Why do people think women lack vision?
The facilitator posed the question, “Do women lack vision?” to a panel of senior executive women at The Boston Club, an organization that advocates for and helps companies find women directors for corporate boards. The panel included Laura Sen, CEO, BJ’s wholesale club; Willow Shire, Board Director, TJX; and Gunjan Kedia, Executive Vice President State Street Bank.
In Women and the Vision Thing (Harvard Business Review) Herminia Ibarra writes,
“Women scored lower on “envisioning”—the ability to recognize new opportunities and trends in the environment and develop a new strategic direction for an enterprise.”
This conclusion was based on 360 ratings by peers of the female research subjects. Why is this important? Peer ratings tend to be lower than those of other rater groups, including managers and direct reports. For this reason, the Emotional Competence Inventory, a well-validated 360 assessment, adjusts the weight of peer group scores. To conclude that women lack vision, based solely on evidence from peer group ratings, seems a bit on the light side, in my not so humble opinion.
Questions about whether women lack vision and strategic thinking, may grow from a limited perspective about what vision and strategy look like and how they are expressed. Perhaps a vision is sometimes just that, a picture, versus words on a power point slide. In addition some people find it challenging to hold the notion that women (or any person) can be good with details and strategy simultaneously, or even sequentially. A discussion, later in this post, points to gender based brain differences that explain why and how women do both.
Vision is Visionary
For now, let’s leap to Pinterest, where ideas are expressed in pictures, and explore a different way of viewing whether women lack vision. In a recent post, Vicki Van Alstine wrote that women make up 70 – 80% of Pinterest users.
Pinterest is a visual expression of how and what users are thinking. And if a vision isn’t a picture, what is it?
At Google+ users express their ideas in words, and over there, men account for two-thirds of the 90 million users.
Men are for words? Women are for pictures?
Perhaps women are flocking to Pinterest because it is more aligned with our visionary ways of thinking.
Visions in Her Brain
According to Ellen F. Weber, PhD, Director of MITA International Brain Based Center, there are structural differences between men’s and women’s brains. Women access and integrate more areas of the brain to solve problems – which is the brain’s highest and most complex function. Whereas men tend to approach problem solving with a logical step by step analysis, women use logical analysis, pictures, metaphors, and emotions. Each of these intelligences accesses a different area of the brain.
I often think in pictures. It happened the other day when Charlotte was talking about a new man in her life. An image of Charlotte swimming deep underwater flew into my brain. I described it to Charlotte and asked why this particular image was coming up? She responded that the relationship is taking her places she has long been afraid to go – her fear of deeply intimate relationships – well below the surface – underwater, so to speak.
Women with Visions
Moving away from Pinterest, the brain, and back to the business world, here are a few examples of women with vision.
Spanx, The Pampered Chef and Rubber Sidewalks are three successful companies started by women who saw needs that others did not notice. Then we have Judy Faulkner, founder of e-health company EPIC Systems, dubbed “Health Care’s Low Key Billionaire” in Forbes. For additional examples dubunking the myth that women lack vision see How She Does It: How Women Entrepreneurs Are Changing the Rules of Business Success by Margaret Heffernan.
The Female Vision: Women’s Real Power at Work by Sally Helgesen and Julie Johnshon is another excellent resource for understanding what and how women see differently, and why businesses benefit when leaders open their eyes to this difference.
Are you, or do you know, a woman with vision?
Please share your story here, and my apologies that the comment section does not allow you to post a picture. Perhaps a woman should design an app that does.
A version if this post was originally published on Germane Insights in March 2012.