Ministers believe that this will help MI5, MI6 and GCHQ to better fight against terrorism and other threats.
They have been advertising widely including on Mumsnet after a report by MPs which identified a gender imbalance in the intelligence community (Women currently make up 38% of MI6 staff and 42% of MI5 staff. Not a bad proportion I would have thought given the nature of the work)
They are looking for women with high levels of emotional intelligence rather than focussing on standard qualifications. They are also offering flexible hours and child-care support. Not a return to the days of Mata Hari!
So no more cold war warriors. No room for the Harry Palmers and Smileys as described in the post war espionage literature. But it makes sense as there is evidence that adding women to teams can increase the group’s IQ levels.
And this new diversity initiative should come as no surprise. MI5 comes in at No. 7 in Stonewall’s Top 100 gay-friendly workplaces and GCHQ prides itself on its neuro-diversity
There are phrases that women use (allegedly) that are holding them back in the workplace and this app is meant to prompt them to evaluate what they are saying and come up with a better i.e. more assertive, phrase to replace it.
When words like “sorry” or “just” are typed into a Gmail they are underlined for correction with a warning such as “Using ‘sorry’ frequently undermines your gravitas and makes you appear unfit for leadership” or ” ‘Just’ demeans what you have to say“.
So far so good you might think. let’s discourage the use of “undermining words“. But no, it’s attracted the wrath of feminists and journalists such as New York business editor Alexandra Frean (writing in The Times).
“Sorry, but women don’t need to be told how to write” she says. This is just part of the trend offering spurious advice on women’s speech patterns which are supposed to empower women but risk doing the opposite – in her opinion.
Now Frean is an American and from her on-line presence seems a familiar sight at conventions and the like and probably one of the “lean in” brigade. But is she right?
She refers to women using “upspeak“, which makes every sentence sound like a question, or “vocal fry” when their voice descends to a croak instead.
And then she asks where is the evidence that women do these things more often than men?
Well I remember a speaker from a British university presenting on this very subject at an international leadership conference in Germany a couple of years ago where she presented such evidence.
And from my experience as an executive coach working with senior women this is not uncommon. Maybe it’s that we Brits are a bit less forward than our American cousins.
She then argues that woman might be using these qualifiers, not to display weakness but as persuaders and conciliators.
She also refers to research at Rutgers university that found that women who spoke confidently about their strengths were seen as less attractive and less employable.
She’s not the only critic of the app. Professor of linguistics at the University of California in Berkeley Robin Lakoff says that telling women how to talk discourages them from speaking. “I know the developers of the app would say, in all sincerity, that they are trying to help women by telling us how to talk, but these hints never make anyone a better speaker; their effect is to make women less articulate because they suppress our spontaneity and make us embarrassed about whatever we do”
She says whether a word is used correctly depends on the context and there are times when saying sorry is OK and other times when it is inappropriate. These kinds of words (or discourse markers) have the ability to soften what a speaker is saying or make difficult conversations more comfortable. They also make people feel better and able to get along, something she says women are better at than men.
So arguments on both sides – and all from women, including the person who designed the app is Tami Reiss who describes how it came about here.
In short she was inspired by a number of women coaches and leaders including Tara Mohr, a leadership coach and author of “Playing Big” a book that exhorts every working women to “find your voice, your mission, your message“. (seen here on YouTube
- It’s an unconscious habit that women have picked up from other women
- Women who use these phrases want to appear likeable and worry about coming over as aggressive or arrogant. (I posted about women’s dilemma some time ago in “Too nice or too bossy” in regard to leadership).
- The third reason is the inner critic we all have which creates self-doubt (and gives rise to imposter syndrome, something else I posted about earlier)
Mohr says the feedback she has had from people following her recommendations has been positive and her clients report getting faster replies to their e-mails and having their requests taken more seriously.
Mohr also takes a strong view about women coming out of 2,000 years of oppression! According to her women have a lot of work to do, both unlearning and learning, to be able to fully embrace the freedoms that women now have.
The author claims that a sex partition has sprung up which impedes women from building a vital network of contacts. This is as a result of the publicity about sexual harassment which has backfired on women who find it easy to network with other women but not with men, who still hold the power in many organisations.
She found that 2 out of 3 male executives were reluctant to even meet younger woman although they would not hesitate to ask a junior male colleague. Companies providing courses on sexual harassment and following up even minor perceived infringements don’t necessarily help.
When a man has to justify to HR why he opened a door for a woman (one of her examples) or complimented one on a new suit (and let’s not mention “stunning photos” on LinkedIn) you can see how men could become risk averse. There is even a term for fear of being accused of sexual harassment. It’s called “backlash stress“!
And don’t forget the fuss, largely in the US, about micro-aggressions.
Well scientists at Oxford University now believe it’s the worst thing you can do.
Sleep is known to help consolidate memories so they are suggesting that sleep deprivation might be desirable in reducing long-term psychological effects by impairing those memories.
In an experiment two groups were shown a disturbing film which included a suicide. One group went to bed as normal while the other was kept awake by staff trained to stop them falling asleep.
In the days that followed all the participants were asked how often images from the film popped into their heads. The ones that slept were found to be more likely to experience flashbacks.
Professor Foster said “Maybe the routine treatment after such events should be gently to keep people awake – to sit with them and chat to them“. At present patients are often sedated after such events to help them sleep.
He also referred to experiences after battles in early cultures when it was more likely that the tradition was to sit round campfire celebrating the event with alcohol.
Post traumatic stress (PTSD) can cause a number of problems for those suffering from it. Not just the flashbacks but problems concentrating, irritability and a heightened startle response.
A recent American study showed that women under 65 who had suffered traumatic experiences and had four or more symptoms of PTSD were 60% more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke in later life.
Even those without any symptoms but who had suffered some trauma were 45% more likely to suffer cardiovascular disease compared to women who hadn’t been exposed to traumatic events.
Karestan Koenen of Columbia University said “Our results provide further evidence that PTSD increase the risk of chronic disease. The medical system needs to stop treating the mind and the body as if they were separate.Patients need access to integrated mental and physical care”
Well according to Herminia Ibarra and her colleagues, writing in the September 2013 HBR, persistent gender bias disrupts the learning process of becoming a leader.
They are talking about what they call “second generation gender bias“. Not direct discrimination but things like the paucity of role models for women, career paths and jobs that have become entrenched with a gender bias, and women’s lack of access to sponsors and networks.
They also talk about the double binds facing women. In most cultures leadership is associated with masculinity. The ideal leader, like the ideal man, is decisive, assertive, and independent. Women, on the other hand, are expected to be nice, caretaking, and unselfish.
Research shows that female leaders who excel in traditional male domains are viewed as competent but less likeable than their male counterparts. Yet research shows that female CEOs are trusted more than male ones and can add real value to teams.
Behaviours that suggest self-confidence or assertiveness in men often appear arrogant or abrasive in women. Female leaders who adopt a feminine approach to their work may be liked but not respected. They are seen as too emotional to make tough decisions and too soft to be strong leaders.
Yet research carried out by Zenger and Folkman in 2011 on over 7,000 executives using 360 degree feedback, showed that women were rated higher than men at every managerial level. However the higher in the hierarchy you went the more men there were. So were companies promoting the right people?
They used 16 competencies in their research, which they had identified as being the most important in terms of overall leadership effectiveness.
- Takes initiative
- Practices self-development
- Drives for results
- Develops others
- Inspires and motivates others
- Builds relationships
- Establishes stretch goals
- Champions change
- Solves problems and analyses issues
- Communicates powerfully and prolifically
- Connects the group to the outside world
- Technical or professional expertise
- Develops strategic perspective
Comparing mean scores for men and women the women scored significantly (statistically) higher than the men on 12 of the 16 traits – and not just the ones that women are known to be better at. They scored the same as men on connecting to the outside world, innovating, and technical or professional expertise.
The only trait where men scored higher was on developing a strategic perspective.
So what’s to be done? Ibarra and her colleagues don’t suggest anything dramatically new or innovative.
Progressing to leadership positions means leaving behind your old professional identity and learning new skills (have a look at Charan’s pipeline model).
That can be scary so having supportive mechanisms in place such as providing leadership programmes, mentoring and coaching (and I find in my coaching that women are less defensive and often respond better than men), and providing a support group or a safe space – perhaps an action learning group – can make a real difference.
Then we had the research finding that said that to make a team more intelligent – simply add more women.
But the question is whether or not women like working in teams?
Two academic economists (and have you noticed how economists are trespassing on research topics more typically associated with psychologists) have published results of an experiment in the Economic Journal.
They found that in competitive tasks 80% of men chose to do it as individuals compared to just under 30% of women (they were equally able on the tasks). They called this the “gender competition gap” and found that it shrank by more than half when the only option was to compete in teams. Then 67% of men and 45% of women chose to compete.
Previous research has shown that men prefer to compete more than women even when they are equally able to do the task. The economists, Andrew Healey and Jennifer Pate, say that it is the environment which is important and changing that can narrow the gender competition gap.
They point out that there are few women CEOs of FTSE100 companies and think that if the emphasis was shifted away from “testosterone-fuelled gladiatorial-style competition” to an environment that focusses on their team-working ability, things could change in favour of women.
They also point out that men will apply for jobs for which they are under-qualified whilst women do the opposite and if selection or competition was based on teamwork more women and fewer men might apply.
I posted on this following the publication of a management survey which showed that people trusted female CEOs more than male ones to get their company out of recession and save jobs.
But women suffer more than men from “imposter syndrome” and are therefore less likely to apply for jobs unless they are highly confident they can do them, whereas men are more likely to overestimate their capability and apply regardless.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and MIT Sloan School of Management have found there is no correlation between individual IQ scores and group intelligence.
Participants were first given standard intelligence tests and then randomly assigned to teams. The teams were asked to brainstorm, solve visual puzzles and one complex problem, and then each team’s collective intelligence was assessed.
The teams that had members with higher IQ scores didn’t score much higher than the average but teams that had more women in them did.
Factors such as group cohesion, motivation, and satisfaction were not predictive of the teams’ performance but gender diversity was correlated. The researchers put this down to what they call social sensitivity (which sound similar to the emotional intelligence factors of empathy and awareness of others).
Teams displaying social sensitivity would be more open to feedback and constructive criticism. Teams that had smart people dominating the discussions didn’t turn out to be so intelligent as a group.
So in theory a group of high IQ members could score better on the team tests but it would probably be because they had higher levels of social sensitivity as well. Women score higher on this than men but if you had more socially sensitive men that would work too.
The researchers also suggest that extremely diverse groups and highly homogeneous groups aren’t as intelligent as groups with a moderate degree of variety in IQ scores. They also see the potential for improving IQ at organisational level through changing the make-up of a group and rewarding collaboration, although the larger a group gets the less opportunity there is for face to face interaction.
This research is interesting because it uses collective IQ as a predictor. We know now that IQ scores can vary depending on the motivation of the individual and that when you are stressed your IQ level drops. Putting people in a more collaborative and supportive environment probably contributes to the enhanced group effect.
Source: HBR June 2011
Researchers at Columbia University in New York are saying that the real reason for a shortage of women at the top is down to men determined to hold on to their power. The findings are being presented to a conference for heads of girls’ schools.
This contradicts earlier research from 1973 that suggested women in positions of authority treated female subordinates more critically and essentially held back their promotions.
This study of top management teams at 1,500 companies was carried out over a 20-year period (I wonder if they took into account changing attitudes over two decades?).
They found that when a women was appointed as CEO it was more likely other women would be promoted into senior positions.
However when women were appointed to senior jobs below CEO the likelihood of other women following their example was reduced by 50%.
Analysing their data the researchers concluded that it was most likely men excluding women from the boardroom.
“Women face an implicit quota, whereby firms seek to maintain a small number of women in their top management team, usually only one” say the researchers.
So the researchers concluded that the “Queen Bee syndrome” is a myth.
And on a positive note female bosses pay staff more, regardless of their gender.
Typically IQ testing has shown differences between men and women – and more controversially between races.
James Flynn, a Professor in New Zealand, has claimed that our IQ scores are increasing every ten years by about 3%, and this has been called the “Flynn effect”.
The “Flynn Effect” means that modern Europeans are 30 points smarter than those who lived a century ago and that IQ is not (wholly) genetic as it can be improved.
Flynn’s latest research showed that whereas women’s scores had previously lagged 5 points behind men’s the differences are now trivial and in New Zealand, Argentina, and Estonia women scored slightly higher than men.
Flynn puts this down to the impact of modern living, women being less disadvantaged than they were in the past, and having jobs that make more cognitive demands.
I’ve posted on women and intelligence before, how women can do worse at problem solving when in teams and yet adding women to teams can raise the group IQ levels.
Intelligence testing is not without its critics and is not a perfect science. See: “How do you know how intelligent you are?”