Therese Huston of the New York Times writes that “history has long labeled women as unreliable and hysterical because of their hormones.” Interestingly, new research shows that men’s hormones fluctuate, too, both naturally and artificially, with possibly dire consequences for the rest of us. Prescriptions for testosterone supplements, often for a condition called “low-T,” are heavily advertised on television and social media and have increased from 1.3 million to 2.3 million in just four years. As Huston notes, the availability and popularity of these supplements makes new research on testosterone possible. She reports the following findings:
- When men take testosterone, they make more impulsive — and often faulty — decisions.
- High testosterone can make it harder to see flaws in one’s reasoning.
- Testosterone may lower activity in the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, which affects self-evaluation, decision making, and impulse control, and cause overconfidence in one’s reasoning ability.
- Fluctuations in testosterone shape one’s willingness to collaborate.
So, am I the only one who is nervous about our impulsive president of the United States, who has a hard time seeing flaws in his reasoning and is high on overconfidence and low on willingness to collaborate? He controls the nuclear codes, surrounds himself with military generals (all white men), and threatens war on other nations in early morning tweets. The White House needs to place a lot of strong women in influential positions to offset all this testosterone, but the picture is not a good one. Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post cites research by economist Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute that shows that “the highest-paid staffers in the Trump White House are primarily men: Nearly 74 percent of the top 23 staffers are male. By contrast, in the Obama White House of 2015 only 52 percent of the highest-paid staffers were men.” And did I mention that the gender pay gap has also tripled in Trump’s White House?
In a previous article, I wrote about research that suggests that both race and gender diversity improve organizational performance and decision making due to the following:
- Better and deeper critical thinking. The presence of cognitive friction might mean that people work harder to examine their own assumptions and deepen their reflections in the presence of conflicting opinions and information.
- More engagement with different perspectives. Different perspectives bring new ideas, and working harder to understand a different perspective can bring about a change in position.
- Better error detection. Deeper critical thought and engagement provide more opportunity for errors to be revealed.
- Less groupthink. Individuals are more likely to form their own opinions in diverse teams than to just follow along with those like them.
We need a balance of perspectives — and hormones — for good leadership in our government and organizations. In fact, our survival may depend on it.
Have you ever worked somewhere with an unbalanced team? If so, how did it affect decision making and collaboration at your organization?
Anne Litwin, Ph.D. is an Organizational Development and Human Resources Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together.’
Originally published at annelitwin.com on September 4, 2017.