A Female-Dominated Workplace Won't Fix Everything by Anne Kreamer

From the Harvard Business Review.

Men on the job must feel besieged. Two seismic shifts are underway that are irrevocably changing the ways in which we've believed work works.

On the one hand, new technologies have enabled neuroscience to discover that men and women tend to be wired differently in ways that incline men — can it be? — to behave more emotionally and irrationally in certain work situations, exploding the myth that women are the only emotional creatures in the workplace. Recent research, like that led by Cambridge University neuroscientist John Coates, suggests that surges in male financial traders' testosterone produce states of euphoria that cause them to understate risk, thus contributing to the overleveraged global financial crash. Since men naturally produce ten times as much testosterone as women, it's being suggested that a more gender-balanced financial workforce could be stabilizing for firms and for the system as a whole.

On the other hand, the metrics of 21st century female professional and economic empowerment have become a tide. As of the last two years, more American workers are female than male, and the postindustrial occupations in which women predominate — health and education, among others — are the growth sectors. Women today account for 57% of college undergraduates, 62% of graduate students, and majorities of those graduating from medical and law schools. Despite the continuing rarity of women at the very tops of large corporations (which will inexorably shift as the cohort of overwhelmingly male CEOs retires during the next decade) and in finance, a 2004 study by the women's group Catalyst, The Bottom Line: Connecting Corporate Performance and Gender Diversity, concluded that companies with the highest percentages of women in their executive ranks achieved 35% higher returns on average. What's more, according to the Center for Women's Business Research, women today own 40% of the private businesses in the United States and a study released last year found that (the relatively few) high-tech start-ups led by women fail less frequently than those led by men. After 40 years of feminist-era dues paying, women's moment has come. Hear us roar.

As a woman who came of age in the late 1970s and who has worked in sometimes unproductively male-dominated workplaces, I'm with the program so far. Two-income families are the new normal. Economic parity for women is a good thing. But I don't think we should rush into simplistically thinking that a female-dominated workplace will change everything and overnight make the world perfect. The bigger opportunity, and indeed an essential rethink if we are to reboot our economy, is finally to move beyond circa-1970s gender-centric ideology into a larger, more constructive conversation about how to reinvent workplace norms.

We humans, women and men alike, are hobbled by a gigantic evolutionary time lag. We have no clue how to handle 21st century cognitive threats, real life in the modern workplace. We evolved, survived, through our ability to respond to physical threat — is that a snake on the trail or a stick? Our bodies' stress hormones, adrenaline, cortisol and testosterone, among others, which raise blood pressure and send more blood to our muscles, historically made us more alert in preparation to fight or flee imminent physical threats. Whether I'm fleeing a charging lion or cowering before a screaming boss, the amygdala responds, on a basic level, in a very similar way. Deep inside we are all irredeemably super-old-school. But the reality is that emotion is far more complicated in a modern work setting than it was for our prehistoric ancestors on the savanna. Is the person in the next cubicle gunning for my job? How will I get my work done when the babysitter calls in sick? And this disconnect — this evolutionary delay in the development of more emotionally nuanced or sophisticated responses to psychological challenges — is a huge contributor to what makes navigating modern work/life so incredibly hard.

In a 2008 paper on gender differences, five psychologists — Kateri McRae and James Gross of Stanford, Kevin Ochsner of Columbia, Iris Mauss of the University of Denver, and John Gabrieli of MIT — reported that while men and women don't really differ in their basic "reactivity" to emotional provocation, they are quite different in the ways in which they respond. Based on both subsequent questioning and neural responses to aversive photos as measured by fMRI brain scans, the authors discovered no significant differences between the genders in the speed of their reactions to stimuli. But there are gender-based distinctions in how men and women were able to regulate and manage their emotional response to these stimuli. The amygdala was less activated in men's brains than in women's, and portions of the women's prefrontal cortex, the cognitive control center, were more active than those of the men. The relatively new science of emotion is beginning to pinpoint precisely the neurochemical differences between the ways women and men tend to approach and deal with emotion, and it is important neither to let PC feminist ideology or neo-Victorian "Ooh, ick" squeamishness blind us to the findings. A too-reductive men-are-from-mars-women-are-from-venus perspective serves no one.

Rather than stigmatize the characteristic emotional biologies of one gender or the other, it should be the goal of any person or organization to allow all emotion at work, in all of its gendered nuances, its full due. Understanding the truths that neuroscience is revealing will allow us greater awareness and thus control of the emotions that shape our decisions and behavior at work. Learning and paying attention to the emotions that motivate and/or hobble us and in what measure — anger, anxiety, fear, joy — can help us learn to manage and use those emotions more effectively. I'd like to think that today, with U.S. women irrevocably at work and the economy in such dire straits, that we can safely raise all kinds of questions without endangering progress. When it comes to emotions and work, we should start being more unflinchingly analytical and empirical than ever before. As science discovers, confirms, and refines new understandings of gender-based aspects of emotion, let's try not to react to them too emotionally.

Taking Your Feelings To Work by Anne Kreamer

WHEN I graduated from college in 1977, the world was still neatly divided into two spheres: work and everything else. Work was supposed to be a hyperrational realm of logic, filled with timetables, organizational charts and returns on investment. It was only outside of work that emotions — so dangerously ill-defined and unpredictable — were supposed to emerge.

Anne Kreamer says that “home life, with all its messy, complicated emotional currents, has become inextricably and undeniably woven into the workplace.”

But from the first day of my first real job, as an administrative assistant at the Park Avenue headquarters of a commercial bank that is now defunct, I realized that emotions were simmering everywhere in the workplace.

My desk, on the hushed, deep-pile-carpeted executive floor, was a few feet opposite the restroom doors. (Clearly, I was lowest in the pecking order.) Every few days, one of the three executive women on my half of the floor would rush into the restroom and, after a little too long, re-emerge with the remnants of a good cry still visible on her splotchy face. I also watched men dash into the men’s room and leave a few minutes later, tight-lipped and ashen.

Even as a 21-year-old workplace neophyte, I realized that emotion is a force that underlies all of our behavior. For my book, “It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace,” I spent two years exploring Americans’ attitudes toward emotion at work today, and my findings suggest this amended version of Descartes’s famous line: I think and feel, therefore I am.

In the old days — pre-Internet, pre-cellphones — it was a lot easier to believe “work equals rational” and “home equals emotional.” But now that work and home life constantly bleed into each other, that distinction has become anachronistic and probably self-defeating. People text and e-mail their friends and family members throughout the workday, and they receive messages from colleagues and clients on nights and weekends and during vacations.

The membranes between private life and work, especially office work, have always been porous, but today employers and employees expect accessibility and accountability pretty much round-the-clock. And whereas old-school office memos and business letters generally weren’t expected to be friendly or candid — that is, human — business e-mails most definitely are.

Conversely, what used to be considered private behavior can instantly reverberate at work through social networking. People fire off e-mails late at night, only to regret their tone and intent in the cold light of day. Facebook friends from work can stumble upon wild and crazy pictures from a bachelorette party. Tweets and anonymous mobile video uploads can instantly broadcast unflattering emotional displays by surly customer service employees or misbehaving C.E.O.’s.

The conventional wisdom used to be that we brought home the emotions we couldn’t express at work — snapping (or worse) at blameless partners and children. That is still true, but what’s new is that home life, with all its messy, complicated emotional currents, has become inextricably and undeniably woven into the workplace.

The rulebook for modern office etiquette has yet to be codified. How do we avoid hurting one another’s feelings if everything is supposed to be rational, yet also transparent and accessible? How can others understand the emotion behind what we’re trying to say in an e-mail if no one takes the time to read beyond the subject line and the first sentence?

And the more we relegate communication to the electronic realm, the greater our longing for face-to-face contact. Our new “flat” organizational structures at work might seem to promote a more hang-loose level of emotional expression. But, if anything, flatter organizations tend to require even higher levels of emotional competency and effort in order to navigate amorphous command structures.

NO one is sure where the lines are anymore. Should we high-five an underling? Is it cool to make jokes with the boss? What if we overhear the man in the next cubicle crying?

Clear rules for this new working world simply don’t exist. But one thing is certain. The Millennials, a generation raised with the 24/7 naked emotional transparency of texting and social networking, is now entering the work force by the millions each year. As they replace old-schoolers born in the 1940s and ’50s, there is no turning back to a compartmentalized world.

I like to imagine that if men and women were to express more emotion routinely and easily at work — jokes, warmth, sadness, anger, tears, joy, all of it — then as a people we might not feel so chronically anxious and overwhelmed. By denying the range of emotional expressiveness intrinsic and appropriate to the workplace, we find ourselves at a loss for how to handle this brave new boundary-less world.

Overtly acknowledging how and in what measure anger, anxiety, fear and pleasure color and shape our working lives can help us manage those emotions and use them to our benefit, both at work and at home.

E-mail: preoccupations@nytimes.com.

The Female Brain At Work by Anne Kreamer

I've always thought of myself as a pretty well informed progressive woman. But reading Louann Brizendines, The Female Brian, my sense of self-awareness was blown right out of the water. We are all aware of the prevailing viewpoint that men and women respond to events in different ways the whole men-from-mars-women-from-venus dichotomy. But I was unaware of the profound neurological and biochemical differences between the genders. After all, I came of age in the feminist 70s, when we were meant to understand and spread the word that women were not inferior to and therefore, more or less, the same as -- men.

According to Brizendine, The female and male brains process stimuli, hear, see, sense, and gauge what others are feeling in different ways. Our distinct female and male brain operating systems are mostly compatible and adept, but they perform and accomplish the same goals and tasks using different circuits Under a microscope or an fMRI scan, the differences between male and female brains are revealed to be complex and widespread. In the brain centers for language and hearing, for example, women have 11 percent more neurons than men. The principal hub of both emotion and memory formation the hippocampus is also larger in the female brain, as is the brain circuitry for language and observing emotions in others. This means that women are, on average, better at expressing emotions and remembering the details of emotional events. Men, by contrast, have two and half times the brain space devoted to sexual drive as well as larger brain centers for action and aggression.

Have you ever had an experience when you knew that a negotiation was falling apart because you correctly read the emotional character of the room but your male colleagues thought you were over-reacting?