The Pragmatic Gender
Women tend to prefer working together to create success
It seems fairly well documented that women and men communicate with different styles and often with different goals. Although there are multiple sources for this conclusion, the one that remains most compelling is You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, a 1990 non-fiction book on language and gender by Deborah Tannen (professor of sociolinguistics at Georgetown University). Although criticized by some linguists for overstating the case of language as cause of gender inequality in society, the overall focus is on why and how women discuss problems and issues for emotional connections whereas men generally exchange information without as much emotional connection and focus on problem-solving rather than just talking about issues and feelings.
I’ve long pondered if one could reasonably extrapolate from these differences that more men are pragmatic (and thus better problem solvers) than women. My conclusion, derived from the pragmatic process of seeking truth in reality, is that the opposite is more likely. Yes, that’s right, women can and do bring more to the table than many (but certainly not all) men. If you look around, there’s evidence everywhere that upholds this generality. Yes, there are exceptions, but then there always are.
One example is the U.S. Congress — now a shining monument to political gridlock and governance dysfunction. It is female members of both parties who still meet for lunch and dinner, look for common ground and compromise for the sake of moving issues forward. Another example is the undeniable data demonstrating that corporations with multiple female senior executives and females on boards of directors consistently are more innovative and more profitable. The combination of intelligence, pragmatism and inclusiveness with women succeeds where men are often more likely to be individual contributors rather than team players, with competitive egos that can undermine pragmatic management.
To understand why women increase the likelihood of success, one has to return to Tannen’s overview of how female children socialize and relate to each other compared to males. Girls sit facing each other and form circles to include everyone, whereas boys sit looking in the same direction, not facing each other. And females use communication to form relationships that have more complexity. Just talking about feelings and issues is valuable to them, whereas males want to solve the “problems.” In my experience, women are generally more interesting than men to talk to because they naturally have more insightful observations that derive from how they relate to and interact with others. From this they can create working relationships that themselves lead to greater success in numerous ways.
Despite exceptions, women tend to prefer working together to create success, finding both the process and results more satisfying that way. Men, perhaps thanks to testosterone, view much of life as competitive and not unlike going into battle, be it the office, sports or simply driving. Males practically own road rage. Women are not as likely to choose war to settle issues unless they believe they have run out of other viable options. Unlike many men, they look at “winning” as more complicated than simply using force of one kind or another to get their way. Working smarter, not just harder, confers multiple benefits.
Looking past these generalizations, any culture, economy or organization that fails to create the same opportunities for women as men is forfeiting a lot of talent, benefits and success. Assumptions about the proper place, behavior and role of women — used to restrict rights and opportunities for them, are typically from men who are more interested in their own positions and power, completely missing how much more their own well-being is enhanced when the other gender half of the population can participate equally. Women try to balance work and life, and are penalized for doing so, when it would be better for everyone if men did the same.
The more conservative and less pragmatic a society, its organizations and religious presence, the less likely that equality for women and the resulting improvements in quality of life for the greater good will exist. Social conservatives resist and even try to reverse larger roles for women and increased freedom of choice for them. The justifications for this are convoluted, illogical and arbitrary, invoking tradition to discourage change. Gender equality represents the evolution of modern society, combining greater personal freedom with greater pragmatism. We all benefit from this.