I recently spoke to John Gerzema about his new book The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future. Mr. Gerzema of New York is a best-selling author, columnist, speaker and social theorist. His books have appeared on “best of” lists at Fast Company, Inc., and The Week Magazine. His research, writing and interviews have appeared in The Harvard Business Review, The Economist and many others. As chief insights officer at Young & Rubicam, he oversees the world’s largest database of brands and consumer behaviour and studies social change and its impact on business, society and the economy. His TED talk, The Post-Crisis Consumer, has been viewed by more than a quarter of a million people online. In this interview, Mr. Gerzema talks about why he focused on women for his new book, why he believes women will make a major impact on the world of work, the skills that are commonly associated with women and more.
After your previous book, why did you decide to write one on the topic of women?
Many readers responded to our first book, Spend Shift, with reports of people who had adopted co-operation, transparency and empathy as a leadership model with great success. Many of these entrepreneurs and executives were women who regarded their natural strengths as assets and men, especially young men, who rejected aggressive and hierarchical ways of organizing and acting. We suspected that something significant and organic was occurring and that it had something to do with gender and leadership. Eventually we heard so much about this trend that we went out to look for it ourselves.
Why do you think that women will rule the future? What evidence can you share that proves that?
We don’t think that women alone will rule the future. We think that women with certain leadership skills and traits, and men who also possess them, stand a greater chance of success in an ever-more interconnected global economy. This is because the only way to succeed when everyone knows your business is to act in an empathetic, patient, humane and scrupulously ethical way. Given that people the world over believe these qualities are “female” in a traditional sense, we use “like women” as a shorthand for what can be universal traits.
What skills and values are commonly associated with women? What can women do better than men?
The big ones, when it comes to leadership, are expressiveness (communication skills), long-term thinking, loyalty, flexibility and patience. According to the 64,000 people we surveyed, women also excel at collaboration and empathy. This all suggests that women can be better at relating to customers, communities, teammates and other stakeholders in a business.
What were some of the most interested trends and facts that you discovered in your research?
We were quite impressed by the way that people build sales and services on the basis of trust. Car sharing is a classic example, but this is also being done in financial services and insurance. A German firm called Friendsurance relies on people forming their own groups, which apply peer pressure to keep claims and costs lower. The result is refunded premiums for customers and profit for the company.
What are three things that men can learn from women about career management that will make them more successful?
If men can learn to be less defensive, more open to others, and more accepting of accountability they will adapt well to the new global economy. Top-down organizations may still work in some settings, but by and large we see a premium on collaboration, communication and consultation. This is because everyone now has access to enormous amounts of information about your company, its competitors and conditions in the marketplace. The worst thing you can do is try to manipulate or control perceptions. It’s impossible and when you are found out the result is disastrous. Better to be transparent and play well with others so that when bad things happen you have a reservoir of good will to bank on.
Dan Schawbel is the author of the coming book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press).