A recent finding, that has led to a heated debate in the media that published it, says that for the first time in 100 years of IQ testing, women have scored better results than men.

The British newspaper, Daily Mail , quotes James Flynn, considered an authority on IQ tests, saying that while that in the last 100 years the IQ scores of both men and women have risen, those of women have risen faster. “This is a consequence of modernity. The complexity of the modern world is making our brains adapt and raising our IQ.”

So far so good; since IQ is normally linked to better educational and workplace opportunities, it was only a matter of time before women, who have been traditionally denied these opportunities, catch up. But what sent my antenna shooting up is his “possible explanation” that this is linked to women multitasking between raising a family and managing a career as well.

The first alarm bell that rang, I must admit, was linked to my gender, and the stereotypical, knee-jerk response of most women: Is this a male ploy to load more work on our heads under the specious logic that since multitasking is sending your IQ soaring, do more of it!

But, first, more details about this latest research — now some women might ask, sarcastically, if “research” was required to show that women are more intelligent or smarter? Again, are “intelligence” and “smartness” one and the same?

How IQ testing began

Forget the measuring of intelligence through the standard IQ test which began in France in 1904 when its government asked psychologist, Alfred Binet, to devise a test to separate children with high and low levels of intelligence, so that the latter could be placed in special schools.

Much later, the Binet scale was used by the American government to recruit “intelligent people” into the army!

For many years, women were placed five points behind men and psychologists ascribed this, rather conveniently, to the embedded genetic difference. Of course, over the years, the IQ scores of both men and women have been rising and, in Western countries, the gender gap is minimal. In New Zealand, Estonia and Argentina, women scored marginally better than men.

But before women celebrate this “new” finding and men rubbish it — as did some Daily Mail readers; “Multitasking? We always called it Scatterbrained”; “Yet they still can’t park a car or go a day without moaning”, or something akin to: “Yes, she can powder her nose, watch TV and eat at the same time” — a crucial question needs an answer.

Just as some female interpreters of the Koran have pointed out, validly, that the holy book says that women are “different” and not “inferior” to men, is it possible that men and women have different sets of intelligence?

Also, is intelligence a single entity? It is not, said Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, who pointed out that there was not one, but at least eight different types of intelligence. And it is this multiple intelligence quotient which finally decides how smart or brilliant a person is, irrespective of gender.

A loose distinction that is made while comparing the grey cells on gender basis is that while men excel in math and spatial skills, women are better at verbal communication.

But multiple intelligence is much more than that… mathematical/logical, spatial (picture smart), musical, linguistic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, linguistic and bodily kinaesthetic.

Not threatened by women!

While congratulating the MindTree Chairman, Subroto Bagchi, for the company’s quarterly numbers beating street expectations, I picked his brain on the latest IQ finding. Long years of experience teaches you to spot men who aren’t threatened by women. He is one of them.

His immediate response: “Women may or may not have higher IQ as in mathematical/logical capability (commonly understood definition of intelligence), but they are better at deploying multiple intelligences (MI) as defined by Howard Gardner.”

But, then, in true Bagchi style, he adds another dimension by pointing out that to MI, one has to add the five different mind types, also defined by Gardner, that go into determining how smart or intelligence a person really is.

So let’s look at Gardner’s five minds — discipline, synthesis, creative, respectful and ethical. In his book Five minds for the future Gardner says these five cognitive abilities will command a premium in education, business and other professions.

A disciplined mind shows tenacity and eventually leads to professional excellence.

A mind that can synthesise will apply a multi-dimensional approach to solve a complex problem, and if you can solve complex problems at the workplace, an “exceptional” rating awaits you.

On the creative and respectful mind, one gender is bound to score over the other. While there is nothing to prove that women are more ethical than men in the world of business, says Mr Bagchi: “Ethical means doing the right over the convenient. A female brigadier at war in Jaffna would be less likely to shoot first and then ask questions; a male would tend to do the opposite. The sense of ethicality is higher in women than men.”

Generalisations, as comparisons, are odious of course! But multiple intelligences, a sense of nurturing that comes naturally to women, aided by discipline, a higher sense of ethics, ability to solve complex problems and, above all, the access to quality education and training, for women, the time has come.

Mr Bagchi’s take: “Women have done the nurturing role for eons; now that the most complex world problems need MI + a nurturing approach, as also system thinking, which women are more likely to do, the world awaits their second arrival; the first being primordial.”

Amen to that, of course, but the grim reality is that there is only one Indra Nooyi, a handful of female heads of State, only a marginally higher number of women CEOs of smaller corporations, and so on. But, then, very often, it is we women who hold ourselves back, for multiple reasons.

Forget the obstacles placed in our path by others — of both genders — if we can break free from the self-imposed shackles that slow, trip or destroy us, we won’t need research studies to tell us how smart, special or exceptional we are.

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