A neuroscientist explains why the female brain is the boardroom's largest untapped resource

BossUnsplash / Brooke LarkBoardrooms are severely lacking in female characteristics such as empathy, intuition, and creativity.

The ratio of male to female psychopaths may be as high as 20:1. 90.8% of serial killers are men, meaning just 9.2% are women.

But prisons aren’t the only places you find psychopaths. Research shows they are also prevalent in our businesses, and are often right at the top in the role of CEO.

At an event last week called The Dark Side of Business, held at the Corinthia Hotel in London, neuroscientist Tara Swart spoke about why psychopathic traits are so common in high-powered people.

She explained that many signs of psychopathy are also synonymous with strong leadership, such as showing little emotion, callousness, impulsivity, and aggression.

With more men in CEO positions than women, Swart says boardrooms are severely lacking female characteristics such as empathy, intuition, and creativity. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and Swart explained that there are women who are bad at empathy and men who are good at it — but as a general rule these tend to be female traits.

“The boardroom’s largest untapped resource is the female brain,” Swart said. “In my experience — nine years of consulting — the best leader that I’ve ever seen was a woman… She was firm but definitely understood what was going on inter-personally. It’s not about being compassionate, it’s about understanding what’s going on between pairs or groups of people.”

Another advantage women bring to the boardroom is the fact they are less likely to make a decision based on incomplete information. Sometimes, a rash decision is required. But in the times where more consideration is needed, women can offer a different perspective.

Men and women deal with their past differently.

Some of Swart’s male clients were sent off to boarding school at a young age, and had horrible experiences of bullying, institutionalised violence, and humiliation. However, women experience these things too.

Business Insider asked whether the ways men and women cope with these feelings of shame and rejection have an impact on more men ending up with psychopathic traits.

Swart said researchers are unclear about why the effect is so skewed towards men, but one reason is probably related to testosterone.

“Your brain is growing and changing anyway, when puberty starts, and testosterone is a hormone that is associated with drive and aggression,” she said. “Also, girls and women tend to have, or are allowed to have, more of a wide vocabulary for emotions. So they might share with their friends or their parents, whereas men are likely to suppress that information, particularly around the age of puberty where it’s more about being seen to become a man.”

She added that we still live in a “big boys don’t cry” culture, and it will take some big shifts in how we structure society to combat it. Having more women in powerful positions to bring more empathy and emotional intelligence to the boardroom is a place to start.

“Female attributes are important for boys and girls,” Swart said.

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