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By Vicki L. Beyer
After the 2008 financial crisis one often heard the question “What if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters?” The implication was that more feminine approaches to risk and business operations might have averted the financial crisis.
John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio have picked up on this theory in their book, The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, in which they concluded that “femininity is the operating system of the twenty-first century.”
This is especially interesting coming from two men, but note that they are not concluding that women will rule the world. They are positing that the world is ready for, and indeed desires, a more feminine style of thought and approach, whether applied by men or women.
Gerzema and D’Antonio have employed methodical data analysis in their work. They conducted two surveys across 13 countries (including the United States and Japan). In the first survey, they asked respondents to identify 125 behavioral traits as masculine, feminine, or neither. In the second survey, they asked a separate set of respondents to rate the importance of those same 125 traits to specific virtues, such as leadership and success, with no reference to gender. They then correlated these results to draw conclusions relating to the masculinity or femininity of traits the survey respondents identified as important to leadership, success, morality, and happiness in our time.
There was a high level of consistency across age, gender, and culture in terms of the extent to which traits were perceived as masculine or feminine. But one standout result was that “nearly two-thirds of people around the world—including the majority of men—feel that the world would be a better place if men thought more like women.”
The introductory chapter provides details of the survey results, including some easily digestible charts. Some of the results are astonishing. For example, 79 percent of Japanese men say they are “dissatisfied with the conduct of men in my country” (compared to 54 percent of men globally). Other results are perhaps more predictable.
While these survey results are quite interesting, it is the subsequent chapters that are truly inspiring.
The authors identified a number of up-and-coming enterprises exhibiting the “Athena-style approach” in each survey country. These enterprises ranged from entrepreneurial efforts and educational initiatives to governmental reforms. One thing the enterprises have in common is that they value more than just bottom-line profits or cost efficiencies. Instead, they look for a balance between economic success and quality of life.
In Japan, the authors examined two efforts growing out of the recovery efforts in Tohoku, as well as a nationwide support network for young mothers and a ladies’ handbag shop in Ginza that sells top-quality bags produced in Bangladesh through the shop owner’s efforts to introduce manufacturing skills as a means to fight poverty in that country.
Other chapters highlight similarly diverse efforts in the other surveyed countries. Many were entrepreneurial and Internet based, but there were also efforts of local governments (Medellin, Colombia), military (Israel), and even national tourism boards (Sweden) that demonstrated a flexibility one might not expect from such long-established institutions and evidenced the notion that “people are recognizing that feminine skills—communication, listening, and being flexible—are becoming more essential.”
Just as the efforts were diverse, so were the people behind them. About half of the featured enterprises were started or run by men, reiterating the fundamental premise of the book: a particular “Athena-style approach” is in the ascendency. And this approach, while identified by the survey results as “feminine”, can be employed by anyone.
As Athena is the Greek goddess of wisdom, there is knowledge in this book that is well worth taking the time to absorb.
(June 2014, ACCJ Journal)