Despite the fact that I would not call myself the ‘social media expert’ in TomorrowToday (I leave that esteemed title to my colleague Mike Saunders) what I am interested in is the differences (and similarities) between men and women in the business arena. One of the interesting things that I have realized, however, is that for both men and women our biological imperative does play out in both our codes of behaviour, in our social and in our domestic responsibilities and this does have an impact on our work life.

My interest in the battle of the sexes began a few years ago. Subsequently I have read books about the impact our hormonal make-up has on our psychological, biological and social behaviour. I have investigated some of the scientific research into the differences between the male and female brain; and I have gone into the history of feminism to unpack the socio-historical and socio-political circumstances that have governed or shaped the social dynamics that clearly exist between men and women today. There are also obvious cultural, generational and socio-economic factors that potentially influence the dynamics. But there are also a lot of answers inside the physiology and biology of men and women which none of our social codes of behaviour or political practices can over-ride.

Why, you might wonder, would this matter within the context of the new world of work? How does this affect our professional behaviour, or spending patterns or business systems, or company policies, or talent retention strategies or indeed our interactions with social media?

Historically nature has always produced more women than men. In fact I read that amongst Homo sapiens there has been a surplus of anything between 3% and 25% of women. One explanation for this ‘maiden aunt’ concept is that women who have spawned young need assistance from those who have not in order to bring up their young. However, in countries like China, this natural order of things has been skewed by Mao’s one child policy and this will have an impact on global work and social behaviour patterns and dynamics, which will in turn have economic affects.

In hunter-gatherer times women carried a lot of status in the economy because they provided up to 85% of the food for their family. Women only really began to lose their social and economic importance when one’s physical superiority, under the agricultural and industrial economies, dominated because men were physically better suited in these economies. As a result women lost their political influence and did not receive the same education opportunities as men really until the latter half of the 20th century. They have suffered enormously from wage discrimination and the ‘glass ceiling’ syndrome. There has also been a distinction between suitable jobs for men and women, the scars of which are still being felt although less so in the workplace today.

In 2010 the global workforce tipped from being primarily male to being primarily female.  The recent recession has been dubbed a ‘mancession’ primarily because a lot of the industries affected by the global economic downturn were historically male-dominated environments. What is interesting also, is that John Coates, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University, after conducting research, has recently concluded that because men produce 10 times more testosterone than women, they have the potential to behave irrationally, causing them to take risks, particularly in areas like financial trading, for example. Coates argues therefore that we need a more gender-balanced workplace. There are more female graduates from tertiary level education institutions and there are an increasing number of women becoming ‘mompreneurs’, when they leave successful careers to bring up their children, they need to work, but want flexi-working hours and so start businesses doing what their mothers and grand-mothers did for no money.

But therein lies one of the problems for companies today. Despite the fact that in terms of numbers women dominate the workplace, there are very few female decision makers. Simply, the reason for that is that women go off to fulfill their biological imperative and companies make little or no provisions to support them in maintaining their skills and their networks whilst they are on maternity leave. Companies are therefore loosing huge potential, gravitas and talent in women, who, being women, have an enormous amount to contribute to the workplace, particularly within the context of a connection economy. Having said that I believe it is important that companies make provision for men to have paternity leave, where possible; and I think increasingly in the future we shall see a demand from young parents to have work-life balance so that they can be hands-on parents.

What I have also found fascinating whilst conducting my research in to the ‘gender question’ is the relationship the two genders have with social media. According to the Pew Research Centre, women dominate all social media and social networking spaces except for LinkedIn. The latter boasts a 63% (male) versus 37% (female) split, whereas Twitter is the opposite with a 36% versus 64% in favour of females.  Other social networking sites appear to be female dominated also, with the exception of Google+, which apparently is, however, also rapidly turning pink.

Why would this be so I wonder? I can understand Facebook being full of Moms wanting to share photographs of their toddlers with their friends and families; and wanting to keep tabs on their teenagers. But Twitter trend is less obvious? Why do men dominate the LinkedIn space? Could this be something to do with the fact that women use social media for socializing and staying in touch whereas men use it for work?

There are so many fascinating avenues to explore in this space. But essentially my message is clear: today’s workplace is all about collaboration and we need both men and women to play their part, together, in making it work.

If you are interested in finding out more, or exploring some of the gender dynamics at work, please contact me on saffron@tomorrowtraining.co.za and we can chat.

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