Recently I completed two webinars for Women in the Boardroom. This got me thinking about the issue of diversity that is becoming more and more prominent in corporate governance.
When you bring on the right people for the board with expertise, experience, and passion, women will naturally come into the mix, but I wanted to explain the importance of having a gender diverse board from a neuroscience and behavioral perspective. We have learned so much about how men and women work through emotions and as I have persistently told you time and time again – emotions really matter in the boardroom.
Emotion can change your whole world and it can change your relationships in a second. It could be the reason why directors don’t talk about it because it seems too dangerous. Let me be clear that it can be dangerous, unless you understand it, unless you know how to work with it. In which case, it is the most powerful thing in the room.
So why do women play an important of creating an emotionally balanced board?
- Emotional Awareness. Women tend to be more emotionally aware. They are able to express their emotions with more ease than men and tend to be better at perceiving emotions of those around them. This is a general statement and there are always exceptions, but we can confidently say that women are more fluent in the language of emotion than men because they have had more practice. This is important for a few reasons. For one, when a board gets caught in a negative cycle, they only way out is to discuss deeper emotions and reconnect. This requires people who can tune into their own emotions and can easily empathize with those around them. With practice, anyone can become very good at this – but women have a leg up.
- Avoiding Negative Cycles. Another reason this fluency is crucial to board effectiveness is that emotional awareness is an antidote to negative cycles. Emotionally competent people are able to address disconnection as it is happening and stop it in its tracks by showing empathy and getting to the core of the disconnection.One study shows that when women are faced with negativity, they are able to focus on the emotion that is caused by the stimulus while men tend to take a more passive approach. They are also better at recognizing and processing negative emotions. This focus is essential for addressing board dysfunction early and maintaining emotional connection. Because of this understanding of emotions, women are able to be more responsive which is essential in providing safety for other board members.
- Ingraining Emotional Expression. How did women get to this place of emotional intelligence? Research has shown that when parents talk to girls, they use more expressive and emotionally-driven language than when they talk to boys. This allows girls to grow up more attuned to their emotional state. Basically women just got a head start on emotional awareness. When men spend time and learn how to express their emotions on a board, everyone becomes more effective – but that’s the key, they need to spend more time learning how to do this. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of women need a refresher, but they have the skills already – it becomes more about giving them access to those skills than teaching them from scratch.
Again, I want to emphasize that these are all reasons why women find success on boards in addition to their knowledge, career experience, passion for the company. We live in a really tough world, and in my experience a lot of women try to hide their emotions because they don’t want to come off as soft. As emotional awareness becomes more accepted in governance, I believe that women will have a better time finding their place in the boardroom as leaders who can provide emotional guidance. A gender diverse board has the potential to improve board effectiveness and increase satisfaction among all board members. Women are a really amazing asset for improving emotional connection and overall performance.
To learn more about the power of emotional connection and how to apply it to your board effectiveness, please contact [email protected].
Part 3 Dismantling a Lock-In in the Boardroom: An Emotionally Focused Approach to Board Effectiveness