Testosterone in the Workplace

testosterone

If we are going to talk about a human future of work, we have to think about what it is that makes us human and not robots. We are seeing interesting discussions beginning around neuro-diversity, and around the menopause at work, but the powerful role of testosterone in men has been overlooked.

The impact of testosterone on the behaviour of men is powerful and well documented in research. It has been established, beyond doubt, that there is some level of real causation between both external environmental factors and the levels of testosterone in males, and between testosterone levels and responses to situations.

So, if we know that testosterone levels have such an important role in how men behave, and that managing their own testosterone levels is not within their control, how should this affect how we think about what it is to be male in an organised situation like a workplace? How should we judge and interpret the behaviour of men and should that be different from how we do the same with women?

The first thing it should do is help us to think about the fact that being male is different, on a hormonal and behavioural level, than being female. The idea that gender doesn’t matter – or that people should somehow be able to overcome their own biological chemistry so that it doesn’t affect them – is now outdated. The rise of automation and the ‘non-human’ operator has brought into sharper relief what it is to be human and helped us to focus on the fact that we are not just logic machines; we are emotional beings and the logical extension of that is some of those emotions are determined in part by our physiology. Competitiveness, aggression, the initiation of and pursuit of romance and sex all seem to increase in line with increased testosterone. There are complex interplays at work here: in 2010 Miller and Kane demonstrated in their piece ‘Scent of a Woman’ that men exposed to the scent of an ovulating woman displayed higher levels of testosterone than did men exposed to the scent of a non-ovulating woman or a control scent. This is powerful stuff, this testosterone.

So am I suggesting that men have an excuse when they ‘come on’ to women in the workplace, or when they exhibit aggressive or overly competitive behaviour that women don’t have? No, you will be glad to know that I am not suggesting that. What I am suggesting is that this becomes an issue of ‘meaning’ that is useful to both men and women in the workplace. We have long come to understand that a pregnant woman becoming tearful over what would seem to be something trivial can have different meaning to a man, or non-pregnant woman becoming tearful in the same situation. This isn’t being sexist or demeaning, it is demonstrating an understanding that hormonal changes and their impact on behaviour are complex and unusual during pregnancy. Similarly, it isn’t regressive to consider the role of testosterone in male behaviour in the workplace. Rather, it is to demonstrate an understanding that being human means being wholly subjective and we cannot step outside of our hormones or put them aside.

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