Author Alexia Parks on why women are hardwired to save the world
Women are natural born leaders, according to Alexia Parks; in fact, she says, female leadership could save the world. Parks will talk about this theory and the science behind her book Hardwired: The 10 Major Traits of Women Hardwired by Evolution That Can Save the World tonight at 7 p.m. at the Chautauqua Community House. That's where she'll also launch her new nonprofit, 56 Percent, which focuses on encouraging women's leadership skills.
We spoke with Parks in advance of her presentation about the differences between male and female brains, and why women are ideal leaders for the modern world.
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Westword: What will you be talking about at Chautauqua?
Alexia Parks: The talk at Chautauqua is part of an artists and authors series, and I'm the speaker this month in October. I wrote a book called Hardwired: The 10 Major Traits of Women Hardwired by Evolution That Can Save the World. The book is based on the new science of a woman's brain. It's based on a lot of science that basically has not been available until now. We were able to pull it together and create this incredibly powerful book -- sometimes people just see the cover and they say, I want to know more about this. They want to use it to empower themselves. The book describes ten natural leadership traits that have been hardwired by evolution and amazingly, these ten traits of women just so happen to be the exact opposite of those hardwired in men. And there's no right or wrong. It's not that women are better than men, or men better than women, it's just that they were hardwired differently over millions of years for different purposes. So at Chautauqua I will be describing those traits in a presentation, and it also is going to be a launch party for a nonprofit that has now been formed around this concept of the natural leadership traits of women, using science to empower women as leaders.
The organization is called 56 Percent, and what 56 Percent does is it uses the natural leadership traits that are now proven by science to empower women as leaders. Because in today's complex, volatile world, it's the woman's brain that is best able to manage this level of complexity.
That's fascinating, because the standard narrative seems to say that women are not hardwired to lead.
You know what, we have been for about 10,000 years -- ever since the launch of the agricultural revolution, in which we went from never having enough food to suddenly being able to grow it out our door. Food suddenly became widely available wherever grains could be grown. So the agricultural revolution, which morphed into the industrial society, basically created a hierarchical structure for the first time in human history. And what was left behind it, the reminder which is now brought forward in science: men and women for most of human history, 99.99 percent of human history, were equal. They had different tasks, but they were equal. What's happening now in the twenty-first century is that we've moved from the industrial revolution into the idea economy, and in the twenty-first century it's brains that count more than brawn. You know, in the past you needed men in the agricultural revolution and on to plow the fields, lift the heavy loads, build the architecture, build the structures, and women helped, too, but it was mostly the brawn, the muscles, the testosterone that drove men to build the cities and complex structures.
Now if you take a look to find how the idea economy is shaping our world and how women are now moving forward in leadership, they're sort of moving out of that background to the foreground. If you look at colleges, for example, let's say the University of Colorado or universities around the country, 60 percent of the student body is now women. And if you take a look at community colleges, which casts an even broader net, 70 percent of the students now enrolled in community colleges are women. So whether it's 60 or 70 or somewhere in between, the majority of students now going through and being educated, moving into managerial positions in the future and being looked at as leaders are women.
What do you think people will be most surprised to learn in your presentation?
Well, you know there was an op ed this weekend by Nicholas Kristof and it said, you know, women can be corrupt in power as well as men. However, when you simply look at the science that shows these natural leadership traits are there, the solution is to say yes, corruption could be found anywhere. However, when you begin to empower women and train them so that they don't have to go into that competitive hierarchy, their natural leadership emerges and that is these ten traits that really are the traits of a great leader. The other thing I point out that's really important is that today's world is much more volatile. We're interconnected and it's more volatile around the world. And 80 percent of the human brain, whether it's male or female, is fixed. It's hardwired. It takes about a hundred thousand years to make that change through evolutionary changes. And whenever there's stress, men go to their hardwiring. And likewise women go to their hardwiring.
The amazing story to tell here with hardwired traits of women is that 80 percent of their brain is, when they go to that stress, it is the natural leadership traits. So women can be trained to go out to war, and they can kill, they can be trained to pick up a gun and shoot, but their natural inclination is love of people and community, love of diversity. They are great at multi-tasking; they can bring it all together and they can sort it out, balance it out brilliantly. The new science points to this and says we are multitasking masters and more.