This week I reached out to a tech investment forum to inquire about an event. I received a response that said: “This event is closed to non-members, but here is the information for a women’s event you may want to attend.” I appreciated the gesture, but I want men in the room.

When I first opened my practice, I knew that I needed to understand business as intuitively as I understand people. As I searched for local groups where I could listen and learn, I found many female-oriented business groups, but the mixed-gender groups were predominately networking-focused. Let me share my internal decision-making process about attending, courtesy of research in my Ph.D. program.

Research on Men and Women

In my Ph.D. program, I was curious about the biological differences between men and women. We know that our culture has a massive influence on gender development. I wanted to know if differences exist that cannot be accounted for by societal influences. A series of studies that included infants and toddlers, along with a great meta-analysis of many research projects on gender, yielded the following conclusions:

  1. Men and women are more alike than they are different.
  2. The differences are not opposite; rather, they are a matter of degree.

Specifically,

  1. Females, from an early age, show a stronger interest in building and maintaining relationships. In applied settings, this means that women, as a group, are great at navigating relationships, building supportive environments, and attending to emotional nuances of situations.
  2. Males, from an earlier age, show a stronger interest in building and systemizing processes. In applied settings, this means that men, as a group, are good at problem-solving operations, negotiating deals based on value, and assessing decisions from a very analytical viewpoint.

Based on this research, my internal thought process about attending female-only learning events is this: I am a female, and I already have the relationship-building skill-set. Why would I want to attend a meeting with only women?”

Sexism Versus Acknowledgment of Diversity

I have always hated sexism. As a teenager, I wanted men and women to be the same. I disdained the gender discussions around me that assumed inequality. While I understand that stereotypes are cognitive short-cuts, I fear contributing to them. As I write this, I think about men who are more strongly wired toward relationship management and women who excel in systemizing approaches. I am also aware of and attuned to the readers who are genderqueer. Reading this article further marginalizes them, because it is once again, a discussion of categories, in which they may or may not feel included. What I learned from my Ph.D. research, is that ignoring diversity to avoid being sexist, is as harmful as emphasizing differences to the exclusion of our commonalities.

In my opinion, if we lose diversity, we lose information.  We lose the challenge. We lose the reward. Diversity stretches us outside of our comfort zone, increases the potential for temporary conflict, and ultimately invites us to re-evaluate our constructs. Sometimes having everyone in the room is hard. Yet, if we can merge divergent thought processes, we achieve superior solutions compared to those that are derived from a unidimensional approach.

The Return on Investment

As I focused on increasing my business acumen, I attended meetings that included men. I learned how to think more strategically. As I observed male communication patterns, I learned to be more straightforward with my thoughts instead of focusing only on people’s feelings. I learned how to tolerate conflict in a room without rushing to make peace. Over time, I figured out how to fuse the more analytical approaches with my existing skill-set in emotional intelligence.

In a recent phone call with a male friend, I gave him business advice. He said, “this is why I like talking to you. You can speak ‘guy,’ but you bring the emotional nuances to the situation that I would not have thought about.”

My friend is classically analytical such that he thinks in spreadsheets to ensure optimal solutions. Guess who I call if I want to ensure that I have no logical gap in my decision-making strategy? Sometimes we have active debates where we push each other hard, but the struggle to mesh opposing views always yields more accurate conclusions.

Today, my business has shifted from a predominately female clientele to an even ratio. I love the way men challenge me to translate my fuzzy concepts into defined principles, to shift my stories into sentences, and to push hard into a discussion. I am better for their presence.

As I continue my search of conversations and conferences on big business, I want to see the invitations in which men have been brought back into the room. I want to see women rise and own the value that they bring to the table. We can accomplish infinitely more together.