Gender imbalance has been on the agenda of businesses for quite some time now: women are underrepresented in higher-paying jobs, there are too few women on management and C-suite teams, and the majority of international assignees are also male. Be it our gender bias based on stereotypical gender traits, or congruent upbringing and environmental factors, we seem to perceive male and female competencies in general and in the workplace differently, and our perceptions ring true at least at an anecdotal level. For example, I believe it is quite easy to see how women are more relationship-oriented, whereas men are more task-oriented, and a simple look at university enrollment stats indicate how men dominate math and science fields, while women make up the largest proportion of social science students. Similar patterns can be observed in workplace choices, where healthcare professionals and nurses are predominantly women, but engineers are men.
According to Simon Baron-Cohen’s theory of male and female brains, such observable differences in gender competencies are indeed supported by actual differences between the genders. The theory claims that, on average, more females would have so called empathizing brains, which are predominantly hard-wired for empathy and ‘human relating’ skills and, on average, more males would have so called systemizing brains, which are hard-wired for understanding and building systems. Neither of the brain ‘types’ is superior, they are just different.
Although the theory doesn’t justify a gender pay gap in the same positions, it does sound like a logical explanation for why males and females are driven towards different competences, and hence, excel in different competences. We can assume that so far, economies, especially certain fields and higher-paid industries, have been more of a ‘male brain’ territory, with ‘human relating’ skills of ‘female brain’ being undervalued… What if the economy changes?
And the economy is changing indeed. As mentioned in one of my previous articles, the economy has been shifting from hands to head, and is shifting further to the heart, with increased need for emotional intelligence. On a similar note, Megan Beck and Barry Libert, authors of a recent MIT Sloan article, argue that the AI economy will shift the priorities towards ‘human relating’ skills, hence possibly creating advantages for women. Indeed, automation can take over big parts of analytical and rule-governed tasks, yet the social and emotional skills of human interaction can be hardly mechanized. As such, the skills of the ‘female brain’ will be valued more, and women may have a competitive advantage here.
All in all, the assumption that the AI economy will finally eliminate the gender imbalance is probably optimistic. However, what stands out for me is the importance of emotional intelligence. Whether you are male or female, with a ‘male’ or a ‘female’ brain, the future of work seems to require emotional intelligence, which is luckily a skill that can be learned.