Excerpted from the book The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future (© 2013; Jossey-Bass) by John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio.
“The world would be a better place if men thought more like women.” (66 per cent agree)
–Authors’ proprietary global survey of 13 nations representing 65 per cent of global GDP
Is it coincidence that the traits of so many of today’s successful entrepreneurs, leaders, organizers, and creators seem to come from aspects of human nature that are widely regarded as feminine? This isn’t to say that innovators are mainly women (they are not) or that we believe that any human quality belongs primarily to one gender or the other (we don’t). It is simply that, time and again, we hear people say that the skills required to thrive in today’s world – such as honesty, empathy, communication, and collaboration – come more naturally to women.
We decided to conduct research to discover how people define traditionally masculine and feminine traits. Then we had to discover if the feminine qualities were more highly valued. If the answer turned out to be yes, then we could search for case studies to show the trend at work in the real world. We constructed a special survey of 64,000 people chosen to mirror the populations in 13 countries that represent 65 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product. The countries we surveyed – Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States – reflect a wide range of cultural, geographical, political, religious, and economic diversity.
First, we wanted to understand how people gauge the times we live in. Were they optimistic or pessimistic, secure or vulnerable? The respondents to our survey talked as if they lived in an age of extended anxiety. Most rejected the idea that their children will have better lives than their own, and great majorities expressed worries about society’s basic fairness.
Decoding the Athena Values
The stories and data that point to feminine success give us just a partial view of a more complex world. Some of the growth in income for women comes from the fact that high-paying jobs for unskilled men are in decline. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women are still paid an average of 80 per cent of the salaries paid to men for the same job. And even though the number of women with six-figure incomes is rising at twice the rate of men, they are still grossly underrepresented in executive suites. According to the think tank Catalyst, women held just 16.1 per cent of board seats at Fortune 500 companies in 2011. In politics, business, and even the arts, the top decision makers are still more likely to be male, just as all but three of the 20 richest people on the Forbes list of billionaires are men.
Although women still haven’t achieved parity, their steady progress points to the value of feminine traits in the modern economy. Patience, sensitivity, and the ability to understand others are extremely valuable traits in a fast-paced and interconnected world. In our surveys, 78 per cent of people said that “today’s times require we be more kind and empathetic”; another 79 per cent affirmed that “a successful career today requires collaborating and sharing credit with others.” These numbers affirm that “feminine” kindness and collaboration are essential values in the workplace as well as in the larger society.
We found that feminine traits were essential in every corner of life. The vast majority of people agree that a good life is defined by a decent job, meaningful connections, and a modicum of security. Here again the traits most people associate with a good life are drawn mainly from the feminine side of the ledger. This is as true for men as it is for women.
Not only do the people we surveyed think that a mix of masculine and feminine are key to personal success, but 65 per cent of people around the world believe that more female leadership in government would prompt a rise in trust and fairness and a decline in wars and scandal. The type of feminine leadership they described is not soft and squishy but wise and quietly strong. Boiled down to a manageable number, the keys to success, as our respondents saw it, were Connectedness; Humility; Candor; Patience; Empathy; Trustworthiness; Openness; Flexibility; Vulnerability, and Balance.
These traits all seem like timeless virtues to us. They reflect a strength of character that is both admirable and noble. Candor, flexibility, humility, and balance all require true integrity and confidence. To be both vulnerable and connected to others, you must be courageous. Gathered together, the qualities most favored in our study resembled, in our minds, the character of the Greek goddess Athena. Venerated for her intelligence, skill, civilizing influence, and fairness, Athena was a goddess of industry, arts, and crafts. It is Athena who gave the Greeks the olive tree, which sustained their economy and culture. When conflicts arose, she responded with clever strategy and wise tactics, whereas her brother Ares acted in violence.
If Athena is the personification of the qualities that suit our times, then the ideals she represents can be considered a kind of doctrine, guiding us toward effective leadership and success in our work, our communities, and our personal lives. Mainly feminine in a traditional sense, the Athena model is nevertheless available and essential for men who hope to thrive in an era of constant change.