In the past few years, the need for this feminine-oriented style has become more urgent. In 2001, Harvard University’s Quarterly Journal of Economics published a paper called “Boys Will Be Boys: Gender, Overconfidence and Common Stock Investment.” Two researchers at the University of California, Davis, compared the stock market trades of men and women over a six-year period. Men, especially single men, traded vastly more frequently than women, and they did so out of a false confidence in themselves and their own judgments. Their overconfidence resulted in many more bad decisions and lower net returns.
In May, when Wall Street was scratching its head over how JPMorgan Chase could have made the disastrous trades that resulted in losses now estimated at some $5.8 billion, the New York Times came up with a novel and very relatable explanation. The bank’s chief investment officer, Ina Drew, had been overseeing the team responsible for the bet. During 2008, Drew was credited with steering the bank away from such colossal errors. Using coach-like, “post-heroic” leadership skills, she kept the traders’ huge egos and fighting in check. But Drew developed Lyme disease and, the New York Times reported, was frequently out of the office during the period the trades were made. In her absence, the testosterone raged out of control and damaged the bank.
The traits that used to be considered hallmarks of leadership—the ability to act quickly, to remain in a state of pumped-up confidence—are being recast as liabilities. Testosterone has become the new estrogen, the hormone that makes you behave in irrational and reckless ways. At the same time, behaviors that for centuries were viewed as feminine and flawed—hesitating, waiting for feedback, creating consensus—now look like critical skills that can save an ailing economy. As Lagarde commented, “If Lehman Brothers had been a bit more Lehman Sisters, we would not have had the degree of tragedy that we had.”
Such a fundamental and momentous change in a culture’s views inevitably creates resistance, not just from the men in charge but from some women as well. (Researchers often attribute the lack of sisterly solidarity to women’s sense that they are still underdogs who have to fight for the few spots reserved for them at the top.) The resistance is natural, the last gasp of a dying age, of a culture afraid to accept the obvious and inevitable. There are plenty of signs that this lopsided hierarchy with men dominating the tippy-top is about to topple, given the number of women pushing against it. Take the 2012 election’s war on women, for example. The efforts of some conservatives to limit women’s access to birth control were an irrational, almost nostalgia-driven strategy. Ninety-nine percent of heterosexual women have used contraception; every family-values conservative knows that and knows too that this particular battle was lost long ago. But what drove the right to keep fighting was not the usual fear of female sexuality but fear of burgeoning female power. America’s families and their economic successes are now dependent on female advancement in the workforce, which is dependent on contraception, and that must be a scary fact for the nation to absorb into its consciousness.