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Barbara Annis

Gender Expert

New York, NY

I was convinced the only path to success in a masculine-dominated corporate culture was to think and behave as a man rather than act authentically as a woman.

Like many other women in the 1980s, I fought for my place in corporate America. I climbed the ladder to the position of first female sales manager for a prominent company in an industry with very few women. I competed and won, and eventually left that company with the knowledge of how to win. I was convinced the only path to success in a masculine-dominated corporate culture was to think and behave as a man rather than act authentically as a woman.

I noticed women around me feeling frustrated. They didn’t know how to adapt as well as I had and were looking for assistance. With the best of intentions, I wanted to impart my wisdom and knowledge to women and I made it my crusade to help them see the light so they too could succeed.

I began facilitating gender workshops for women in companies and organizations across the globe. In the late 1980s, during a gender workshop for a large pharmaceutical company, I had my Lean In moment. One of the participants, a German scientist named Victoria, kept asking different versions of the same question: “Why are we here? Where are all the men? Why aren’t they learning how to relate to us?”

I didn’t have an intelligent answer for her. I assumed the answer was in teaching women how to relate to men, not in teaching men how to relate to women. I had put the onus on women to learn how to fit in and play by the men’s rules. Victoria’s questions put me on a path of discovery. I made it my life’s mission to understand what informs and influences our gender differences — from social, psychological and cultural, to family and education.

In the 1990s, the world opened up. Breakthrough discoveries in neuroscience revealed irrefutable differences in the hardwiring, blood flow and chemistries of the male and female brains. It began to make sense that if women’s challenges I experienced in workshops across the globe were virtually identical, regardless of country or level within the organization, then something must be universally influencing their thoughts and actions — as well as those of the men they work with.

It occurred to me that natural, biological differences must be a good thing, a complementing, not conflicting difference, given the success of our species for millions of years. I no longer conduct gender workshops with women in isolation; I now conduct gender intelligence workshops where men and women learn the “why’” behind our differences and the strengths within them. The “Aha!” moments are so validating for women and so freeing for men.

Since the 1980s, my life had been devoted to revealing to men and women why and how they are different and helping them overcome the challenges and conflicts caused by their differences. It has been my mission to promote gender intelligence as the means by which to embrace and engage those differences in an openly natural and inclusive way.

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