Viva La Difference

It seems to me that many attempts at social engineering with regard to the equality of the sexes are doomed to failure because they don’t recognise the inherent biological differences between men and women.

A recent ABC news bulletin decried the fact that there were still many more male CEO’s than female CEO’s and on the current trend that parity would not be reached for another eighty years. Unless I am grossly mistaken, I would suggest that there will never be as many women CEO’s as men. And this is not a matter of equity; it is a matter of choice.

In counterpoint to this I will say categorically there will never be as many male nurses or kindergarten teachers as females.

We know that women are more attracted to the roles of carers and nurturers because of their biological disposition. The difference between men and women is far more complex than the physical differences in their genitalia. The difference in the genetic makeup of men and women results in differences in behaviour, personality and preferred life roles.

Those who maintain that male and female roles are learnt socially and that boys should play with dolls and girls with trucks are missing the point. Much of the difference in behaviour between men and women are inherited genetically.

There is no dispute that women can be as good as men in the role of CEO. When I was a CEO I came across many women who were very competent and effective. In recent years I have coached a number of accomplished women in senior management roles (including CEO’s) and have tried to help them advance their careers. At the risk of bringing the wrath of the sisterhood down upon me, I would suggest that the barriers for progression of women in senior management are now not hugely significant. In fact some organisations are promoting targets for women in management and boards which in fact positively discriminate in favour of women.

(It is instructive to note though, that many of the women I have coached in CEO roles head organisations devoted to the care of others.)

Of course I know and have coached many more male CEO’s. As part of my coaching methodology I always have my clients complete a personality test. The test I use is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The most prevalent type amongst CEO’s (and indeed senior managers) I have found is ENTJ. Without going into the MBTI methodology let me just briefly summarise the personality traits of an ENTJ.

People of this temperament are among other things:

  • very direct,
  • predisposed to factual analysis with little resort to emotional response,
  • driven, competitive and often can be aggressive,
  • inclined to trample on others without being aware of it,
  • able to see the big picture and think strategically.

These are not the typical attributes of women. Women tend to be more empathetic, accommodating and co-operative. This is not to say women cannot act in such a way but in general it is not their preferred behaviour. It should not be surprising that when coaching senior female executives one of the most important skills I have tried to impart is assertiveness.

So let me summarise my thesis. The attributes that are necessary for a person to become a CEO are attributes more common to men than women. This is not to say that some women don’t have those attributes or indeed that some women can learn enough of these attributes to make the grade. But if left to their natural proclivities many more men than women will choose and succeed at being CEO’s.

Jordan Peterson in his best seller 12 Rules for Life wrote:

Many of the female clients (perhaps even the majority) that I see in my clinical practice have troubles in their jobs and family lives not because they are too aggressive but because they are not aggressive enough.

They assume that cooperation should be the basis of all social transactions, and they avoid conflict (which means they avoid confronting problems in their relationships as well as at work.) They continually sacrifice for others.

Now I would argue that these are in general admirable traits but they don’t equip you to be a CEO.

So what then might be the motivation to seek to promote more women into the role of CEO? Well I would expect that this is a battle for the recognition of status. CEO’s are both well remunerated and have high status in our society. And it is unfortunate that because of the innate attributes that I have enunciated above that more men than women achieve such status.

Yet if we were to ask people who had the most impact on their lives, many would nominate their mothers. But mothers tend not to get the public accolades that are bestowed upon successful executives.

For quite a few years I provided executive coaching services for a law firm. The firm was quite enlightened in its personnel policies and genuinely cared for its employees. I coached a number of their female lawyers who had been made equity partners or were being contemplated for such promotion. These were very competent women who had no trouble holding their own against their male colleagues. But once they had children they inevitably felt guilty that they were not doing enough as mothers in support of their progeny. Now these women were well-paid professionals who had the wherewithal to afford to hire qualified caring staff to fill the gap when they were unavailable. But of course that is not enough. Their biological urges were such that they really needed to spend more time with their children. But if they did that, they felt their professionalism was compromised and they were letting the firm down unless they worked the same ridiculous hours of their male counterparts. Taking maternity leave was problematic for them for similar reasons. Not only would they not be holding up their end, the clients they had cultivated and had fostered good relationships with, would be given over to other lawyers so that when they returned to work they would have to go out and win new clients.

A Stanford University research paper titled Retaining and advancing women in national law firms found that only 15% of equity partners in major US law firms were women.

Female doctors seem to have sorted themselves out better. Many women doctors with children work part time in medical centres successfully integrating their work and family lives. But this is hardly likely to be an option if you are a female executive aspiring to be a CEO.

The same problem confronts women wanting to enter politics. We often denigrate politicians but from my personal experience politicians work pretty hard and have huge demands placed upon them. It is not surprising then that some of our most successful female politicians (for example Julia Gillard and Julie Bishop) don’t have children.

So the problem as I see it is not that women don’t have adequate opportunity to compete for high income and high status jobs – they do. The problem seems to me to be twofold.

Firstly the market, unthinking and uncaring as it is, largely determines the remuneration of people in senior positions. Unfortunately the careers that attract the highest remuneration are often those that women through their inherent genetic characteristics are less suitable for, or are less inclined to pursue, than males,

Secondly, as a corollary, the roles that women are genetically predisposed to are undervalued by the market or are ignored altogether.

As I have pointed out in other essays, our economy recognises those that make beds in hotels and care for other people’s children in childcare centres but give no recognition at all to mothers that stay at home and do the same things in support of their own families.

As I have been writing this essay, another article appeared in the press on International Women’s Day decrying the fact that almost twice as many boys were taking advanced maths in their final years at school as girls, despite considerable expenditure to try and equalise the outcomes. Does it not occur to our educators that such choices are based on biological differences and that any amount of positive intervention in favour of girls is unlikely to significantly change these outcomes?

There is no doubt human behaviour is vastly affected by social learning but we ignore the effects of our biological history at our peril. Consider the following statistics:

  • Men murder more often than women by a factor of at least seven to one.
  • Men take more risks than women and as a consequence are five times more likely to die in a traffic accident.
  • Boys are much more likely to be hyperactive than girls and to be afflicted with autism.


It is naïve at the very least to believe that men just choose to behave this way. This is the response to the testosterone that they are genetically endowed with. Sometimes this leads to poorer results for men for example their higher levels of suicide and deaths due to risk taking and violence. But in other circumstances, for example, in the rough and tumble world of business, it provides them with advantages.

Our goal should always be to ensure that women and men have equal opportunities but it is unlikely that because of these innate biological differences there will ever be equality of outcomes. Unfortunately it seems to be an anathema to the champions of gender politics to believe that any of the different outcomes between males and females might actually be driven by choices associated with their biology rather than by gender related prejudices in our society.

15 Replies to “Viva La Difference”

  1. Correct Ted, what a shame it is that one has to write an intellectual treatise on something that everyone who has children can see in their own children and from birth….. And every married man for sure knows that men and women are different animals altogether…. Yet the academics and journalists seems blind to this abvious and readily visible fact……

  2. In my various phases of life, I was very religious. Somewhere in the Bible, I recall that the human brain is only complete when a male and female ( I think in marriage) join up in decision making.
    Have you ever considered that a CEO should be appointed with a balanced, compatible man and woman as a joint duo?
    I know, (and I am sure you will agree) that basically I am a total moron. However, with my wife’s guidance, I am positively (I know you totally disagree) amazing brilliant!!!!!

    1. Not a bad idea, Ron. I know from my experience that a management team should contain a range of personality types whether they be male or female. I have seen quite a few management teams where the only way to get a guernsey is to be similar in type. They might be solid and unified but are unlikely to “think outside the box” and if someone is accidentally allowed in they are generally ostracised once their difference is apparent.

  3. Thanks Ted – and provocative as usual!
    I think the flaw in this argument (or at least the bit missing) is that it requires a binary view of male v female genetic makeup.
    While I acknowledge that around the population median this will be the case, the distribution is perhaps broader than previously thought and society these days, to its credit, is better, I believe, in allowing individuals more freedom to be who they are. So females can play professional rugby league, join the SAS and do many other things unheard of 25 years ago.
    And men can now be midwives or makeup artists or house husbands etc. You get the drift.
    So you can aspire to be a CEO or a nurse, not because of any binary bias hard wiring but because either opportunity is available to you depending on your makeup and preference which is surely a societal advance beyond the scope of male v female boundaries.

    1. But Peter, I think your argument supports my thesis. Women and men now have much greater choices in the roles available to them. But despite this men and women still cluster statistically in roles that suit their innate gender characteristics. Jordan Peterson reports that in those countries where there is greatest choice, eg the Scandinavian countries, the division between the preferred roles of men and women is indeed starkest.

  4. Interesting Ted. I have found in the things I am involved in that the gender boundaries are more blurred these days but this is an observation not based on research. But I certainly agree gender still has a lot to do with roles chosen. So perhaps the exceptions prove the rule!

    1. I agree that gender boundaries are now “more blurred” and that is a good thing. But in an egalitarian society the principal goal should be to ensure that men and women have equal opportunity to pursue whatever careers they wish. But when men and women choose their roles under such conditions but the outcomes are different (eg more male CEO’s than women) we need to question that this is not a matter of discrimination but a matter of choice.

    1. I think you miss the point Sandra. I want women to be whatever they want to be, But it is inevitable that given their biological differences they may not want the same things as men and if they freely make those choices we are wrong to try to force them into roles that they don’t prefer just to achieve numerical equivalence to men.

  5. Agree Ted. This is nirvana. But equal opportunity is a subjective term. I know men who are ashamed their son wants to be a nurse. And a woman who is embarrassed that their daughter’s choice of sport is rugby league. Is it truly equal opportunity when society has views about what is appropriate in a binary sense?

  6. Here you go again Ted with blog comments on a subject that I suggest you are ill-equipped to pass judgement on, and that will bring some wrath down upon you. I appreciate that it is just your opinion, but it mustn’t go unchallenged. I am sending an annotated copy of this blog addressing the false assumptions in your argument. Your most blatant false assumption is on what characteristics are required of CEOs. You have simply looked at the current CEO types in a totally dysfunctional system – the current grossly distorted economic construct that allows narcissistic psychopaths to climb over everyone else and get to the top with no imagination of the impacts of their actions upon nature and society at large. A system where only 26 of the world’s wealthiest men own more than half the world’s total wealth (Oxfam 2019). These billionaires grow richer by $2.5 billion every day! That’s obscene when everyone else is struggling to survive on a planet being rapidly destroyed by those same billionaires.

  7. The big point missing in this discussion is that society and its operating systems have almost entirely been constructed by men so naturally the roles of running society (particularly the economy and businesses) have been crafted by men to suit male characteristics. Ted now assumes that these roles are “God given” and should not (cannot) be altered. It is therefore natural that CEO roles under this male construct will attract men with with testosterone driven characteristics (Ted’s “killer instincts”). This must change if we want to see a liveable future. If CEO roles included caring for nature, nurturing, and building properly functioning societies, women would be attracted to the CEO positions, and do a far better job of fixing our current sustainability and climate change emergency!

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