Time to Buzz In

Letter From The Editor

For more than a dozen years, I have cheerfully served as a moderator for the Big Bend High School Brain Bowl. I love the fast pace of the questions and being around some of the region’s smartest young people. And I will admit that when reading some (OK, most) of the science and math questions, I have absolutely NO idea what they mean nor how the kids are able to come up with the answers in five or 10 seconds.

The vast majority of the teams are predominately male and, over the years, I have noticed a huge difference in the way girls and boys answer the questions. It is strategically valuable to buzz in the second you think you know the answer — even if that’s before the moderator has finished reading the question. But, if you get the answer wrong, you lose your turn and the other team has a shot at answering. If they get it right, your team could end up losing as many as 30 points. 

My Son the Physicist was pretty genius at this game when he played in middle and high school. He, and many other guys, would buzz in quickly and sometimes get it wrong. It never really bothered him to be wrong; he was confident in his knowledge and the odds, he figured, were in his favor. 

The girls, however, operated very differently. Not all, but most, sat back, listened to the entire question and then waited to see if anyone else would buzz in. All this happened in a matter of seconds, but it was obvious to me. Invariably, the young woman answered, “Beowoulf?” at the very last moment — always with that question mark at the end.

It’s clear the girls didn’t want to take a chance and be wrong — ever, holding back in fear of … letting down the team, looking stupid, being chastised … who knows?

I totally get what these smart, young Brain Bowl girls are all about. Their fears are the same ones I have been carrying with me for the past 50-plus years. Their male teammates and competitors have the mindset of men I’ve been working alongside my entire career. 

All of which is preamble to the thoughts roiling around in my head during the first-ever “A Day of Dialogue,” which brought together a diverse group of about 100 women to talk with each other about leadership and success in the workplace. 

The keynote speaker at the event, Dr. Nancy Carter, breaks it down this way: Men “take charge” and women “take care.” She’s the senior vice president of Catalyst Inc., a nonprofit that researches the world of work, initially to improve the lot of women, but now also including all sorts of diversity in the workplace.

Catalyst has been doing its job for more than 50 years now, and at times it can seem like not much progress has been made. But what Carter calls the “heroic” top-down, take-charge style isn’t the only way to lead. As the world flattens and we have to work with people who are “different,” a new, empowering and — dare I say — more feminist style of leadership may become the new model.

For one day, 100 women in Tallahassee got together to talk about and think about what this can mean to each other today — and what they can do to create a future where those Brain Bowl girls will be able to buzz in with confidence.

Categories: From The Editor, Opinion