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International Women’s Day is a great time to reflect on what we can do individually and collectively to raise awareness of how improving parity for women in education, business and life benefits us all.

“Many heads are better than one”

– Aristotle

From the workplace perspective, this is about far more than equality of pay and glass ceilings, this is the recognition of how gender diversity enhances decision making, collaboration and kindness towards each other.

The evidence is clear, including women at every level and not just for political correctness and a tick in the box makes good business sense.

Raising the bar on collective intelligence this International Women’s Day.

NESTA (The National Endowment for Science Technology) defines collective intelligence as the process by which a large group of individuals come together to share their knowledge, data and skills for the purpose of solving societal issues.

In his book, The Wisdom of Crowds James Surowieki talks about how decisions made by groups are more reliable and better than those made by individuals.

But just having a group of smart individuals coming together isn’t the answer – it’s not the smarts that counts but the number of women in the group.

Research by MIT Carnegie Mellon and Union College discovered it is the level of cooperation between all parties that matters. Led by Anita Williams Woolley the research team found that groups can perform consistently well across different tasks in just the same way as an individual and that the general effectiveness was determined by the group’s level of social sensitivity, that is increased by the presence of women.

Social sensitivity rules.

Social sensitivity relates to how well an individual picks up on the emotional cues from others. In a group with high social sensitivity, the group demonstrate higher collective wisdom and are better at taking turns to speak meaning no one voice dominates or is ignored. Those groups that had more women were found to have greater social sensitivity.

In the studies, 699 subjects were placed into groups of two or five people and worked together on a variety of collaborative projects including visual puzzles, brainstorming and rule-based design assessments.

They concluded that collective intelligence accounted for about 40% of the performance variables.

Intelligence is more than having the smarts.

Wooley believes this reveals why collective intelligence is so powerful. It’s not what we can do alone but what we can achieve together and, coupled with our new technologies and A.I., the future is looking very bright.

According to Tom Malone Professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, he believes “organisations that will thrive will embrace democracy, loose hierarchies, and will focus on collective intelligence amongst their teams.

Embracing the human-machine relationship appears to be the next step forward.

Do we still need experts?

Traditionally those who were the recognised experts in their field were deferred as having the wisdom needed to lead others, whether a top physician or business leader but what if we were to approach problem solving and decision making differently by inviting everyone to provide their own input.

A business owner might be seeking to boost the productivity of his organisation and consult a productivity expert to assist. What the expert will typically do is ask those operating at the coal face for their input – how do they see their challenges and what do they think would help?

This is smarter thinking at work because the person who stands to gain the most is the person already frustrated by working with outmoded processes or procedures and may already have formulated an opinion as to what might work better if only someone would listen to their suggestion and take them seriously. The organisation that supports a safe working environment to enables these discussions is the organisation most likely to succeed.

Plus, when we feel heard, that sends a powerful signal that we are valued and that drives us to contribute more and motivates us to work harder.

The safety issue morphs into enhances innovation and creativity because if you’re not having to waste valuable mental energy of fending off toxic work colleagues and unsupportive bosses, you’re more open to seeing all the different alternatives and options available.

Allowing a diversity of perspective develops more insight and confidence while raising competence.

Finally enabling individuals to raise their own bar of competence and effectiveness increases team effectiveness and coordination.

As we move to celebrate International Women’s Day and #balanceforbetter let’s look at how we can increase the collective wisdom in all workplaces starting by ensuring there is always a mixture of both men and women which is #betterforbalance.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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