There has been a lot of talk in the press recently about gender. Last month,
The Rt Hon Lord Sumption, OBE, suggested that putting an increasing number
of women in senior judicial positions could ‘put off talented male candidates
and destroy the delicate balance of the legal system’.
Although he was at pains to stress that he wanted to see proper gender
balance within the judiciary, he also suggested that one reason women were
under-represented as judges was the ‘appalling’ working conditions and long
hours, which he said female barristers were less likely to put up with.
Interesting view, especially in the wake of comments made by one female
human rights barrister, Charlotte Proudman, who publicly vented her
frustration at a senior partner in her firm who had made appreciative noises
about her LinkedIn profile picture. By venting her frustration, through Twitter
and then to BBC’s ‘Woman’s Hour’, she said she wanted to demonstrate the
challenges women face if they speak out about sexism.
Not surprisingly, her comments led others to chip in with their own
contributions. But, it begs the question: how smart should we be about
gender? Do we really know enough to pass comment in the first place?
There is a new book that’s buzzing at the moment and it’s well worth a read,
not just once, but many times over. It’s called ‘Be Gender Smart‘. It’s written
by researcher and consultant Inge Woudstra, MSc, and it provides an insight
into the differences between men and women, how we should value those
differences, embrace them, work with them and use them to be smarter in the
In her introduction, Inge says that, whilst she still played with dolls as a child,
she much preferred to be outside, climbing trees and building dens. Her first
job was as an outdoor instructor, where she discovered she couldn’t just copy
the guys; she had to adopt her own approach to make things happen and she
found herself asking ‘why?’
Part of the answer to this fundamental question lies, she says, in scientific
research; research into the mental, biological and psychological differences in
the brains, hormones and psychology of men and women. She has studied, in
depth, the science of gender differences and her studies have helped her
exploration along the way. Her studies have also helped her recognise her own
true value and understand, not only how far she has been underplaying that
value, but how much people’s perceptions of others can vary. In other words,
the picture we present of ourselves may not be what others see.
So, what is it about this book that makes it a good read?
Well, it does indeed cover a wide spectrum of subjects. Without giving too much away, the book is
incredibly inspiring, with plenty of examples, or rather explanations on how
and why certain approaches work better than others. These examples have not
just been plucked out of thin air; they come directly from people who are
willing to illustrate their point in detail, because they in turn genuinely want
women to get smart(er).
In summary, this book looks at differences and values (no surprise there), it
explores the science behind the ways in which men and women work, it
explores issues of security, the varied approaches to taking decisions, how,
what, why and when we think, relationships and bonding. Oh and, by the way,
that’s just the first part. The second focuses on ‘doing'; what’s required to be
gender-smart and you will find that out when you read the book.
Let’s be clear; what Inge recommends is not solely for the benefit of individual
women, but also for organisations and businesses as a whole. It’s not just
about us as individuals taking steps to boost our profiles and make ourselves
visible. It’s about ensuring that the value we add to organisations and business
per se becomes visible too. And, it’s about encouraging organisations to adapt
(where necessary), so that making value visible is shared, recognised and
accepted. Organisations need us, just as much as we need them.
What is genuinely useful about this book is that it doesn’t dictate. It gives you
an opportunity to read and digest. You don’t need to read it all in one go. In
fact, it’s best not to do so. At the end of every chapter, there are two sections:
‘Reflection’ and ‘Key Takeaways’. So, when you come to the end of a chapter,
you are almost forced to take a step back, to think about and even question
how you feel about what you have read and what your next steps will be.
It’s hardly surprising that ‘Be Gender Smart’ has received positive reviews.
Here are two, brief, examples:
‘Inge Woudstra’s book is a useful guide to any woman setting out on a career
in or out of the corporate jungle and is crammed with sensible, humane
advice.’ Eleanor Mills, Editorial Director of The Sunday Times
‘Her pragmatic, highly readable and fact-based book is a great addition to the
arsenal of tools that leading companies and ambitious women need in their
toolkit.’ Kate Grussing, Founder and Managing Director of Sapphire Partners,
So, as Autumn approaches (all be it rather rapidly) and the nights are drawing
in, perhaps now is the time for a spot of fireside reading. ‘Be Gender Smart’ is
available from Amazon this month. Best get reading….
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