Trains = brains, and dresses = stresses? New research doesn’t bode well for next generation either.

Are boys born loving trains and guns while girls reach for dolls and pretty pink dresses? Are boys born with different brains, enabling them in the areas of math and science, while girls naturally excel in literature and the written word?

You may remember, in 2005, when the president of Harvard at the time, Lawrence Summers, created such an uproar with disparaging comments about women’s aptitude for science and math. Well, it may be true there are dramatically more men than women in top levels of the science fields, but are the gender differences hard-wired?

This debate has raged on for years, the age-old nature versus nurture, science-brain versus art/literature-brain. Researchers have produced a wealth of results from various studies, often conflicting, and the matter remains far from resolved.

Studies have shown that American girls around between 9 and 17 consistently had fewer experiences in the science realm than boys, and generally expressed negative perceptions and attitudes toward science and math classes. Lawrence H. Summers, then president of Harvard, made his notorious comments about women’s aptitude — researchers have been searching for ways to explain why there are so many more men than women in the top ranks of science.

Explaining this gender gap away with the cry: “brain differences!” just does not wash, however. Recent research on gender with regard to skills in math was carried out in 86 countries. The results strongly suggest that culture may be the culprit, not brain differences, that this difference is not biological, but sociocultural. Some countries just do not show this gap that is apparent in the USA, and it seems in countries where females are comfortable and successful in the world of math, there is a greater degree of gender equality. For example, in Russia and Asia girls are more apt to pursue scientific careers than in the US, Canada and England.

But here in the States, the gap has been narrowing. Girls who are considered to be “highly gifted mathematicians” now number 3 to 1, a vast improvement over the 13 to 1 ratio that was present in the 1970s. Women obtaining graduate degrees in math are also on the uptick, even though men are still holding 70% of those degrees.

Suggestions for improving this further? The researchers listed:

  • Increase math-certified teachers in schools
  • Work on decreasing the number of children living in poverty
  • Equalize the gender equality gap.

Easier said than done.

lean-in-coverWhen none other than Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says that women “lean away” from challenging jobs in the corporate firmament because they want to off-track sooner than later to have their children, it’s hard to see how society can do even a 180-degree turn toward encouraging girls to pursue studies in science and math.

The really startling insight here is that research over the last half of the twentieth century, especially, has shown that women scientists (if they find the right sponsors and continue their careers while also having children) tend to focus on socially worthy science, such as disease cures, alleviation of poverty, hunger and homelessness, along with other humanitarian concerns. Male scientists have historically focused on research that is more driven toward industrial applications, such as improving military supremacy, space travel optimization and finance.

No wonder that so many female senators, congresswomen, university educators and other like-minded women are advocating the improvement and enhancement of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education for girls. We can only hope that a high percentage of them apply these skills to making real improvements on all of our lives – especially that of the current generation of their aging parents.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING

· “Sex on the Brain: Are boys’ brains different from girls’ brains? Scientists debate the question.” http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2011/11/boys_brains_girls_brains_how_to_think_about_sex_differences_in_psychology_.html

· “Stereotype Threat and Women’s Math Performance” :http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103198913737http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/02/04/science/girls-lead-in-science-exam-but-not-in-the-united-states.html?_r=1&

· “The myth of equality in science classrooms” http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/tea.3660200205/abstract

· “Do the Math! Sex Divide Is Cultural, Not Biological” http://www.livescience.com/17429-math-gender-differences-myths.html

Launching a Small Business Post-Recession? Branding is just the first step.

Having built my career in brand marketing, I’m often asked about the art and science of effective branding by friends who are launching small businesses and nonprofits – and whether branding is about building awareness, changing perceptions, improving attitudes, promoting purchase and loyalty, and other questions. To borrow a rapid-fire reply often given by pundits and comedians, my answer is “Yes.” It’s about all of those factors that speak to the tangible and intangible features and benefits of a particular brand – whether the brand is a product, service, for-profit or nonprofit entity, or Brand You.

Whenever I attend good networking meetings for professional women in New York City, I want to brand the city as “The Big Cocoon” rather than The Big Apple, its more customary brand. Regardless of how many women’s networking groups there are throughout this city, spanning diverse broad and deep interests, the best ones are like cocoons where there are enthusiastic huddles, breakout sessions, brainstorms, a lot of talking over one another, a lot of exchange of insights, ideas, frustrations and opportunities as women are planning their next big moves, which often involve starting their own businesses.

In the current economic climate, thousands of people of all ages, and not just women, are starting their own businesses. Some stride confidently into setting up a business that they’ve been thinking about for a while. Others are taking on freelance assignments while they continue to network and interview for their next full-time position.

For both of these paths, you need a plan. In this age of pervasive instantaneous social media, you also need a memorable brand.

Here are eight essential factors to consider – from a personal as well as professional perspective if you’re planning and branding a small business.

  1. Deliberate and write down your dreams. Include your desires, reasons, aims and financial goals for starting your own business, and your time frame. Do they include the desire to be your own boss, control your own time, be acquired by another firm, attract investors, or work at home while you’re raising children? Do you just want to earn money as a freelancer or consultant in the short run, especially if you’re not sure what you want to do next? Those motivations will affect your personal and professional life.
  2. Write a brief “situation analysis”of your personal and professional deal. Outline your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The most successful business people leverage their strengths and passions so they maximize opportunities to enjoy their work as well as earn money. Of the many good qualities and skills you possess, prioritize the ones that you enjoy, as they are the ones that help you create, build and drive your business. Do the same with your internal weaknesses and external threats, as they could hinder your business.
  3. Envision your business. Start from the perspective of how you’ll remember it when you’re in your 80s or 90s. Home in on your values, ethics, ideals and other motivations that go beyond your basic and current needs, so you also take into account your aspirations for achievement, recognition, altruism, prestige, status, power and influence. Know which needs and aspirations motivate you at your core, because they will affect you in the long run.
  4. Identify resources to make your visions and goals a reality. Most startups fail because they lack adequate resources. Even if you’re freelancing temporarily, you’ll need some cash reserves, a reputable accountant, industry peers and others you can rely on for brainstorming, marketing advice, referrals and moral support. If you’re going to be writing and reviewing consulting contracts and nondisclosure agreements, you’ll also want legal counsel.
  5. Brand yourself – and your business. This requires strategic know-how, courage, creative flair, commitment and persistence. To get you started:
  6. Create a compelling proposition for your product or service. Define a problem, solution and call to action. Your local chamber of commerce has information about strategy consultants, accountants, attorneys and marketing agencies that could help you, many of whom volunteer their services to small businesses.
  7. Become recognized and respected as an expert, i.e., as a brand. To do this, write, give speeches, do presentations and other promotion to build awareness, credibility, trial and preference among your target customers. A website’s a must, but so are a LinkedIn profile, Facebook business page, Twitter posts, newsletter, monthly emails, even a blog or YouTube videos. Keep references, work samples and other evidence of your expertise and experience current and ready to send to those who can recommend, refer or purchase your products or services. Once you gain recognition and respect, your reputation as an skilled technician, specialist, or expert will increase, as will your assignments, preference and repeat business.
  8. Seek out others who have similar interests, experience and expertise to yours. Universities, professional organizations, trade associations, nonprofits, networking groups and other communities, online and offline, are a haven for people who already are experts, want to become experts, or want to align with, learn from and maximize their expertise.

In chapters 3, 4, 5, 8 and 12 of my book, Get DARE From Here!, I focus a lot of attention on branding and planning for personal and professional growth, specifically in: Design (chap. 3), Aims (chap. 4), Access & Approach (chap. 5), Rally (chap. 8) and Exchange (chap. 12). All of these are key levers for women over 40 who want to take charge of the rest of their lives. Inherent in these chapters is the critical message that planning the rest of your life is like planning a business. If you’re financially self-supporting or the main financial support for others in your household, you are a business.

Planning and branding a small business used to be for only the most driven and committed self-starters. Today, everyone needs to think of themselves as a small business – whether inside or outside a corporation. If you decide to go out on your own, it’s important to know and respect your core motivations, focus on your strengths, envision the long haul and, by all means, engage your own “Big Cocoon” of people who will support and champion you. Then, dare to get out there and promote yourself to those who will value your hard work.

 

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Liz DiMarco Weinmann is founder and CEO of the DARE-Force Corp. (www.thedareforce.com), an educational resources company whose mission is to inspire all women over 40 who want to pursue, develop and lead new and fulfilling ventures. She also runs Weinmann & Associates, a strategic consulting firm serving small businesses and nonprofits. Weinmann earned her MBA in finance and leadership from New York University. She is the author of the new book, “Get DARE From Here! – 12 Principles and Practices For Women Over 40 To Take Stock, Take Action and Take Charge of the Rest Of Their Lives.”