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Richard Nesbitt and Barbara Annis co-authored a book on gender roles in the workplace, suggesting that men prefer swiftness over tact, while women consider a long-term contextual approach.Jennifer Roberts/The Globe and Mail

For nearly half a century, the focus surrounding gender politics in the workplace has been on numbers, emphasizing the importance of hiring, promoting and retaining the same amount of men and women in order to achieve numeric balance.

A new book on gender intelligence hopes to demonstrate the folly of approaching gender issues in the workplace using numbers alone.

Written by one of the country's top financial executives, Richard Nesbitt, and one of its most widely recognized voices on gender issues in the workplace, Barbara Annis, the book argues that a numbers-only approach fails to maximize results, promote gender harmony or achieve true equality.

The book they've co-authored, Results at the Top: Using Gender Intelligence to Create Breakthrough Growth, seeks to reframe the dialogue in terms that help utilize the unique attributes and strengths of both men and women.

"The whole reaching quotas and forcing the numbers strategy hasn't worked," Ms. Annis says. "Women bring complementary skills to men around problem solving, risk assessment, innovative thinking and how they look at leadership in general. That's what gender intelligence is all about."

Ms. Annis explains that even with equal numbers of men and women at the table, workplace cultures that favour one gender's approach over another's aren't utilizing their human assets to the fullest.

Ms. Annis adds that men generally converge on a problem, weighing the pros and cons of the available options, often valuing swiftness over tact. Women, on the other hand, tend to diverge into a wider contextual approach that considers long-term implications and broader impacts.

"It's a combination of those two processes that produces better results," Ms. Annis says, adding that traditionally female-dominated organizations demonstrate similar levels of improvement when they employ a more gender-intelligent approach. "It doesn't have to be 50-50; as long as the diversity of thinking is there."

Ms. Annis adds that no matter the ratio, organizations that take a male or female-centric approach risk alienating the other gender. That alienation often leads to higher turnover rates among one gender, requiring more aggressive recruiting and hiring practices targeting that group in order to rebalance the numbers.

In Results at the Top, Ms. Annis documents the effectiveness of her alternative approach at some of the organizations she has consulted for over the years as founding partner of the Gender Intelligence Group. Case studies include prominent Canadian, U.S. and global financial institutions, such as CIBC, Wells Fargo, American Express, Bank of America, RBC, BMO and more.

Canadian civil air navigation service Nav Canada, for example, was concerned by the aviation-engineering industry's historically male-dominated culture before employing Ms. Annis's strategies.

"We did a diagnostic and found that the culture didn't allow women to thrive, especially at the top levels," Ms. Annis says. "Neil Wilson, the CEO, embraced Gender Intelligence, starting with diagnostics and sessions with their senior leadership team."

Less than nine months later, Ms. Annis says the company's culture had gone through a complete transition – with female employees reporting greater job satisfaction and lower turnover rates.

"They made some bold moves in terms of declaring what their values were," she says. "It's about making no assumptions, understanding the differences, standing in each other's shoes and really listening powerfully. And it's about applying the behaviour of inclusion."

Another example referenced in the book is American Express, which, prior to implementing gender-intelligent strategies, had a policy of eliminating its least successful project each quarter. Ms. Annis explains that quickly eradicating perceived failures is a classic example of male behaviour, as opposed to the long-term contextual approach more often employed by women.

"They saw these four projects [from the previous year] that the women thought would have been a huge win in the long run, and in the [gender-intelligence training] session they brought those four back, and three of those projects were their biggest success that year," she says.

These successes, Ms. Annis explains, are the result of corporate leaders that were willing to take a more evolved approach to gender equality in the workplace – one that sought to overcome a male or female-dominated working culture.

"There needs to be a strong tone from the top, a strong statement of principal, and then a strong management information system reporting on that," says Mr. Nesbitt, co-author and former CIBC chief operating officer.

Mr. Nesbitt explains that Results at the Top "talks to men in terms they understand," adding that he was keen to co-author a book with Ms. Annis after first crossing paths 20 years ago, when she served as a workplace inclusivity consultant for CIBC Wood Gundy.

"I thought Barbara had a very realistic approach to diversity; it was grounded in the reality of people working together and getting the job done," he says. "It didn't try to lay the blame on any particular group, but tried to focus on the opportunity."

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