The role of gender in decision-making

My experience is that gender is a heavy-weight discussion topic. I once took an excellent MSc course on ‘Change Agents’ Skills and Strategies’. I recall that it was only after two years of learning to be more open, more authentic, more empathetic people that we were allowed to divide the room into men opposite women and have a supported discussion about our feelings and experience of the opposite gender. It was a surprising hard-hitting discussion!

So, what brings this on? Oddly, two experiences on the same day last week.


I was at a breakfast networking meeting run by Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce. The theme was the ‘not-for-profit’ sector and the guest speaker was Nathan Roberts, Chief Executive of ‘a band of brothers’. In the Chamber’s blog for this event I have relayed Nathan’s stories about life journeys and the founding of his organisation. Here I want to make a connection between two seemingly disconnected environments:

The Board Room and the upper echelons of business


Areas of the country with high levels of deprivation

Nathan makes the point that many young men, often but not exclusively from deprived areas, grow up lacking effective and appropriate role-models or mentors of their own gender. The result is that they lack various capabilities including the building of trusted relationships with other men. The problem this causes are described well on the charities website:

“Men account for 8 out of 10 people cautioned by the police, and nearly 9 out of 10 people found guilty for indictable offences are men. Men are responsible for 97% of burglary and 92% of violence against the person.”

And the causes:

“Our society is largely stalled at adolescence. Many adult men relish and prolong adolescence for decades. It’s tempting to blame and punish disaffected youth but a range of adolescent psychopathologies are evident in many adult men across the social spectrum”

‘A band of brothers’ is founded on the premise that ‘rites of passage’ are as import as the passage of time when it comes to maturing a man’s masculinity. And that these rites of passage can be supported by mentors who have received both appropriate training and who have themselves done the work to understand their own life journey and maturity.

So, let’s switch to business..

… and the seniors running the show. On Friday I also had a chat with a colleague I used to work with. We talked about how senior leaders often resort to aggressive machismo or passive-aggressive behaviours under the pressure of building their own careers and businesses. We spoke about leadership development interventions including coaching and various forms of ‘diagnostic’ model.

Human Synergistics is one such approach with its own sets of diagnostic and developmental models. Curious co-incidence that its strapline is:

Changing the World – One Organisation at a Time™

Whilst the tagline on the front of ‘a band of brothers’ website is:

‘Changing the world one man at a time’

How valid is it to sketch a parallel between young men from deprived areas and the leaders of business big and small?

The press continues to report the gender debate, about the dire lack of women in most boardrooms of the largest companies in the UK. I observe and my colleagues relate examples of executive behaviour that appear to be driven by residual ‘adolescent psychopathologies’. Incidentally, ‘a band of brothers’ lists these as:

  • materialistic obsessions
  • incessant greed
  • a limited capacity for intimacy and empathy
  • emotional numbness or outbursts
  • narcissism
  • lack of responsibility
  • low self-worth
  • insecurity and confusion around their identity
  • substance abuse
  • recurrent physical violence

I wonder if you recognise any of these traits in yourself or your leaders?

I have in fact changed the order of this list from the source, but if we include alcohol as a ‘substance’ and ignore the last item in the list I’d claim that I have seen some of these traits in individuals in some senior teams.

We might also argue that it is the energy and drive from deep-seated personal drivers that get corporate leaders where they are.

I am not trying to say that business leaders are generally immature in terms of their manliness and hence less than complete human beings.

But I am looking at the link between maturity of masculinity and behaviours at the top of businesses. What can leadership development approaches learn from programmes for dis-affected young men? This is an ongoing enquiry – so do feel free to get in touch.

Gender diversity

From a Business Decision Design® perspective, such connections underline the opportunity to improve decision-making through diversity, in this case gender diversity.

I hope you have an enjoyable day. Here is a link to the sea-scape.

Nigel Stock

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