Friday, February 25, 2005

Learned Helplessness

It looks as if Harvard has its review of gender discrimination at least on the table, so I'll leave it to the Ivy Women to attend to that discussion -- at least for now.

Next, let's take a look at the broader problem, as Lawrence Summers described it, "beyond science and engineering."

He said he had discussed,

    "questions like this with chief executive officers at major corporations, the managing partners of large law firms, the directors of prominent teaching hospitals, and with the leaders of other prominent professional service organizations, as well as with colleagues in higher education."

Wow! And guess what?! They ALL found the same problem! Surprise, surprise! What IS the problem here? Summers said,

  • About 20 to 25 years ago, the share of women in graduate schools increased substantially.

  • Today, we are NOT seeing them in leadership positions in proportion to their earlier numbers.

  • And, those that DID make it into leadership positions are "disproportionately either unmarried or without children."

So, what is the solution to the under-representation of women at leadership levels?

Is it "Leave the Child Behind?" Not likely. Is it, instead, "Pass family-friendly laws?" Historically, passing gender equity laws has reaped a quick and furious backlash which tossed out the same mandates at the very next change in administration. Perhaps it might be, "Put in those high-powered, intense work hours, there, girls! Tote that barge! Lift that bale!"

Maybe it's something else. Maybe we should start looking at the "Pay to Play" idea that men continually espouse everywhere. As in, "You want children? You gotta do a better job at playing Daddy, boys!"

In a recent LA Times article, Margaret Carlson cites one Census statistic that men have invested a whopping "one additional hour" of work a week to help out at home. Just enough to give the impression, without the substance, that they're trying to help. Who are we kidding here?

Perhaps we should look more carefully at this "learned helplessness" talent that too many (not all!) Daddies pick up - from kibbutzim to Kansas City. It looks as if some women recognize that too many men have stayed in the Dark Ages of parenthood, while women have moved out of the cave. Women have evolved to meet contemporary societal and parental demands. Too many men simply have not evolved.

We even encourage them. Count the number of commercials you've seen in the past several months where She is vacuuming the house, tending the child, cleaning the kitchen, while he - in his Hanes His Way or with the Hoover switched to Silent Mode or with the Pampers Baby breezing by him - is sound asleep, snoring on the couch. Aw, isn't that cute?

    "Get up and help out, Macho Man!"
    Oh, but you get more with honey than .....

I think I'm going to be sick.

When you talk with men, they nod knowingly and admittedly about their "learned helplessness" --- if they fake ignorance of a task at home long enough, they know the woman of the house ultimately will say in disgust, "Oh, just let me do it!" while he walks away to the couch, hiding a smirk.

The more genuine men will at least argue rightfully that "She doesn't let ME do it MY way. So, I let HER do it HER way, all by herself."

And women are doing the same think with reverse roles in the work place. "He doesn't let ME do it MY way. So, I let HIM do it HIS way, all by himself."

Come ON, people. Where's the adult in this conversation? Where's the emotional intelligence? Where's the emotional maturity?

Try to think of this as "first contact" with an alien species. You both have to survive on this planet together, so start coming up with the hand signs that show some peaceful and purposeful indications.

Especially in the home, where it takes two to tango and at least two, equally present, adults, today, to help this child emerge as an intelligent, caring member of society.

But, damnit, this also applies in those major corporations, those large law firms, and the other professional firms, those teaching hospitals and medical centers, those prominent professional and charitable and religious service organizations, and - yes - in all our educational and communications insitutions. We've got to stop pretending that everything is honkey-dorey there, when we all know that the top tier sucks - for men AND for women.

How come you have to hunt to find 50 "family-friendly" firms among the top 1000 firms in the nation where the employees consider them "great places to work". What about the other 21,999,950 major firms in the country? Are they just as bad as the top 1000?

If women were smart enough to make it into the majority ranks of higher educations, graduate programs, law and medical schools and other qualifying platforms for leadership, then they are ready, willing and able to walk through the front doors of our public and private companies and organizations. Maybe those firms are just not that great places for ANYONE to work anymore -- after all is said and done - not for men and certainly not for women and so probably not for families, either.

Maybe THAT's the discussion we should be holding with Summers' top tier colleagues.

Monday, February 21, 2005

My Money's On Carly, Still!

    "My wish for the next 25 years is that we work for a world where women are not celebrated apart from the rest of society -- confined to our own lists, defined by our gender and limited by it as well. That we take our unique differentiated voices, our capability, and our character, and work to become the change we want to see. That we work for a world where all women are able to go further, retire, dream bigger, and accomplish more than any generation before. And that it may be said, as Simmons teaches all of us that thanks in part to the leadership we provide, every woman was able, not only to own her own destiny, but able as well to change the world."

    ---- Carly Fiorina, May 1, 2004, presentation to the Simmons School of Management's 25th Annual Conference (Boston, MA)

Carly Fiorina has finally broken through the real Glass Ceiling for us. She fell on her sword when her performance, her strategy as the leader of Hewlett-Packard, did not succeed. Any woman who says she feels like a loser because Carly is now without portfolio doesn't understand Carly's accomplishment. She was let go just like a man.

Carly and I have had our differences. I told here I thought Compaq was a dog of a company to buy - I'd seen it before it bought out Digital. And Digital wasn't that great either. I told her I thought that HP should have just two cartridges - black and color. Think of the cost savings. Think of the customer response. And the cartridges should fit into the machines without breaking my fingernails. And they should last about 4 times longer. But, really, all that is yesterday's headlines.

Carly did the only thing that you could try to do at HP which is to bring the company's disparate pieces together through the sheer weight of her personal leadership style. Every division in HP is a separate fiefdom, and anyone who takes over HP will find that to be the case. It was a task akin to trying to turn the Titanic on a dime. Now, the problem will be solved, not as a company, but as pieces being spun off to the acquisition hordes barking at the gate. HP will never be the same. Carly tried to tell them that, and now those that remain will learn her lesson the very very hard way.

I knew her days were numbered when I saw her picture on the cover of Fortune -- the business world's curse comparable to the Sports Illustrated curse for champion sports stars.

It wasn't Carly that sought out the media attention. It was the piranha press that hungered for "corporate female meat" to fill their every page. The male dominant media has such an insatiable thirst for anything female -- anything female to drool over, anything female to google at, anything female to pontificate about or opine over. And, too, there's Fortune's Most Powerful Editors who delight in pitting the corporate equivalent of one wet-t-shirt competitor against another in the dirt bowl mud-sling competition that delights male readers and merely embarrasses women readers, let alone participants.

Carly tried to tell the media that she was just doing it "her way". It wasn't a gender thing. It was a Carly thing, just like it's a Jack Welch thing and not a "male thing". But, that's not the headlines the media wanted to print, so they printed the headlines they wanted to see, anyway. Now that Carly's leaving HP, they'll print their opinions of her departure, regardless of what the facts might be.

As I say, Carly and I have had our differences over the years. But, I tell you, man, she is one hell of a leader, and the smart money will follow where she goes.

In today's world, it's ok for Wayne Gretsky to say "You miss 100% of the shots you never take." And Woody Allen can say, "Eighty percent of success is simply showing up." And "Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles that one has overcome while trying to succeed." (Booker T. Washington).

But, somehow, with women, the view is that female leaders have to be perfect in every way. Princesses are always perfect, aren't they? But they're not real.

So, I'm of the opinion that Carly Fiorina just showed women how to face up to today's challenges. Like a women. And, frankly my dears, I would not count Carly Fiorina out of the game - not for one minute.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Where is Harvard's Board of Overseers?

One day after Valentine's Day, more than 250 tenured professors from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University had a "fierce conversation" with their President, Lawrence H. Summers. A "fierce conversation", according to Susan Scott, author of the book by the same name, is "one in which we come out from behind ourselves, into the conversation, and make it real."

The stakeholders in Boston's most Brahmin institution truly did step out from behind their usual quiet and ivory-towered halls to "interrogate the reality" of Summers' alleged autocratic and, some say, intimidating management and leadership style.

The question that has not been asked thus far in the clamor since this intense debate began in mid-January is this:

    "Where is Harvard's Board of Overseers?"

It's as if a revolution occurred in a proxy meeting, with investors and stakeholders challenging the CEO's leadership, charging that he was "damaging the institution" by his words and deeds.

But it is the Board's responsibility to ensure that the President of an organization is doing the right job and doing it effectively. It is the Board's governance accountability to oversee the strategic direction of the organization and make sure the CEO has it on track. If the President does not perform, it should not take a revolution from below deck to do the job that should have been done from the navigation room.

What we have here, perhaps, is a failure not only to lead well, but also a failure of governance.

Another key question we should ask is whether the University, Summers, and the Board of Overseers at Harvard are really that much different from the autocratic, intimidating and confrontational management styles that characterize much of American corporations?

If the top tier of management at most major U.S. firms had the protection of tenure, what might they say to their leaders? In an open marketplace, where one's check is highly dependent on one's loyalty, we should not be surprised if we see few rebellions from below deck in corporate America; few attempts to reveal the truth about the emperor with no clothes. Nonetheless, we should expect "fierce conversations" at least from the board of directors. And we should expect no less from Harvard's Board of Overseers.

Harvard's own "governance guru", Jay W. Lorsch, said that "the board today is a fragile institution." It need not be the case. Boards, today, have the mandate to exhibit strength, courage, and wisdom to "interrogate reality" and "tackle tough challenges" as Susan Scott says. Boards must be fierce and directors must be independently fierce in their pursuit of the answers to the tough questions they must ask of management.

There are several areas inside a board where "fierce conversations" could occur:

  • when the nominating committee interviews independent director candidates;
  • when the audit committee interrogates the auditors, management and CFO;
  • when the board answers question from the investment community;
  • when individual directors visit the shop floor to get the real story about customers and operations;
  • when the governance committee undertakes the board appraisal process;
  • when the board probes the depth and risks inherent in the organization's management development plan; and
  • when the board evaluates the cheif executive's performance and ability to lead the organization.

In fact, just about all board interactions could be described as "1 C @ T" - "one conversation at a time", again quoting Scott.

The most crucial conversation that a board must have is with top management - the CEO - and it goes something like this:

    "Are you presenting to us, in good faith, the complete and accurate strategic vision for this organization and an honest picture of how you are working to get there?"

    "Are we able to work together to take us forward from here? And are we truly evaluating our progress toward achieving our goals on a consistent basis?"

The contract between the CEO, together with his management team, and the board of directors is unique. It is an agreement between unequal equals. The CEO must find people he trusts implicitly and totally with the governance of his corporate entity. Then the board works with that trust to exercise ultimate responsibility and accountability to the investors, the stakeholders and the future.

And, at Harvard, just like at any other educational, charitable, or corporate entity, the board is the point of total accountability for the behavior - good or bad - of the man or woman at the top. If that leader needs a "good talking to", then the board owns the exclusive right and responsibility to initiate that "fierce conversation".

Susan Scott: Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and In Life, One Conversation at a Time (272 pp., Viking Press, September 2002). See also:

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Women and Venture Capital Investment

"Marketing Intelligence: Why Too Many Women Take No For An Answer"
by Joanna L. Krotz, March 18, 2003

Why do women-owned business find getting venture capital investment so hard (merely 6% of $69 billion in 2000, even though women represent 40% of all businesses)?

  1. Equity investment business is dominantly male, few if any female venture capitalists.

  2. Venture capital favors high tech, engineering, medical science, bio-technology ventures. Few if any females are in these fields.

  3. Male investors overlook businesses that rely on women's ambitions, expertise, and vision. Few females are investing in themselves.

  4. Men made the business rules – "play to win". Women are less experienced with the strategies that "winning" demands.

  5. Men are more likely to undertake risky ventures. Women don't like uncertainty. Women tend to be more risk-averse. Women don't have the courage to make decisions. Women hesitate to move forward. Women tend to continuously evaluate and research. Men act.

  6. Men are more willing to make tough, uncomfortable decisions. Women make business decisions as if operating within a family.

  7. Men don't take "no" as a final decision, but rather an invitation to try again, work harder, find the "delayed yes". Women tend to take a person at their word. If women take "no" as "yes", it is an invitation to rape.

  8. Men present themselves aggressively, relentlessly, and with continual optimism. Women who are tenacious are considered not feminine.

  9. Men know "the business plan game" because they designed it, invented it, review it, pick it apart, and use it as the tool to negotiate what they want to get out of "the deal". Women are just beginning to learn the sales skills required to pitch an idea to venture capitalists. Women are just beginning to learn the jargon.

  10. Men have more comfort with the left brain prerequisites: math-based financials and the ability to translate financial data into meaningful business strategies and tactics. Women are beginning to decode the math and translate the financial complexities into their essential basics. Women are using technology tools to simplify the apparent chaos of the financial world. Women are simplifying information and knowledge that had before been convoluted, made more complex than necessary, in order to confuse. Complexity is no longer the preserve of wisdom. Simplicity is becoming a more effective navigator toward substantive solutions.

  11. Men look for short-term paybacks, expect to exist control over the business in which they invest, expect "to win" and go.

  12. Exit strategy: terminating a short term investment by conversion of private equity into bankable returns; acquisition by a big company which will pick-up and take over the capabilities of the venture-backed concern. Men may have more comfort with “letting go” of their investments in order to make a profit. Women may be more “overinvested” in the business to easily let go.

Women only had the legal ability to hold credit in their own name in the U.S. since 1974 – barely 30 years ago. The 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed, thanks to the efforts of Emily Card, at a time when only 4.6% of U.S. small business was owned by women.

Emily Card described 4 major problem areas facing any new company in the first year of operation:

  1. thinking too big or too small
  2. not planning for survival past the first year
  3. underestimating the difficulty of getting capital
  4. need to preserve the financial flexibility of a company (keeping overhead under control) to enable a company to survive hard times.

These are particularly appropriate to women in business.

Since women have less experience as investors, accountants, business development professionals, lawyers, financiers, we are just beginning to see how women perform in the venture, capital and business growth settings.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

How Representative?

Let's see if we all understand what's being said here.

Women represent 50% of the workforce, including management positions. Yet women represent only 15.7% of corporate officers, which includes all of the V-level, E-level, and C-level officers of public companies. And women represent only 7.9% of the top 5 ranking officers of those firms and only 5.2% of the top salary-earning members of corporate America. And women occupy only 13.6% of the seats of the boards of directors of the Fortune 500 firms and only 12.4% of the board seats for the Fortune 1000 firms.

Yet, still it somehow makes sense for the media to tell us that they only want "credentialed" individuals -- to interview, to speak, to talk on the subject of the under-representation of women at top corporate levels, at boards of directors, and among top corporate earners.

It's as if Abe Lincoln said, "I only want to hear from all of the Free Slaves out there on the subject of Abolition."

There is a tendency to interview only the same 3 individuals, to use their exclusive views as the "representative" viewpoint of the average aspiring professional woman. As good as Oprah, Martha, Irene and Laura might be, they do NOT represent mainstream American women. They represent the Hollywood and "political" or "politically correct" opinions of an elite few. They represent me and my peers about as well as Stepford Wives.


Let's just take Catalyst's Irene Lang as an example. Catalyst and Ms. Lang have spent a lot of time and effort advocating the advancement of women through research, surveys, awards, and placement of women on boards. They've been doing this for 42 years, initially under the leadership of Felice Schwartz and then under Sheila Wellington, now a Professor at NYU's Stern School of Management.

Catalyst is a "non-profit" organization that has won the sponsorship of most of the Fortune 500 firms -- those same firms that have ONLY 13.6% of their board seats occupied by women, etc. etc. In the past 11 years, Catalyst's research surveys have tracked the less than 0.5% per year increase in women's representation on US Fortune 500 board seats. HALF of ONE PERCENT annually for over a decade.

Catalyst will not disclose how many women it places on boards annually. That's "proprietary information", but earlier press coverage reported that it was about 12-15 in a year.

Companies report that Catalyst invites them to pay $100,000 to help place a woman on a corporate board. No wonder so few women make it.

Catalyst reports are available for free to sponsoring organizations; for a fee to non-sponsors. Since about 1985, Catalyst has given awards to over 60 firms for their "demonstrated" support of women in their organizations through "diversity" initiatives. Today, those firms evidence a whopping 4.5% higher incidence of women on their boards (18.3%). Very few of these so-called award-winning firms show continued leadership or improvement after the award ceremonies have ended.

The Committee of 200

Another "authority" on the subject of women's leadership is the Committee of 200 (Boston, MA).

The Committee of 200 (C200) is an invitation-only membership organization of the world's most successful women entrepreneurs and corporate leaders. Annually they produce a study of women's progress: The C200 Leadership Index, an admirable endeavor that is publicly available from their web site.

One could take issue with their equating the share of women in the role of "honorary chairperson/board member" of merely the top 10 U.S. charities with those women in the role of substantive corporate board members among Fortune 500 firms. As for the first indicator of "women's clout", the 2004 Index reported that

    "the measure [of the honorary chair/member of the top 10 U.S. charities] becomes 10.71 on the 10-point scale, indicating parity has been surpassed."

Whew! So glad parity of free labor has been achieved.

As for indicator of seats on boards of directors, "the measure [of women occupying board of director seats of the Fortune 500] becomes 2.92". Then, by adding these apples to oranges, weighing these two different measures equally into the final Index, they can say with renewed enthusiasm,

    "For 2004, the C200 Business Leadership Index measured 4.66,on a 10-point scale with 10 equaling parity -- up from 4.28 in 2003,and 3.95 in 2002."

    "This year's C200 Index shows women continuing to make slow movement toward parity with men in business. For 2004, the C200 Business Leadership Index measured 4.66,on a 10-point scale with 10 equaling parity -- up from 4.28 in 2003,and 3.95 in 2002.

    "That represents a 9% increase over 2003 -- about the same as the increase between 2002 and 2003. If this pace continues, women's clout will not equal men's before 2019, at the earliest."

Clearly, parity will only occur by 2019 IF AND ONLY IF they can include more measures like the free honorary slave labor of women sitting on U.S. charities at a ratio of 10 to 500 relative to women sitting on U.S. corporate boards of directors. More likely, parity will not occur for another 50 years.

The International Forum of Women

The International Forum of Women is another "by invitation only" exclusive group of women in the business, civic, religious, and internationally political sectors. Their membership is unknown to the unwashed masses. The IFW, however, does have exclusive access to corporate board positions through a relationship cut with the National Association of Corporate Directors whereby the IFW's membership database is the resource that NACD members tap when they search for corporate board member candidates from the upper crust of the female establishment.

If Catalyst, the C200, and the IFW were performing a significant role in the advancement of women on boards, their placement of women on boards would be higher. Also, we would likely see their names included among the top recruiters being considered when new CEO searches are undertaken. Instead, we see the same three Holy Brothers: Spencer Stuart, Heidrick & Struggles, and Russell Reynolds.

Data from Spencer Stuart

Only Spencer Stuart has produced consistently a picture of the number of women on boards of directors of the top U.S. corporations.

In 2004, Spencer Stuart alone placed over 300 board members. In the past 5 years, Spencer Stuart recruited a total of 200 women for boards, 50 of whom were for firms outside of the U.S. Thus, the firm with largest board recruiting practice has recruited an average of only 30 women a year, or less than 10% of their current annual placements.

Spencer Stuart reported that, of the 443 new independent directors reported in S&P 500 proxies in 2004, only 105 or 24% were women (versus only 74 or 19% of new independent directors in 2003).

The total number of current S&P 500 directors are estimated at 11 directors per each of the S&P 500 firms, or 5500 directors. New directors thus represented just 8% of all directors.

In the Spencer Stuart 2004 Board Index survey, women represented 16% of the total of all board seats, or approximately 880 women, compared to only 13% in 2003 (715 women). In 1999, the average board size was 12 directors for a total of 6,000 board members, of which only 12% were women (720 women).

Failure At The Top

At a recent conference on the subject of contemporary boards of directors, Julie Daum of Spencer Stuart spoke about the recent trends. She echoed the common complaint voiced by the three major corporate board executive search firms as they attempt to "explain" why there are so few women in leadership positions at top U.S. corporations. She said, "the problem is at the middle management level."

The problem is that "there is not enough female talent in the pipeline".

The appropriate follow-up questions are these:

    "Why have recruiters and boards failed to recruit board talent that recognizes the importance of an effective management development plan to reach into the 50% of the organization that includes women, at the very heart and soul of the organization, and find ways to promote them to the top management team?"

    "Why has the board of directors failed to develop a viable management development plan in these organizations?"

We know the game that boards have been playing -- up to now. We know it because board members are finally admitting -- in public and in the press -- the way they used to do business on corporate boards.

Gary Sutton, a director of eight boards of directors, admitted to the Los Angeles Times on February 13, 2002 ("Firms Paying Heed to the Higher Prices of Offenses", p. C1).

"[In the old days,] it was a lavish dinner and fine wines the night before, a short board meeting in the morning - and golf in the afternoon."

"[Today,] We don't go golfing. We don't have dinner the night before. We come to the meeting. We do business, and when we're finished, we leave."

But, today, it's not enough to merely show up. A board member's conscience has to show up as well as his brain. When a director has done the business of the meeting and leaves, he/she is STILL not finished with the job. Board members, today, are expected to go out to the company stores, shops, and plants to meet the employees, customers and management as well as hob-nob with the big investors. How else can they possibly know whether management is jiving them? Board members are expected to see for themselves and feel for themselves the pulse of the organization.

If Wal-Mart's board of directors does not go out and actually see diverse faces -- women and minorities -- among their top management tier, then they know as a board member that Wal-Mart's management development plan is at risk of failure, and the board's governance is at risk of failure. And the firm is at risk of major lawsuits to remedy the situation that the board and management failed to acknowledge.

And if being on eight boards of directors means that the individual does not have the time to perform at this expected level of governance oversight, the solution is to get off about 6 or 7 seven of them and do the right job for 1 or 2.

The Management Development Plan

The head of The Corporate Library, Nell Minnow, commented this week on the caliber of the HP board which only decided to start looking for a CEO after it decided to terminate its previous one, Carly Fiorina.

A major responsibility of a board of directors is the assurance of the existence of the firm's management development plan and the viability of the management team.

Management AND the board have to look at the corporation's top levels, and those just below the C-levels and the E-levels, to ask and be confident that the organization has the talent, training, opportunity and plan to develop the complete team that will ensure the firm's long-term success.

If a football owner or coach only concerned themselves with the star quarterback, no team at all would result. How good a basketball team would result if you didn't have coaches working to develop the total bench strength every single week?

Everyone from Drucker to Bennis says that leadership in the 21st century firm is a "creative collaboration" -- an orchestra with a conductor -- no longer the Lone Ranger with his promise of a Silver Bullet.

But, when it comes down to the corporation making the hard decisions about developing the team -- the management infrastructure -- do they realistically provide the internal talent with the opportunities and guidance they need to emerge together as a team? Or do we still see an over-emphasis on icons, Hollywood stars, super-heroes, and other Wizards peeking out from behind the curtain in Oz? Are we still enamoured with the CEO and only the CEO?

The advancement of women from middle to upper management in our public corporations is a key indicator of the well-being of that institution. If women can't do well within our corporations, it's very likely that our corporations can't do very well either.

A Concert, Not Just A Choir

When I listen to Warren Olney, Larry King or even Lawrence Summers talk about women at the top of our corporate and public organizations, I perceive that they are struggling to understand "what do women want?" Do women want power? do they want families? do they want both? do they "want it all"?

I believe many men -- inside corporate life, inside media, and inside political organizations -- are genuinely searching for understanding. To them, I say the following words, emphatically, and with respect:

Gentlemen, these words represent YOUR view of the world. They represent YOUR goals in life. They represent YOUR concepts for success. They do NOT necessarily define the world as we, women, would like it to become. Thus, we will not begin to have a true dialog until you stop trying to impose your view of the world on women.

Now, before you go away in a huff, hear me for one more moment.

When I was young, I went to a high school where almost everyone was in a choir. There was a girls' campus, and there was a boys' campus; and they were divided by a river. So, each choir would develop its own parts - the girls would practice the music generally in the higher ranges, although some sang alto. The boys would practice the music generally in the lower ranges, and some sang tenor.

Twice a year the two campuses would come together - in the winter, for a holiday song festival and again, close to the end of the term, for a spring song festival. The music conductor and his accompanyist were the only ones who had heard both campuses sing over the year.

At the holiday festival, it was the first time both sets of voices came together as a combined chorus of several hundred individuals. During the first practice for the event, it was clear that representatives of both campuses, initially, struggled with their parts as much as with the challenge of making their unique voices blend together.

As the big event approached, all of the voices started to realize how absolutely beautiful they could sound together. They heard how deep voices resonated through the halls, how soprano voices reached to great heights, and how alto, bass, and tenor blended so magnificantly into one perfect whole.

On the night of the great event, the excitement was as crisp as the cold winter air. Every eye was on the conductor - the only one who knew, from years of experience pulling these two disparate worlds and voices together, what was about to happen. And it was perfect. It was powerful. It was peaceful. It was grand. It was incomparable.

The greatness of differences melded together into music that stirred souls as they sang with each other AND as they listened to each other. And when it was over, everyone knew that something special had just happened.

This, gentlemen, is what we are trying to accomplish.

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Can't We Just Let This Thing Go?

In hundreds of homes, offices, and other locations of intensely personal communications, today, we are hearing the same conversation over and over again. It goes something like this:

"Can't we just let go of this Summers debate? Won't you just leave it alone?
Haven't we talked about this enough, already?"

Have you had that part of the discussion yet? For the past month, if you turned on the radio, you would have heard your local equivalent of Howard Stern with all of the usual guys calling in: Mike from Westside, Bill from Tucson, Ted from Dubuque. And, just so they all can have someone to attack in their usual mad-dog manner, let's hear it from Kathy. And, after this commercial, we'll let Mike, Bill, and Ted tear the very meat from Kathy's bones. Back in a minute.

We listened to all of these one-dimensional tirades every day. We read their BLOGS with the same Johnny-One-Note commentary for the past month. In isolation, they pontificated like so many Monday morning quarterbacks on subjects with which they have so very little personal experience or knowledge. And because they have the heavy, loud voice of the male dominate system behind them, somehow that legitimized what they had to say.

And now they're tired of this topic and want to move on. They want to talk about something new and different. This is what you can expect from a mind with the "innate" capacity to mentally spin objects with facility. This is the result of one mindset being considered the ONLY possible view of the world.

They are perhaps surprised if there are Kathys out there saying to them, "I listened to what you have to say, and now I would like you to listen to what I have to say." And the heavy loud voices respond in exasperation, "Can't we just let this thing go? Can't you leave it alone? Don't you see I'm tired of talking about this? Haven't we finished?"

Harvard University is realizing that the dialog has just begun. Why is it that American media does not "get it" that the discussion must be more complex than they have allowed to date? Why is it that the corporate environment, where the very same issues exist and stifle innovative thinking on the part of their female contributors, closes out the subject with like vehemence? Why is it that our other leadership forums insist on dropping the subject like a hot potato? What are they afraid of?

No, we are not finished because we have not addressed this issue. We are being told to shut the door on all further debate and prohibit all further exchange of intelligent thought. Why? Who among us could believe we have solved the problem? More likely, it is because some believe they have told the quarterback that he screwed up last Saturday? And there -- that is the end of THAT!

If we let this happen, once again, the discussion will be closed based on only the input of a few loud, heavy voices. If we are smart, we will persist and say, respectfully, "NO, we are NOT finished with this conversation until we have had the opportunity to mentally twirl other experiences and ideas in our minds -- to examine other, insightful ideas in addition to the few, mostly loud, yelling members of our society, whom we have allowed to dominate our airwaves and opinions."

This discussion is NOT over. The lecture is over. The conversation has just begun.

Saturday, February 5, 2005

Cave, Kitchen, Burka, Bushel: How Many Ways Can Women Hide?

In the mid 1980s, Jinx Melia and Pauline Lyttle wrote about women's negotiated settlement with the "male dominant system". The contract looked like this: He'd go out, forage, hunt and gather. She'd stay in and tend to the home. He got comfort. In exchange, she got protection from all those terrible threats "out there" in the real world. So, women stayed in the cave -- hiding, protected.

How many ways, today, can women find to hide? After Melia-Lyttle's cave analogy, we move forward by decades to women hiding in the kitchen - Harriet Nelson, June Cleaver, Jane Wyman, and the other post-50s wives/mothers who were side-kicks to the show's real stars: Dad. This was the era that saw the rise of the Fuller brush salesman, the Avon Lady, and the Tupperware Party - all examples of the American economy waiting hand and foot on the female consumer. Provided, however, that she stayed back in the kitchen and kept quiet.

In the 21st Century, women are said to be "opting-out" of the pursuit of executive level positions and, instead, retreating to the comfort and safety of home again, tending to children born in their late years.

In the global economy, the burka and chador - full body veils of the Middle East - allowed women to be mobile enough to go out into the harsh world while still being protected and hidden, thus safe and secure in a still hostile world. The American equivalent of the burka is the huge SUV that is full-armor protection for women as they go about their wifely duties of lugging the offspring around to their physical and spiritual ceremonies.

Now we arrive in the 21st Century, and still women exhibit a siege mentality. Fear. Terror. War. Afraid to go out. Women today are described as corporate Stepford Wives.

In the cartoon, Non-Sequitur by Wiley Miller (1-18-05), we see a row of male directors lined up leaving the board room of a company, each director putting a knife into the back of the director in front of him. A woman office worker sitting at a nearby computer terminal says to her colleague: "Then again, sometimes I'm really grateful for a glass ceiling."

The cartoon suggests it is "safer" to hide under the so-called protection of the Glass Ceiling than it is to challenge the status quo. Now, Carly Fiorina is the poster child for women who are afraid of the corporate world - don't challenge the corporate status quo or the board might let you go. It's risky to aspire to the top levels of corporate America. Stay at home, where it's safe.

Today, too many women are imposing the limits on themselves -- hiding their potentially bright shining candles under the bushel basket of self-effacement, shyness, and aversion to risk. Too many women perceive that potentially they could lose out by speaking up, by coming out of the cave, the kitchen, by coming out from under the mental and emotional burkas.

It is extremely scary to speak your own thoughts in this "male dominant world." It has not been safe to speak out as a women, even if one were to present the facts and to argue the remedy. It still may not yet be safe, but for many women who now dare to speak out, there simply is nothing left to lose and everything to be gained by speaking up. For it is in the dialog that we learn and grow. It is in the risk of conversation that we can find new solutions to old problems.

In a recent conversation with women on the subject of how to get women to "dare" to rise to decision-making positions within organizations, they suggested re-posing the question as to whether it was "dare" or "care"?

Women may not want the same trappings of success that men want. It's not that women don't aspire to being CEO - Catalyst surveys says the same percentage of women as men aspire to that position. The point that we seem to be missing is that women do not want to get to the top via the same path that they've seen men traverse.

Women will not do that. They cannot do that and still respect the values they hold dear. They choose not. Get it? CHOOSE NOT to play that game.

A group of men were discussing their latest 60 inch full-wall High Definition TVs and wondered why they didn't get the bigger version. The women could care less.

The men speak of climbing the ladder of success, over the backs and bones or their competitors. The women care more about collaboration, they say.

Lawrence Summers hypothesizes that women are unwilling to work the long hours that are required to attain positions of tenure at major universities. The women question whether the men are really working those long hours or just putting in "face time".

When the issue matters for women, they will fight more fiercely than one would have thought possible. Ask Lawrence Summers about the laser-like "heat" that he took before he saw the "light".

When a woman sees a man in business, she looks for ways that she can help him to achieve his goals. When a man sees a woman in business, he looks for ways that he can take advantage of the situation to advance his goals.

What women are beginning to learn is that there is small likelihood that the male dominant system can or will change. "He" will never "get it", really. But, also what women are beginning to learn is that women do not need to "do it all" if he opts not to "get it" or help her succeed. Sometimes that means that some of the work doesn't get done anymore. At least not until men and women have re-negotiated the agreement.

We really have a choice. We can continue to watch women leave the traditional workforce, at the very edge of their ability to make substantive contributions to the organization. Women will continue to leave if the only options left for them to pursue are to follow, mindlessly, in the footsteps of men who trod before them. Women will not walk in those shoes.

The alternative is to stop trying to contort women into stereotypical male roles in top management levels of our corporations. They won't fit, and they won't go there. The negotiations with women have to start from square one. Women have to be able to define the role they are willing to accept at the top of all our organizations: corporate, government, and institutional.

The corporation -- as women have found it -- is unacceptable to them. The competitive game gives women too few rewards. Their mental motivations are different. Their perception of the challenges are different. Their valuation of the human capital is different. Their approaches to problems are different. And, who knows, maybe they have unique solutions that we have not seen before, nor tried before, nor considered before.

It's as if you gave a little girl a toy truck to play with, and she decided to call the drivers Daddy and Baby, and you told her that she "was wrong". It's as if you gave her a ball, and she tried to play catch with you, but you kept telling her she "threw like a girl". It's as if a young girl came up to you -- as the coach of the soccer team -- and she said she wanted to play and that she was sure she could do a really, really good job. And you replied, "Mia Hamm, don't you know soccer isn't a girl's game?"

What WOULD we have missed? What ARE we missing?