The female entrepreneur is often caught in the middle of having to navigate the role of the business-family balance.

Aside from the natural biological instinct to follow these established cultural norms, what role does our brain play in this equation? Do some people have the neural circuitry which allows them to attain more success in the professional world while others are more wired for raising a family? And what might the brain of a female entrepreneur look like?

Gender differences in brain function

In order to address the question of gender differences in brain function, a study performed a functional neuroimaging of these differences across 46,034 brain scans. Results indicate that women have significantly greater cerebral perfusion across the brain than men, with areas of elevated activity in regions associated with mood issues, including the basal ganglia (also known as our anxiety centers), and the deep limbic centers, which are associated with bonding and the processing of emotions. Females also have increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is located in the front part of the brain and is associated with having good forethought, judgment, planning, self-control and executive function.

Traits associated with the female brain based on these findings: Cooperative, Intuitive, Empathetic, Collaborative, Rational judgment, Risk-averse

The results from our work indicate that females have heightened activity in the regions associated with emotional connectedness and therefore have a natural instinct towards collaboration, empathy, and cooperation. We are more intuitively connected and have a desire to nurture, instilling in us a strong sense of teamwork in the professional setting.  Given that we have greater activity in our prefrontal cortex, we have the ability to make more thoughtful, rational decisions, which makes us more risk-averse and less likely to make an impulsive decision.

This is an asset in running a business as having good judgment will prevent unnecessary trouble. Given that our emotional brain is more active, it means that we may also be more emotionally reactive in situations and may be more prone to mood disorders including anxiety and depression.

Traits associated with the male brain based on these findings: Competitive, Risk-taking, Ability to compartmentalize

Given that men have reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area that regulates self-control, as compared to females, this indicates that men have an inherent drive to compete and can also lead them to make more impulsive decisions. This may explain why men have the drive to go out into the world and take risks, with less of a concern for the consequences.

It is also why men are more susceptible to having externalizing disorders such as attention deficit disorder. In addition, given that the emotional centers of the male brain are not as highly active as the females, they are less likely to be emotionally reactive, and they will have a less of a need for cooperation as women might have.

The female entrepreneur, a blend of both? 

Given the results of our work, my impression is that the successful female entrepreneur will possess the traits observed in the male and female brain.  The female entrepreneur that enjoys taking risks and competing in a male-dominated world may indicate that the perfusion pattern of her prefrontal cortex may be more consistent with what we observe in the male brain.  This allows her to be a courageous, capable leader, while also possessing the ability to foster a strong sense of teamwork given her natural drive towards collaboration. This is also why female entrepreneurs may thrive when working with mentors, as this complements the need for support, bonding, and partnership that is so inherent in our nature.

By understanding gender differences in brain function, female entrepreneurs can capitalize on their strengths which include being highly intuitive, collaborative, empathetic, risk-averse and using sound judgment to achieve success.