Harvard researchers in 2000 coined a phrase for how women respond to stress. They called it “tend and befriend,” in sharp contrast to the conventional response of “fight or flight” traditionally observed by psychologists.
That response is based on research conducted on the behavior of male rats.
The Harvard scientists said that instead of fighting or running away, women nurture themselves and their offspring, and form tight groups to protect themselves, according to Forbes.
In today’s COVID-19 fueled crisis, female business leaders are pulling together in a similar fashion.
“I am seeing resilience,” Camille Burns, CEO of the New York City-based Women Presidents’ Organization told Forbes. “They want to make it. They want to keep their people employed.”
The Harvard researchers pointed out that women are less likely to flee because they have offspring to care for. They are also less physically aggressive, so fighting isn’t a preferred coping mechanism, according to Forbes.
According to Burns, whose organization has 2,000 members each owning businesses with at least $1 million in revenue, there has been a shift in conversation from fear to action.
“It’s about, ‘Get out of the pity.’ You lost big contracts and you’re scared. What can we do as we go forward?” she said. Members did move forward as a team and are offering free and discounted work for one another, she added.
An Israeli research paper published in Science Direct in 1996 pointed out the differences in how women and men reacted during a crisis, in this case, the Gulf War.
“During the crisis period, women were found to use a greater variety of coping strategies than men," the authors wrote. “Furthermore, women, compared to men, reported using relatively more active, problem-focused coping during the war period.”
Ironically, although women have been stereotyped as the emotional sex, the researchers found that in times of duress, men resorted to more emotion-based coping mechanisms than women in dealing with daily stressors.
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