What the Differences Between Men’s and Women’s Brains Means for Your Team
Have you ever been amazed (not in a good way) at what one of your team members—of the opposite sex—said at a meeting? Chances are good you’re rolling your eyes just remembering it.
I grew up in the communications agency world. One day, the head of our branch said, “Whenever you think about a client—no matter where you are—you can bill them for that time. Maybe you’re in the shower. If you come up with an idea, charge them for it.”
In our office, this sparked the euphemism “shower billing.”
I always questioned how this guy’s brain worked.
Research—based on 2,000 brain scans—shows there are differences between the structure of women’s and men’s brains. Here’s a quick look behind the curtain.
The Brain in Gray and White
While men’s brains are about 10% larger by weight, it’s clear (and backed by research) this has nothing to do with intelligence. The true difference is the size of the different parts of the brain by volume and how we use them.
Women have more gray matter. Its primary job is to process information involved with muscle control and sensory perception.
However, men use their gray matter more than women do. That could be one of the reasons they do better on a focused task.
Women rely more on their white matter. This is involved in learning and coordinating communication between different parts of the brain. That could underlie their greater ability with languages and juggling several activities at once.
In addition, women have stronger connections between the right and left sides of their brains. This gives them a natural gift for intuitive thinking, analyzing and drawing conclusions.
Men have better connections between the backs and the fronts of their brains. The result is heightened perception and better motor skills.
Size Matters for Women
These parts of women’s brains are larger by volume:
- Medial prefrontal cortex: involved in decision making, retrieving long-term memories, as well as consolidating new memories (from seconds to days)
- Lateral prefrontal cortex: responsible for cognitive control, which requires lots of processes—including working memory, choosing where to pay attention, and planning
- Orbitofrontal cortex: has lots connections with sensory areas (it’s right behind the eyes) as well as the limbic system (involves emotion and decision-making), memory, expression of personality, and impulse control
- Superior temporal cortex: integrates object- and space-related information and also processes different kinds of spoken language
- Lateral posterior parietal cortex: supports planning and control of movement, plus perception of and attention to spatial information, multisensory integration and construction
Size Matters for Men
Here’s where men’s brains are larger:
- Ventral temporal cortex: involved in high-level visual processing of complex stimuli, such as faces (fusiform gyrus), scenes (parahippocampal gyrus), and visual processing involved in perceiving and recognizing objects
- Occipital lobe: processes and interprets everything that’s seen, is responsible for analyzing contents (shapes, colors, and movement), and interprets and draws conclusions about the images it sees
Balancing Your Team
This reinforces what you’ve known all along: that you need both men and women on any team to leverage each other’s strengths and fill in each other’s gaps.
It’s true: our brains can be predisposed to contributing one thing rather than another by how they’re structured. However, experience, learning and drive can make us more than our biology.
Or less—if you happen to be a branch manager who is focused on having employees bill more hours in the shower.