect. However they found that people with higher levels of arrogance and pretentiousness also reported more creative accomplishments and being engaged in more creative activities.
So other researchers then explored the connections between creativity and dishonesty.
In a series of experiments reported in Psychology Today they found that people reporting higher creativity were more likely to take advantage of ambiguous situations to cheat. This was nothing to do with intelligence; there were no links between intelligence and creativity nor between intelligence and dishonesty. In fact creativity was a better predictor of dishonesty than intelligence.
People with a more creative mindset were more motivated to think “outside the box” and this is what led to increased levels of dishonesty. In experiments within real organisations they found that people working in what were considered more creative departments or in jobs in which they were expected to be creative, were more likely to act unethically when asked to make decisions on a range of scenarios.
The research actually showed that creativity causes dishonesty. The researchers think that “creativity helps people to develop original ways to bypass moral rules …. to reinterpret information in self-serving ways as they attempt to justify their immoral actions”.
It makes you wonder about creative entrepreneurs who may be less inclined than the rest of us to follow rules which they regard as meaningless red tape eg paying VAT! Or think of Richard Branson’s early days selling vinyl records out of telephone boxes.
The researchers also caution that although the findings are statistically significant they are only trends and there are many creative people who are not dishonest.