A Biological Basis for the Gender Leadership Gap?

A good friend, fellow attorney and blogger on neuroscience and dispute resolution at Brains on Purpose, Stephanie West Allen, just alerted me to a new study being conduct by the Stanford Center of Neuroscience for Women’s Health.

As explained by the Vancouver Sun in its article The Gender Divide, How to Remove the Glass CeilingStanford is moving into the dangerous political waters of trying to explain the gender leadership gap as nested in biology.

The project is proceeding despite the fact that, according to the Vancouver Sun, a biological basis for the gap is “not supported by research data.”

Nevertheless, the Stanford Center is

conducting a research project examining a biological approach to the investigation of gender differences in leadership styles and opportunities.

Such an approach may aid in fundamental organizational change by providing objective evidence for the gender-specific biomarkers of brain function that may underlie above-mentioned behaviours. It may also help in the removal of a “glass ceiling” and contribute to the elimination of “female mystique.”

via The gender divide: How to remove the glass ceiling.

Girls Biologically Bad at Math?

We’ve been here many times before – supposing and then contradicting – a biological imperative that makes men better than women at anything other than creating sperm and lifting heavy objects. Recently, the Consider Learning website listed the many reasons why “girls are bad at math” and all of them were cultural, not biological, including the following:

  • Stereotype threat.  If the College Board would ask for gender identification after the AP calculus exam, rather than before, 5000 more girls would pass it nationwide.
  • double-blind auditions significantly boosted women’s admission to symphony orchestras (i.e. having potential candidates audition behind a screen), the same is true of peer review for journal articles.
  • American parents talk to boys age 20-27 months about numbers much more often than they do to girls.
  • Women who are exposed to romantic cues report less interest in mathematics, perhaps a reflection of what society views as “feminine” or desirable in women.
  • When spatial puzzles were given to two tribes, one patrilineal, one matrilineal, the gender gap disappeared in the matrilineal society.

It’s not a bad thing to investigate the existence of biological bases for difference between the genders. But between the time researchers test their subjects and the date of their birth, so many cultural imperatives have been hard-wired into both men and women, it’s hard to imagine a test that could demonstrate that women lack some leadership gene or that men are pre-programmed and hence destined to underestimate women’s leadership ability by their DNA.

I’ll follow the research and look forward to the results.

Originally Featured at Forbes Woman