Human Capital Management:
What the C-Suite Needs to Know About Benefits
By David Creelman
Could neuroscience hold the key to recruiting women leaders?
Imagine you are interviewing candidates for a leadership job. You ask two candidates to share a success story. The first person says, “I saved $10 million on supplies,” and then proceeds to give some background.
The second candidate begins obliquely: “One time I was worried that the people on the East Coast didn’t feel involved …” The story goes on, with what might appear to be irrelevant details, before finally working its way to the point: “… and that’s how we saved $10 million.”
Which candidate is more likely to be hired?
All other qualifications being equal, the candidate who got right to the point and did not burden the interviewer with a lot of contextual detail is more likely to be seen as the better leader.
This, according to Barbara Annis, is why companies are so poor at hiring women leaders. Annis, co-author with Michael Gurian of Leadership and the Sexes: Using Gender Science to Create Success in Business, is an expert on gender differences in the workplace.
“The candidate who got right to the point is probably a man,” Annis says. “The candidate who gave the whole context is probably a woman. What you are seeing is a gender-specific difference in leadership styles, not a difference in capability.”
Annis and Gurian are wading in contentious waters. Many people bristle at the notion that leadership styles vary between men and women. Although Annis and Gurian don’t dispute that there is a wide range of individual variation, they insist that there are meaningful gender differences that must be understood when recruiting leaders.
“The science is unequivocal,” Annis says. “Men and women leaders think differently and behave differently.”
The science Annis refers to is based on studies by researchers like Dr. Ruben Gur, who used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologies to examine how men and women think. The differences he uncovered are extraordinary.
“A woman’s brain at rest has as much activity as a man’s brain when he is thinking,” Annis says. “Women have more connections throughout the brain, more connections to memory and better connections to the emotional centers.”
People have been reluctant to talk about these differences for fear it will lead to stereotyping and prejudice. But this reluctance hurts women leaders who have had to suppress their natural leadership style.
“When it comes to telling stories, the fact that women tend to give more details is a direct result of the fact that they have more connections in the brain,” Annis says.
Many people bristle at the notion that leadership styles vary between men and women.
But there are meaningful gender differences that must be understood when recruiting leaders.
According to Annis, some notable differences between men and women leaders are:
• Men are more comfortable in calling attention to their accomplishments, which may make them look better than equally capable women candidates.
• Men are likely to enthusiastically accept a challenge, even if they don’t know what it is; women are likely to ask a lot of questions first. This can be mistakenly interpreted to mean that a woman is not sufficiently eager or confident in the task.
• Aggressiveness in men is often seen in a positive light, whereas the same behavior in a woman is often interpreted negatively.
Our mental image of leadership has been shaped by the fact that most leaders have been men. Women who follow their natural leadership strengths will not match that mental image, which leads interviewers to feel they lack the right qualifications.
Organizations should alert their interviewers to gender-specific behavioral differences. Interviewers who are trained to correctly interpret women’s behavior will find great leaders that other companies have missed. It’s time for companies to look at the science of brain differences and apply what they learn in the hunt for the best leaders.
For companies needing to relocate or temporarily assign employees, successful recruitment and retention can be even more difficult. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national voluntary turnover rate is 23.4% annually, and replacing each lost employee will cost a business one-half to five times the employee’s annual salary.
The process of relocating for a new job or temporary position is often a stressful and overwhelming experience. In addition to being productive in their new position, employees have to deal with the stresses and hassles of uprooting their life and finding their way in a new city.
According to a 2008 survey conducted by the Worldwide ERC, less than half of companies have a formal policy in place for handling temporary assignments. Historically, relocation services have only been available through real estate agents assisting home buyers and were mainly designed to address the needs of permanent relocations. However, more than half of people relocating for a job and more than 90% of those on temporary assignment will need to rent at least some of their accommodations for some period of time.
According to a 2008 survey conducted by the Worldwide ERC, less than half
of companies have a formal policy in place for handling temporary assignments.
In today’s work environment, employers are beginning to seek the help of companies that specialize in coordinating services for rental relocations and temporary assignments. These services can include finding an apartment close to work, job search support for spouses, renter’s insurance, and furniture and car rentals.
Also growing in popularity are area orientation tours. When moving to a new city, most individuals are not familiar with the nuances of different neighborhoods within the city or the social scene. Area tours can help employees and their families find a place to live that best meets their needs, including a neighborhood that suits their lifestyle.
A recent research study conducted by the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland found that most new employees wished, in hindsight, that they had learned more about their new city. Younger employees especially cited a desire to learn more about the different areas within the city and to have information about the restaurants and nightlife.
In a competitive job market, companies that invest in touring and other rental relocation services may have more success at recruiting and retaining productive employees.