Originally published on Advisor Perspectives, December 26, 2018
There’s a proper, researched-based, yet seldom-used way to evaluate male and female employees. As a consequence, the standards used to review the performance of the two genders can be flawed and potentially discriminatory.
Let’s start with a review of the evidence.
The ability to be empathetic is universally regarded positively. A significant body of research confirms that women are generally more empathetic than men. The gap between the two genders increases with age.
The significance of this difference is not clear-cut. Women tend to be better than men at emotional empathy (feeling what the other person feels), but men seem better able to manage distressing emotions. Women experience those feelings more intently. Men perceive those feelings, but focus more quickly on fixing the issue causing them.
Neuroscientists believe those differences are inherent in the way the brains of men and women react to those situations.
There are pros and cons to the way men and women typically react to emotionally charged situations. One is not better than the other. Psychologist Ruth Malloy studied outstanding leaders and concluded, “… gender differences in emotional intelligence abilities wash out. The men are as good at the women, the women as good as the men, across the board.”
Women are generally less confident than men.
A survey of more than 1,300 girls from ages 8-14 found their confidence level fell by 30% as they aged. When girls are age 14, the confidence level of boys is 27% higher.
This gap continues as we age. An eight-year study (discussed here) of data from over 985,000 men and women, across 48 countries, found that men had higher self-esteem than women. Women in Western countries (like the U.S. and Australia) had a more pronounced gap than those in non-Western countries.
The authors of the study concluded: “Overall, men tend to have higher self-esteem than women do, and both genders show age-graded increases in self-esteem from late adolescence to middle adulthood.”
In his powerful book, Brain Rules, John Medina, described differences in the brains of men and women.
Women’s and men’s brains are “… different structurally and biochemically. Women respond differently to acute stress (by activating the left hemisphere amygdala). Men respond by activating the right hemisphere amygdala. He theorizes that this difference causes women to remember the emotional details and men to ‘get the gist.’”
These differences don’t mean that the behavior of one gender is better than the other. They also don’t account for all the differences between the reactions of the two genders.
Avoiding systemic discrimination
Many men and women won’t conform to the behavior ascribed to these differences in brain structure.
Yet, this research shows how to more fairly evaluate the performance of both genders:
- Recognize the differences in brain structure; and
- Evaluate based on the totality of the performance, and not on any one factor. If you place undue emphasis on emotional empathy, men will be at a disadvantage. If you are focused on self-confidence, women are unfairly penalized.
While the differences in brain structure may well wash out, it’s helpful to realize those differences exist and to take them into consideration.