Women’s Collaboration

women collaborationOn the train this morning on the way into the office there was a female conductor.  I’ve traveled with a female conductor on a train once before, and both times ended the same way.  On the intercom as we reached our destination, the conductor concluded her comments with, “have a great day everyone, and thank you crew for your work.”  The only two times the conductor thanked the crew in the past two months were the two times the conductor was female – and they were different females.

This week’s female superpower follows from empathy, which we covered last week.  What we are talking about this week is collaboration, which is a natural consequence of understanding and feeling the feelings of other people.

A 2011 Harvard Business Review article reported a study that tested the intelligence of groups working together in areas of brainstorming, decision making, and problem solving.  Individual IQ scores were also tested, but as it turned out, they did not have an effect on the overall ratings of the groups’ intelligence.  Even though a person might have had a higher IQ, his or her ultimate performance on the group assessment depended on if there were more men or women in the group.  The more women in the group, the higher the group’s score.

Cohen, cited in the last article, theorized that men and women work differently in groups.  Men search for underlying rules that govern how a system behaves, and then try to predict certain outcomes.  Women, using their strength of empathy, attempt to identify what others are thinking and feeling, and therefore respond appropriately.  They are more concerned with the emotional cohesion in the group and therefore pick up on more information contained in the other members of the group.  Men are prone to be less aware of the others in the group as they are more focused on the problem solving aspect.

This distinction is not to say that men don’t care about the feelings of others.  Women simply have more brainpower devoted to perceiving what others are thinking and feeling.  Therefore, they have more brainpower available to accommodate the needs of members in a group.  This greater capacity can lead to greater group cohesion, helping a group to reach its goals more efficiently.

Sociologists have known this for years, long before it was possible to look into the brain.  Behavioral differences have long been studied between men and women, boys and girls.  Cross cultural studies have shown that around the world, little boys tend to try to figure out how things work and little girls tend to want togetherness.  When given toy blocks, little boys will competitively try to build the tallest or longest construction, while little girls will make circles in which all can play together.  All of this points to the idea that women can make better leaders in many situations, and are certainly always a significantly important part of any team.

I want to step aside from the science for a moment to respond to some of the criticism to this series thus far.  Some people feel that these differences are arbitrary and unimportant, or merely conjecture.  While much of feminism strives to prove that women can be just as good as men, we need an entirely different appreciation for women as women.  It’s become very unpopular to speak about gender differences.  I don’t think diversity means that everyone should be viewed the same.  Same respect? Yes.  The human person deserves the highest respect possible, but not because we are all the same.  If society was, and is in many ways, a male dominated system, I think it is a very weak argument for women to say, “we can do just as good as men can.” Male domination has convinced society that the part women play is not as important as man’s.  First of all domination is not something to strive for, and second of all women contribute something entirely different than men to every aspect of life.  This includes marriage, family and the home, the neighborhood, business and the economy, government, and the society in general. From philosophy to art to science and everything in between, women have something unique and important to contribute, precisely because they are women and not men.

Pope Francis recently spoke about our lack of appreciation of women.  He said, “The role of women doesn’t end just with being a mother and with housework … we don’t yet have a truly deep theology of women in the church. We talk about whether they can do this or that, can they be altar boys, can they be lectors, about a woman as president of [an organization], but we don’t have a deep theology of women in the church.”  Even in the Church’s theology, according to Pope Francis, we need to move away from a “woman can do what a man can do” mentality to explore what makes a woman unique and important and beautiful for being a woman and not a man.

As long as the feminist argument is reduced to “we are just as good as men are,” feminism is losing.  In order to make the real argument for real feminism – an argument that shouldn’t have to be made in the first place – we need to understand precisely how men and women are different.  In our diversity we have complementarity, and complementarity necessitates mutual respect and admiration between the sexes.

This specific trait of empathy-based collaboration is an excellent example of something that women are typically better equipped for than men, and a very compelling reason to afford equal treatment, equal respect, and equal opportunity in the workplace.  Maybe even preferential treatment when team cohesion and collaboration is at stake.  And as far as train conductors, women make for a much more enjoyable trip.


image: shutterstock

Dr. Greg Bottaro


Dr. Greg Bottaro is a clinical psychologist practicing in Manhattan serving the greater New York Metropolitan area and many others through web conferencing. He received his Psy.D. (Doctorate in Clinical Psychology) from the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, a graduate school in Arlington, VA that integrates Catholic philosophy and theology with sound, empirically validated psychology. Before finishing his degree, Dr. Bottaro discerned a religious vocation with the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFRs). He lived almost four years in the Bronx, serving the poor in the tradition of St. Francis. These years were formative for him emotionally, spiritually, and professionally as he tested his vocation and ultimately felt the prompting of God’s will to pursue family life. Six years after leaving NYC as a friar Dr. Bottaro returned as a psychologist. His aim is fundamentally the same – to serve. Instead of serving those suffering material poverty, He now serves those with psychological needs. He blogs regularly at CatholicPsych.com.

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  • BillinJax

    All of which would go along with the thoughts of many non-lockstep liberal voters in the 2008 election who, like me, felt the republican ticket should have been reversed. Which as we have come to realize would have been better for the nation had they won.

  • Lena S.

    biggest problem with this whole series is that you are attempting to
    formulate female ‘virtues’ out of neutral concepts and feelings, and
    combining it with a smattering of science (with questionable
    interpretations) to make it sound legit.

    In order to explain what is wrong here, let us look at the etymology of the word ‘virtue’ itself; this is what the Online Etymology Dictionary says:

    from Latin virtutem (nominative virtus) “moral strength, manliness, valor, excellence, worth,” from vir “man” (see virile).

    posit, therefore, that virtue is synonymous with manliness, which is
    how is used to be understood, and thus any quest to find the properties
    of men in women is based on a false premise and is exactly the wrong
    direction to take. What this does is take these traits, elevate them to
    the stature of virtues, which it then becomes self-evident that men
    ought also to cultivate these qualities in themselves too, and the
    result is unmanly men and egotistical women.

    One might argue that meanings evolve, and there is some truth in
    that too, but I would argue that it is at least as often a case of
    meanings being lost or corrupted without any observable gain. Satan is
    the author of confusion, and without proper definitions, no matter what
    is acceptable to the sensibilities of the age, we cannot have a fruitful
    discussion and will lead and be led astray. Cultural drift is no

    not that women cannot be good, but they do not possess virtues
    innately, which is why traditionally women have been under the authority
    and guidance of men. Spoon feeding women what they want to hear will
    neither make a better society nor will it help people to grow in

  • Dr. Patti M. Zordich

    Great article, Dr. Bottaro. The Catholic church loves women, not because they are the same as men, but because of the uniqueness inherent in their femininity which compliments men’s uniqueness. What other church or faith venerates so many women as the Catholic church? Mary, the mother of God, women such as St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Sienna declared doctors of the church, and the many women canonized saints such as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Edith Stein, a German Jewish philosopher who became a convert to the Roman Catholic Church was sent to Auschwitz in 1942 where she and her sister died in the gas chamber

    . Thank you for your thoughts!

    Dr. Patti Zordich
    Licensed Psychologist

  • drgreg

    For an accurate and exhaustive understanding of the word “virtue,” see http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15472a.htm

  • BillinJax

    “What this does is take these traits, elevate them to
    the stature of virtues, which it then becomes self-evident that men
    ought also to cultivate these qualities in themselves too, and the
    result is unmanly men and egotistical women.’
    POSSIBLY… but only at the instruction of their individual free will. The good doctor here is only trying to show the need for both genders to understand and appreciate their innate differences and thus cultivate a desire to in charity blend those differences for the benefit of a better life as equals in the pursuit of mankind’s journey toward fulfillment of the abundant life God wants for us.

  • BillinJax

    Thanks for the tip!!

  • 7man

    Can you explain why the highest financial growth period (and greatest increase in the standard of living for men, women and children), in the entire history of the United States, occurred between the Civil War and 1913 (or possibly the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919)?
    Since women comprised such a small part of the workforce and held virtually no positions in management, how did this happen without their collaboration contribution? A patriarchal period seems to produce greater economic gain, which benefit women and children. (Also church attendance was higher and more exceptional church buildings were constructed, which probably correlates to the greater Christian devotion of people.)

    Does brainstorming for new ideas really work?

    You either say or imply that “emotional cohesion” leads to efficiency. Does this equate with greater national economic growth, higher family income, more efficient government (with lower tax rates), improved standard of living and more intact families?

    Why, if the modern world has the catalytic contribution of women, which facilitates improved “working together”, are there more children growing up without both a father and mother?

  • Lena S.

    Thanks for the link, however, the information therein does not refute
    what I have said. Likewise, it does not support your idea of ‘feminine
    virtues’. Virtue is associated with masculinity, but is a habit – as is
    vice, which doesn’t appear to have an association with masculine or
    feminine, so one might surmise that women are more prone to vice than men when left to their own devices, and societal evidence does point to this.

    I see nothing there indicating that ’empathy’, ‘collaboration’, and
    ‘intuitiveness’ are virtues. As I said, these are merely traits that can
    be used with good or evil intent and not virtues in and of themselves.

  • Lena S.

    So why is it that this ‘charity blend’ correlates with more broken families and less economic growth? When there were more intact families and economic growth, there was less inventing of ‘feminine virtues’.

  • drgreg

    “I see nothing there indicating that ’empathy’, ‘collaboration’, and ‘intuitiveness’ are virtues. As I said, these are merely traits that can be used with good or evil intent and not virtues in and of themselves.”

    Lena, I agree with you completely. But unfortunately your point is not refuting anything since I did not use the word “virtue” once in this article. Actually, check back in next week when I do write about virtue, and basically make the same point you just did.

    You are equating virtue with strength, and it seems even more with masculine strength. If you read the whole explanation on the link I sent you, you will see that only a very narrow definition of virtue refers to something masculine. (Etymology does not equal definition). No philosophy or theology would accept that “virtue is associated with masculinity.” The association of the latin etymology does not justify your claim. Furthermore, I am not developing an idea of “feminine virtues” as you have incorrectly asserted. If you erroneously equate virtue with strength, than I suppose I can understand your misreading of my article series. However, these traits I am illuminating are merely strengths, not necessarily virtues. (Though they certainly could be, if applied in a virtuous way, by either men or women.)

    I happy to hear though that you think this is the “biggest problem” of the “whole article series.” This series seems to be triggering quite the reaction from you, but now that we have cleared up this little misunderstanding and you can reread the articles for yourself to see that I am not, in fact, writing about virtue, we can move forward. Biggest problem solved.

  • Lena S.

    My female intuition is telling me that something is off about this interaction. I don’t normally make erroneous assumptions and believe you have heavily implied that these qualities are virtuous. At the very least, you have built up neutral things as strengths and avoided mentioning the pitfalls and misuse of them, which we can see abundantly in our world if we have eyes to see.

    Either way, I feel that you are being disingenuous, and I tend to avoid bad faith discussions. I also see your little accusation of this causing “quite the reaction” in me, when I have been very calm and measured, as more reflective of your reaction to my challenges of your ideas, which you are apparently unaccustomed to, judging by your handling of such.

    I’m sure you would agree that as a woman I should trust my intuition.

  • BillinJax

    You just said it. An intact family promotes family unity when they engage in the charitable exchange of their individual traits with respect for the differences.

  • Lena S.

    That isn’t what I said.

  • 7man

    But ‘charitable exchange’ is immaterial when there are so many divorces. Don’t tell me the lack of a ‘charitable exchange’ is the excuse. Vows (an oath) are commonly forgotten. Don’t ignore that women file for 2/3 of the divorces.

    How does female empathy and female collaboration result in more intact families? Recent history tells the story of empowered and praised females in society. This greatly harms children.

    I have personally experienced (witnessed) female pandering and placating to other women and their collaboration to separate a father from his children. Yes, Catholic women! Strengths should be used for good rather than evil, but often the supposed strength is used in a manner that is contrary to virtues and vows.

  • Diana

    I do agree with your premise, Dr. Bottaro. But sometimes as a single woman of 60, I feel that we are in even less of a respected situation. As neither a married woman or a religious, I feel that I am sometimes invisible. I feel I have so much to give even at 60, and even as a single woman, but that very often we are treated as failures. A man who is 60 and single might be a distinguished bachelor but a woman who is 60 and single is an old maid or a “spinster”. There are a lot of double standards even in this day and age. Feminists, in my humble opinion, have not helped the situations but have made women appear strident and angry rather than as gifted and contributing. I have not found that the woman’s movement has helped me to be accepted but rather even more marginalized if I am not a successful executive. Unfortunately, unless a woman is married and a mother or a religious, i don’t feel the Church always accepts or understands single women either. We are hardly called upon. I am actively trying to be more involved in my parish and in volunteer outreach in the Church. But there is sometimes, I think, unintentionally, a curtain of sorts that makes us invisible. It won’t stop me from trying to reach out and help but I do feel it is there.

    Just my thoughts. 🙂

  • drgreg

    Hi Diana,

    Thank you for your thoughts, and you are not alone! I think you are right about the “unintentional curtain,” and there definitely needs to be more work done for the Church and society to open its arms to women in your situation. I know many women who are feeling the same way. You definitely hold a very important place in the Body of Christ! God bless you and I will pray for you as you continue to get more involved.
    -Dr. Bottaro

  • drgreg

    Thank you Dr. Zordich! Also, great website! God bless your work.

  • Richard III

    I have a question here. Does the Latin root “vir” mean “man” as in “specifically a male human being”, or does it mean “man” as in “mankind; the whole human race”? If it’s the 2nd definition, then it would include women as possessing and being capable of virtue too.

  • KathleenWagner

    “As long as the feminist argument is reduced to “we are just as good as men are,” feminism is losing.”

    Do we want feminism to win? I sure don’t. And don’t talk to me about empathy among women. I’ve been a woman all my life, and I’m here to tell you that empathy is a very mixed bag. Sometimes it means “Let’s help the slow one,” but a great deal of the time it means “We can’t tell this rape victim not to kill her child, because she’s in a very bad place and feels just awful, and we’re supposed to be all empathetic to her.” And when you explain that murder is murder even if the victim’s father is a criminal, you’re accused of being heartless and unfeeling and (my favorite) “thinking like a man.” It’s about time somebody did.

  • 7man

    @ KathleenWagner

    I agree.

    Have you thought the results of feminism and suffrage? Now women can work a paid job, send the children to daycare, pay taxes and be unfulfilled and exhausted.


    Why have things not gotten better for civilization and families if we are recognizing and tapping into all these wonderful ‘Superpowers’ of women? Now we must work to support the vast government rather than have those financial resources for the family. And we no longer work for money (gold or silver) since the Federal Reserve Note is merely fiat currency and an instrument of debt.
    This is what female empathy and collaboration has wrought!

    Would you rather go back to a time where women could not vote but had a man that loved her and worked to provide for his family? Few people realize that many many Christian women were opposed to women’s suffrage because they saw what would happen.
    Are unclaimed and unattached women more chaste and reliable in marriage? Has the leadership of men been marginalized such that modern men are wusses? Modern women are free agents and modern men are soft.

  • Richard III

    I am convinced that what liberal society calls “empathy” and “collaboration” are not what Dr. Bottaro is talking about, or at best they are only cheap imitations or outright pervasions of the true strengths. What society does with female strengths is like what radical or liberal Protestants do with the Scriptures; bend, hide, twist, misinterpret, or lie about what something really means to serve the ends of something or someone contrary to Catholic teaching or the Natural Law. Does the liberal Protestant abuse of Scripture discredit the Bible, or render it useless, false, or nonexistent? Of course not. Neither does liberal (secular) society make useless, false, or nonexistent female strengths. These strengths, like the Scriptures, need to be studied, understood, and practiced in the proper context with the proper interpretation and understanding in order to be truly good and beneficial.

  • Richard III

    Dear Ms. or Mrs. S.,

    I am sorry, but I cannot swallow your assertion that women do not possess virtues innately, while men apparently do. It’s not that I think men are evil or not virtuous, or that women are superior or necessarily holier, but your claim, though I know it wasn’t meant to offend, repulses me. It goes against my every instinct and judgment to believe that one gender (it doesn’t matter which) is innately virtuous while the other is not. To me, it seems that either both genders must innately posses some virtue (just which ones and how much of each would vary both between groups and individuals), or else neither gender is innately virtuous. God made man and woman different in physiology and ability, but he made them equal in dignity, and I believe that a measure of natural virtues are a part of that dignity. Thus, I believe that both genders have some innate virtue.

    All that God has created is basically good, though our goodness has been marred by original sin. But original sin has not completely robbed man of the innate virtue he once possessed more fully, as good ancient pagans like Aristotle and Octavia prove. Of course, however, prayer, the sacraments, and grace greatly enhance innate virtues and confer others that one did not possess before, so however much innate virtue one has, it’s always a good idea to increase and strengthen it through these means, and that’s what God calls all of us, men and women, to do.

    Thank You. 🙂

  • Lena S.

    I understand that it is not easy to swallow such an idea. Give it time. I’m not overly bothered by it so I don’t see why you should be. In fact, it is humbling in the best possible way, but this is a difficult thing to explain. It needn’t be taken as an insult to women. Trying to live up to manly ideals is a burden.

    As to your comment below on the Latin root vir, given that the definition includes “manliness” and refers to “virile”, a word I have never seen applied to a woman, I think we can safely assume that vir refers to ‘male’ and not ‘mankind’.

  • 7man

    I look forward to the time when women use their strengths for the good of families. As a Catholic, I measure this by the number of intact families with the children growing up under the same roof as their fathers.

  • Lena S.

    Trying to live up to manly ideals is a burden.

    Perhaps I should have said that it is an unnatural burden. (See: feminism).

  • Richard III

    Thanks for the responses. I understand feminists also hate terms like “man/mankind” or generic male pronouns because they “exclude women”, and I think that’s silly because, come on, these are GENERIC terms, not particularly “honoring”. One could even argue that the use of female terms/pronouns for things or persons specifically known to be feminine while using male ones both for specifically male or generic/neutral/unknown gender words means the female terms are more special.

  • Lena S.

    I tend to upset people by using “he” as a generic pronoun as well, but it’s just less clunky than saying “he/she” all the time. I got into a bit of a debate with a prof at University about this – a woman, of course – but she left me unconvinced. What she did get right, however, was that words have power. No doubt I have taken that in a wholly different direction than she would have liked!

    As an additional aside, might I suggest not using the term ‘gender’ as well. This is a term that has been foisted upon us in place of the perfectly acceptable ‘sex’. The difference is that ‘gender’ easily denotes a fluid identity rather than a biological reality. I’ll refer once again to etymology:

    As sex took on erotic qualities in 20c., gender
    came to be the common word used for “sex of a human being,” often in
    feminist writing with reference to social attributes as much as
    biological qualities; this sense first attested 1963.

    I don’t think this is accidental.

  • Terri

    As a /fellow/ woman, I think you’re exhibiting “quite the reaction” too. For some reason this subject matter is triggering you and it has little to nothing to do with what is actually written in the column. Rather, your reaction is about something /not/ covered here. That’s a writer’s worst pain in the neck–somebody who critiques what /wasn’t/ said. 🙁

  • Lena S.

    I’m sorry you feel that way. Disagreement with a concept doesn’t necessarily indicate a “triggered” emotional reaction. Erroneous conclusions stem from imprecise language and/or what is implied.

    These sorts of accusations are simply a way of dismissing something that the accuser cannot refute with reason. This is manipulative behaviour, which is why I said I tend to avoid bad faith discussions.

  • Laura Vale

    Just FYI, a conductor does not drive the train, the engineer does. It’s a common misuse of the word, though. The conductor works in the cars, checking for valid tickets, making sure doors are shutting properly, etc.

  • catholicexchange

    You’re right, Laura Vale! Good call. The appropriate changes have been made. Thank you!