Apr 142011

BookShort: Vive La Difference

Book Short:  Vive La Difference

Brain Sex, by Anne Moir and David Jessell, was a fascinating read that I finished recently.  I will caveat this post up front that the book was published in 1989, so one thing I’m not sure of is whether there’s been more recent research that contradicts any of the book’s conclusions.  I will also caveat that this is a complex topic with many different schools of thought based on varying research, and this book short should serve as a starting point for a dialog, not an end point.

That said, the book was a very interesting read about how our brains develop (a lot happens in utero), and about how men’s and women’s brains are hard wired differently as a result.  Here are a few excerpts from the book that pretty much sum it up (more on the applied side than the theoretical):

  • Men tend to be preoccupied with things, theories, and power…women tend to be more concerned with people, morality, and relationships
  • Women continue to perceive the world in interpersonal terms and personalize the objective world in a way men do not.  Notwithstanding occupational achievements, they tend to esteem themselves only insofar as they are esteemed by those they love and respect.  By contrast, the bias of the adult male brain expresses itself in high motivation, competition, single-mindedness, risk-taking, aggression, preoccupation with dominance, hierarchy, and the politics of power, the constant measurement and competition of success itself, the paramountcy of winning
  • Women will be more sensitive than men to sound, smell, taste, and touch.  Women pick up nuances of voice and music more readily, and girls acquire the skills of language, fluency, and memory earlier than boys.  Females are more sensitive to the social and personal context, are more adept at tuning to peripheral information contained in expression and gesture, and process sensory and verbal information faster.  They are less rule-bound than men
  • Men are better at the kills that require spatial ability.  They are more aggressive, competitive, and self-assertive.  They need the hierarchy and the rules, for without them they would be unable to tell if they were top or not – and that is of vital importance to most men

As I said up front, this book, and by extension this post, runs the risk of overgeneralizing a complex question.  There are clearly many women who are more competitive than men and outpace them at jobs requiring spatial skills, and men who are language rock stars and quite perceptive.

But what I found most interesting as a conclusion from the book is the notion that there are elements of our brains are hard wired differently, usually along gender lines as a result of hormones developed and present when we are in utero.  The authors’ conclusion — and one that I share as it’s applied to life in general and the workplace in particular — is that people should “celebrate the difference” and learn how to harness its power rather than ignore or fight it.

Thanks to David Sieh, our VP Engineering, for giving me this book.