Author Alexia Parks on why women are hardwired to save the world
Women are natural born leaders, according to Alexia Parks; in fact, she says, female leadership could save the world. Parks will talk about this theory and the science behind her book Hardwired: The 10 Major Traits of Women Hardwired by Evolution That Can Save the World tonight at 7 p.m. at the Chautauqua Community House. That's where she'll also launch her new nonprofit, 56 Percent, which focuses on encouraging women's leadership skills.
We spoke with Parks in advance of her presentation about the differences between male and female brains, and why women are ideal leaders for the modern world.
Westword: What will you be talking about at Chautauqua?
Alexia Parks: The talk at Chautauqua is part of an artists and authors series, and I'm the speaker this month in October. I wrote a book called Hardwired: The 10 Major Traits of Women Hardwired by Evolution That Can Save the World. The book is based on the new science of a woman's brain. It's based on a lot of science that basically has not been available until now. We were able to pull it together and create this incredibly powerful book -- sometimes people just see the cover and they say, I want to know more about this. They want to use it to empower themselves. The book describes ten natural leadership traits that have been hardwired by evolution and amazingly, these ten traits of women just so happen to be the exact opposite of those hardwired in men. And there's no right or wrong. It's not that women are better than men, or men better than women, it's just that they were hardwired differently over millions of years for different purposes. So at Chautauqua I will be describing those traits in a presentation, and it also is going to be a launch party for a nonprofit that has now been formed around this concept of the natural leadership traits of women, using science to empower women as leaders.
The organization is called 56 Percent, and what 56 Percent does is it uses the natural leadership traits that are now proven by science to empower women as leaders. Because in today's complex, volatile world, it's the woman's brain that is best able to manage this level of complexity.
That's fascinating, because the standard narrative seems to say that women are not hardwired to lead.
You know what, we have been for about 10,000 years -- ever since the launch of the agricultural revolution, in which we went from never having enough food to suddenly being able to grow it out our door. Food suddenly became widely available wherever grains could be grown. So the agricultural revolution, which morphed into the industrial society, basically created a hierarchical structure for the first time in human history. And what was left behind it, the reminder which is now brought forward in science: men and women for most of human history, 99.99 percent of human history, were equal. They had different tasks, but they were equal. What's happening now in the twenty-first century is that we've moved from the industrial revolution into the idea economy, and in the twenty-first century it's brains that count more than brawn. You know, in the past you needed men in the agricultural revolution and on to plow the fields, lift the heavy loads, build the architecture, build the structures, and women helped, too, but it was mostly the brawn, the muscles, the testosterone that drove men to build the cities and complex structures.
Now if you take a look to find how the idea economy is shaping our world and how women are now moving forward in leadership, they're sort of moving out of that background to the foreground. If you look at colleges, for example, let's say the University of Colorado or universities around the country, 60 percent of the student body is now women. And if you take a look at community colleges, which casts an even broader net, 70 percent of the students now enrolled in community colleges are women. So whether it's 60 or 70 or somewhere in between, the majority of students now going through and being educated, moving into managerial positions in the future and being looked at as leaders are women.
What do you think people will be most surprised to learn in your presentation?
Well, you know there was an op ed this weekend by Nicholas Kristof and it said, you know, women can be corrupt in power as well as men. However, when you simply look at the science that shows these natural leadership traits are there, the solution is to say yes, corruption could be found anywhere. However, when you begin to empower women and train them so that they don't have to go into that competitive hierarchy, their natural leadership emerges and that is these ten traits that really are the traits of a great leader. The other thing I point out that's really important is that today's world is much more volatile. We're interconnected and it's more volatile around the world. And 80 percent of the human brain, whether it's male or female, is fixed. It's hardwired. It takes about a hundred thousand years to make that change through evolutionary changes. And whenever there's stress, men go to their hardwiring. And likewise women go to their hardwiring.
The amazing story to tell here with hardwired traits of women is that 80 percent of their brain is, when they go to that stress, it is the natural leadership traits. So women can be trained to go out to war, and they can kill, they can be trained to pick up a gun and shoot, but their natural inclination is love of people and community, love of diversity. They are great at multi-tasking; they can bring it all together and they can sort it out, balance it out brilliantly. The new science points to this and says we are multitasking masters and more.
In what way are women and men's leadership skills different?
Leadership skills in men would be organized around teams. If you think of hunter-gatherer days, men went out with a team to hunt for food and they had a single focus. They focused on a single goal and their goal was to find that target and hit that target, whether it was on foot, with bow and arrow, with a weapon like a gun. Find that target and kill it, and kill it without empathy, because in the base of hunter-gatherers it was food. I'm killing you because I'm feeding my family.
By contrast, women, being confined to the camp and the campfire and the network, had to look to each other and build a social network of support, so circles, networks, collaborations are hardwired as women's leadership skills. And that's just one. They were gatherers and they gathered not just nuts and berries and food around their village, they gathered the women together to support each other and raise their children in order to survive. So you take it into a modern context and you look at women under natural empowered leadership and they will gather a group together, they will discuss, they will express, they will empathize with each other. They will include diverse points of view, diverse people and thoughts and understandings. And men by contrast choose a single goal, which has its great benefits when you want one single goal, and you want to stay focused, no distractions. That's when men come in with their leadership. But in a collaborative world where everybody should be and can be included, this is women's style.
In 56 Percent, part of our mission is to shift that gender balance in Congress as well in the future. That's a tipping point that gives them a slight majority to give them the courage and conviction to follow their passion and their vision because the Economist magazine will say that studies that they report show that more women in government will shift government monies away from weapons, tanks, and warfare and shift those government moneys in the direction of education, healthcare, infrastructure, sustainability, and the eradication of poverty. This is what women want.
How do you imagine the world will be different with more women in leadership positions?
We based 56 Percent on the number one country in the world which has actually 56 percent women leading their country in Parliament. The United States today in 2012 ranks 80th in the world, with only 16 precent of women in Congress. Women gained the right to vote in 1920, but since that time, ninety years later, only 277 women have been voted into Congress. Versus 12,000 men. So the vision and the image is very skewed. So we looked at that worldwide chart of 192 countries around the world and said, who's at number one? And I think the answer will surprise you. The number one country in the world at 56 percent women is Rwanda.
It is a wow statement. So 56percent.org is based on the fact that that vision of 56 percent happened. It's the only country in the world with 56 percent. And when the women reached that tipping point everything began to change. They began rewriting the rules and laws in favor of education, healthcare, infrastructure and the eradication of poverty. They did a lot more, but that's key. It stands as a model of what's possible when we reach that tipping point. And in general, whether we go into universities and colleges and bring this curriculum and training that we're developing to empower women and leaders, and men who collaborate, it shows that this is possible through collaboration, through cooperation, through including diverse points of view and diverse people.
And there's one more interesting thing, because in a world of stress another leadership trait that's 100 percent opposite what happens when facing danger, whether it's in warfare or whether its in the conflicts that happen around the world and in our daily lives. Men's approach, it's hardwired when they're under great stress and they're facing danger, they will either fight with the hope to win or they'll run away from that danger. Women, by complete contrast, will move toward danger to tend or befriend it. And in reaching out, they become the diplomats, they become the negotiators. They diffuse conflict. So if you want leadership in a volatile, complex world to include complex thinking and ability to negotiate, collaborate, and diffuse conflict, women are natural leaders. It's hardwired.
Women can be empowered as natural leaders by using very simple training techniques, tools, and inspiration and education to basically bring them forward. We have, in the book Hardwired, a rating system that says rate yourself as a leader. Rate your leadership traits. And there's ten traits. They might be expressing them at levels one and two or five on a scale as they rate themselves, but give them a few tools, very simple tools to begin to strengthen them, and they'll become a perfect ten. All women have these leadership skills, they just don't know it. They also have to be invited to lead. They're waiting to be asked. So we're asking women, basically, do you know a woman who should run for public office? Send her name to us and we'll help empower her.
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