From unpredictable economies to the whirligig of new technologies to rising distrust between institutions to a millennial workforce to climate change, today’s alpha-female leaders are expected to address these complex issues and encourage women to boss it.
How do you build a more aligned and engaged workforce in a rapidly evolving world? How can women play an important role to surmount such challenges?
At Fortune’s August 2019 Business Roundtable, it was universally acknowledged that the best chance a company has of surviving and growing in these times of turmoil is to have a clear sense of purpose - the WHY - for its workforce.
A market survey reveals that teams and organizations with at least 50% of women in executive roles have workers who not only have greater clarity of their organizational mission, strategy, and purpose - but are more inspired by them.
These two events are not mutually isolated. And if you have only just made the connection between ‘women’ and ‘purpose at the workplace, you are late. A growing number of workplaces and businesses are clamoring for greater female representation at the top - where womenfolk are still, relative to their male counterparts, not only less in number but less ‘engaged’.
The data checks out. More and more studies, every day, are confirming that businesses with women in decision-making and critical roles are outperforming – not just preceding- the companies where analogous seats are occupied by men.
Investor and entrepreneur Kevin O’Leary (of ABC’s Shark Tank fame) is more likely to fund start-ups spearheaded by women because – going by his own portfolio - they are way ahead when it comes to performance (for Kevin, that means Return-On-Investment). Nearly half of America today would, given a choice, work for a company led by women, according to this Harris Poll.
Fortune 500 companies (with a predominantly women CXO percentage) generated nearly 3X returns in comparison to those listed on the S&P 500 (and which were herded by men, mostly). Why? According to a majority of respondents in some of these surveys, these organizations are more ‘purpose-driven’-- the pinnacle of flower power and women-leadership role.
Back to Purpose -the secret sauce, then. So what makes women more purposeful in the corporate context?
Some of the big differences are biological.
The first one originates in the upper story. Yes, despite the unisex-brain school of thought, women and men are, by and large, born with brains that have significant structural (and, by extensions, functional) differences. Here’s the quick lowdown. Men’s brains hold a greater number of grey cells. In the world of work, this makes men good at ‘grey cell things’ such as processing concepts and solving problems. Women’s brains, on the other hand, have more white cells. The purpose of white cells is – amongst other things - to network, harness, and synergize processing and problem-solving tools (grey cells) in the brain. In other words, to supervise, orchestrate, and manage tasks. In the workplace, women are better at connecting, communicating, and mobilizing all moving parts, including emotions.
The other difference is oxytocin. A hormone and a neurotransmitter produced in the hypothalamus, oxytocin has proven effects on our social behavior. Lightly called the ‘Hug Hormone’, oxytocin generates ‘trust’. Trust is a vital ingredient in creating an ecosystem of trust, security, and bonding in a team, which in turn makes us more creative, productive, and happy. Women produce more oxytocin than men, meaning that workplaces that promote women would ‘naturally’ be ‘Great Places to Work’.
Finally, we have neuroimaging investigations to suggest that when they are processing emotions, women employ their Mirror Neurons more than males. The main KRA of a Mirror neuron, as the name suggests, is to hold up a mirror to other people’s feelings, allowing the individual to put herself in others’ shoes. In the workplace, that translates to qualities like understanding (a strong ‘Inclusion & Diversity’ influencer), sensitivity, and empathy. You can read up Lowri Dowthwaite’s article on the topic here.
In a study, women worked these ‘super-powers’ to do something spectacularly well (much better than men did):
Make employees ‘genuinely’ believe in the business purpose.
By the way, in doing so, they achieved the ‘Holy Grail’ of modern businesses.
How did they do it? Their Mirror Neurons helped women connect with employees at a one-on-one level. Their grey cells helped women network and mobilize everyone on common ground. And when they finally communicated the company goal, the magic of oxytocin didn’t just make everyone sit up and listen, but buy into the premise spontaneously and whole-heartedly.
In the same study - this led to awesome stuff, like deeper worker engagement, greater belief in business strategy, higher involvement in the organizational journey and greater conviction in the company’s products and services (consider the last one – which has the power to turn employees into powerful brand ambassadors – a bonus for your marketing department).
Engagement levels play a ‘woman’s role’ in exemplifying gender diversity. Check out Empuls: the perfect Employee Engagement platform.
For corporate leadership, this is the gold one spends billions of dollars every year on. Instead, all we have to do is engage and incentivize women more purposefully. Build not just a ‘Great Place to Work’ for them, but a more meaningful one.
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