Don't get into gender-based tussle over empathy
“What would have happened if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters?”
This was a question from Christine Lagarde, President of European Central Bank, at a 2015 conference, when talking about the collapse of the institution that in part ignited the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Her question created a gregarious wave of feedback at the time.
She was talking about the empathy that most women seem to exude in decision-making, as she asked the audience to consider a woman’s leadership approach to global financial vision. Five years later we seem to be continually debating the same topic - but is the focus on the right area?
Are women really better at empathising? Or are they simply more aware of the need to represent our fellow beings with a level of emotional intelligence more inclusive and authentic than those at elite clubhouses we have created in almost every industry? Clubhouses that, today, both male and female leaders are breaking out from in favour of a far more inclusive set of industries.
Not gender exclusive
But here’s the thing - while a socially nurturing role has been placed on and around women for generations, neurologically we are all born with the same ability to empathise. Evolution has honed our ability to connect with each other - and to take the perspectives of others as a survival mechanism and as a success criterion for shared growth.
The fact is we can all empathise, but yet we are seeing a 30-year decline in our empathy. And the ‘empathy gap’ is ever widening, causing an array of social issues from loneliness to anxiety, depression and burnout.
The gaps we see today across society and corporate life are not empathy gaps caused by a lack of ability in men (or women), but a lack of understanding for the social need to do so. A lack of consciousness around the benefit of understanding and connecting with those around us.
A lack of caring and compassion for fellow beings - our sex has nothing to do with it.
Need to connect better
We have reached a point as a global community where the empathy gap is changing our ability to see the other’s perspective at extreme levels. From politicians to doctors, CEOs to activists, many are significantly misunderstanding the powerfully impressive role increased empathy should be having on society, businesses, and organisations, particularly in a post COVID-19 world.
The lack of doing so threatens our social fabric, corporations, and the future of generations.
While there has been research that points to a small difference in the female and male brains’ speed to activate empathy (women do tend to be slightly faster, instinctively), this is too tiny a gap to make this a poignant issue on a wider social scale. With this in mind, my plea is to stop segregating women out for a skillset we clearly are not superior at.
Instead, focus on spreading humanity’s greatest trait society-wide. Let’s close the gap - 50 per cent of us cannot make the changes our world needs, but 100 per cent of us can. With our current health threat, economic uncertainty and societal unrest it’s going to take all of us taking concrete action to demonstrate shared empathy as humans.
Not as men or as women. So, lets pull the 100 per cent of us together.
- Mimi Nicklin is a communications specialist.