Thursday, March 31, 2005

It’s All in the Spin

On March 28, 2005, the Census Bureau released a report that was described in Associated Press releases with a unique spin. (See Wall Street Journal, 3-28-05, p A7: “Data Show Racial Gap in Incomes of Women”:

    “Black and Asian women with bachelor’s degrees earn slightly more than similarly educated white women . . .”

This cold, hard, and allegedly objective review of the data is intended to get white women mad at their competitor Black and Asian women who all are vying for, the anonymous writers believe, the same slice of the pie.

Well, I’m not buying it. I say to my Black Sisters and my Asian Sisters,

    “You GO, Girls! Those women who struggle to earn a bachelor’s degree at levels, like my white Sisters, who exceed the graduate rates of males, OUGHT to be earning as much as they possibly can in this so called Meritocracy!”

But the reality is that NO WOMEN with a bachelor’s degree is doing that well. That’s the message to our young, bright, but extremely na├»ve Younger Sisters – regardless of race, color, creed, religion OR political beliefs. To all of those young women who have been saying to themselves, “Oh, but we’re making SOOOOO much progress these days! That pay differential issue is SOOOOO yesterday.”

We reply, “That’s what WE THOUGHT, too, back when we were your age. Back then, we didn’t have the data that YOU do today.” And here it is:

In the year 2003, “… white men with four year degrees make more than anyone else.”

Given that white females earn only 57.3% of what white males earn, does it really matter that black females earn a whopping 5% more or that Asian females earn 9% more than white females?

Isn’t the issue that men earn much more than their presence in college degree programs would warrant? And that men earn much more than their graduation rates from college would warrant? Isn’t the issue NOT that women might need to hold down two or more jobs to earn a measly 62.3% of what their while male counterparts earn in one job?

Isn’t the issue equity? Fairness? That good ol’ American “level playing field”? That “meritocracy” that we’re always hearing about?

The intense efforts to “explain” these tiny differences among black, Asian, and white women college graduate salaries is akin to the shuffling of the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. Why try to “explain” a 6% variation in incomes among women, while we totally ignore the huge and persistent 40% variation in incomes between women and men?

Reporters and journalists at the Associated Press get to hide behind their anonymity in order to give us their special spin on the Census Bureau data. It’s probably because they’re all a bunch of white male college graduates, anyway, cackling to themselves as they write their copy, trying to pit one woman wage earner against another –- and laughing all the way to the bank.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Do the Math, Girl!

We seem to take the "issue" of the lack of diversity on U.S. corporate boards very lightly.

The statistics on women on boards of directors tend to take only a "snapshot" view. It is difficult to compare trends overtime because the annual surveys of women on Fortune 500 boards are interwoven with other surveys of the Fortune 1000, or the Canadian women on boards, or Women of color.

It's a challenge, but let's take a look at just some of the statistics that tell women how well corporate America is at "achieve diversity".

Catalyst is a New York-based organization advocating advancement of women in corporate America. It conducts annual surveys of US and Canadian women on boards of directors, women of color, and women in top management positions in corporate America.

Catalyst started surveying women on the Fortune 500 boards of directors in 1993. The latest survey was in 2003 -- 11 years of experience. In 1993, women represented 8.3% of F500 board positions. In 2003, women represented 13.6%. However, the size of F500 boards decreased to 5,728 in 2003, down from somewhere around 6,500 in 1993. So, some part of that "progress" resulted from there being a lower denominator. But, growth DID occur.

How do these statistics suggest women will fare in the future? Let's use the 11 year history of the Catalyst survey as the forecast basis for estimating the year by which women will achieve parity with men (50% representation on boards of directors) assuming no further reduction in size of the average board. Parity won't happen until 2049 – that's 45 years from now.

If we use the most recent 2 year history of the Catalyst survey as the forecast basis, we can estimate that women will achieve partity with men on boards of directors by 2031 – that's 27 years from now.

In order for women to achieve parity in the more reasonable timeframe – by the year 2020, a mere 16 years from 2004 – we will have to add MORE THAN 100 women EVERY YEAR to the boards of directors of Fortune 500 companies to achieve parity.

To put that number in perspective, Catalyst reports that they place around 12-15 women on boards of directors annually. And they are one of the very few entities that focus exclusively on placing women on boards.

Oh, and by the way, women constitute an even smaller share of the number of seats on boards of the second tier of the Fortune 1000. In the 2001 Catalyst survey, comparing the F500 with the F501-1000, companies in the lower half of the F1000 were 3 TIMES more likely to have NO WOMEN directors (197 firms) compared to companies in the top half (66 firms).

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Be A Man!

“Be a man!” yells the headline from a Kellogg School of Management web site for the Center for Executive Women.

In the perennial effort to help women advance among corporate ranks, the CEW is a throwback to the days of women’s silk scarf ties and black power suits.

“Compete harder” and you, too, can be Carly Fiorina or Ann Mulcahey, the web site says.

Citing three of the latest gender-based research studies:

1. Catherine Hakin, London School of Economics “Choosing to Be Different: Women, Work and The Family” with Jill Kirby, Center for Policy Studies, Princeton University, concludes that “men are more work-centered” and that explains their advancement in business.

2. Uri Gneezy, University of Chicago Business School, forthcoming in the Quarterly Journal of Economics; conducted tests on paying men to perform mental and physical tasks; men responded to more money to do more boring work; women didn’t; men respond to competition, especially with women.

3. Linda Babcock, Carnegie Mellon University. “Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide” with Sara Lasehaven, Princeton University Press, October 2003; women “lose” by not negotiating as effectively as men.

They recommend women should take on more of the competitive work-centered, tough negotiator roles that are the dominant characteristics of male professional counterparts.

Is this really the wisest conclusion? Is a woman-makeover-into-a-competitive-man really the solution for the 21st century business?

First, men are work-centered because they get significant emotional satisfaction from the positive feedback they can receive from the workplace.

Any woman who has risen through the ranks of power knows the same benefits seldom accrue to women who have work-centered their way to the top. Women are much more subject to jealousy, receive far fewer accolades for their achievements once attained, become targets of both male and female competitors once they achieve positions of leadership, and often must develop the thick-skinned exterior of Martha Stewart Queen Bees in order to preserve and protect their core being in the face of workplace pressures.

Women can only become work-centered if they are willing to deny some other part of their personal and emotional make-up. Children, home, family, relationships, and spouse must be “bought out” emotionally, financially or in fact. Men can mentally ignore whole segments of their lives much more readily than women can. Men have entire built-in security blankets, safety nets, not to mention cooks, cleaners, bottle washers, and full-life partners to support their work-centeredness. Women can barely find decent child-care facilities.

Men get the message, daily, “Go for IT! You can have it ALL!” Women get the message, “You can have it all BUT not all at the same time” or worse, “Maybe, later.”

Women can only become work-centered if men made an effort to even the playing field in the family-centric world. There are studies showing an increased interest on the part of men in home life, family life, and the total support infrastructure there. But interest does not get the cooking done, honey.

Second, men respond to motivators differently. That includes, primarily, money motivators, but also to challenges to their male-hood.

Is it appropriate that women re-learn or mindlessly duplicate men’s responses to financial rewards? Or can women take something else from these studies?

Another way to look at the conclusions is that men will work harder if bribed to do so or if they fear a woman might get ahead of them and thereby threaten their position among other males.

The first lesson is for women to position themselves to be the bribER rather than the bribEE. Women should look for opportunities to position men so they compete against each other for the gold ring. Women should NOT merely try to go for HIS ring, but look for ways to get him. . Or the two of them … going hard and fast for the ring that SHE wants.

The second lesson is for women to position themselves strategically in the race so that when men perceive they might possibly lose to a woman, men try even harder and women need to be prepared to benefit from the raising tide for everyone’s boat.

Women are making dramatic progress in the very real world of competitive sport. First, it was tennis, then marathon racing, and now golf. As women have entered a sport and excelled, men have responded by pushing out some other part of the competitive envelop. This “just to show them” mentality has produced Xtreme sports, new “world series”, and other new viable economic marketplaces that never would have existed without the competitive thrust. Women benefited from increased available sponsorship for all sports, thanks in large measure to the results of diligently supporting Title IX mandates.

But, isn’t this being duplicitous? Or might it rather be a case of giving to men the rewards that satisfy them, while also giving to women the rewards that are meaningful to them? Why would anyone try to reward someone with something that held no value for him or her?

And, if it were such great advice, then why will we never see anyone try to tell a man to “Be a Woman!”

Friday, March 18, 2005

The "Opt-Out" Revolution

In the New York Times, October 26, 2003, Lisa Belkin wrote an article titled, "The Opt-Out Revolution: High fliers trade boardroom for motherhood and redefine view of success."

There has been a lot of controversy and debate about the message Ms. Belkin was sending. In the start of the article, we read a series of quotes that translated "opt-out" into the "cop-out" interpretation that many applied to her survey:

    "I don't want to be on the fast track leading to a partnership at a prestigious law firm.... Some people define that as success. I don't"

    "I don't want to be famous; I don't want to conquer the world; I don't want that kind of life."

    "Maternity provides an escape hatch that paternity does not. Having a baby provides a graceful and convenient escape."

If you stay with Ms. Belkin all the way through her article, you learn that women are not merely quitting, but rather many are trying to find ways to achieve success using different terms: "satisfaction, balance, and sanity."

To understand Ms. Belkin's point you have to realize that "women are rejecting the workplace [AS THEY FOUND IT]."

At the end, she makes the compelling point that:

    "This, I would argue, is why the workplace needs women.... for the very fact that they are more willing to leave than men."

    "Women started this conversation about life and work – a conversation that is slowly coming to include men. Sanity, blance and a new definition of success, it seems, just might be contagious. And instead of women being forced to act like men, men are being freed to act like women..... Looked at that way, this is not the failure of a revolution, but the start of a new one."

I believe the feminist movement, in the past, did a great disservice to those women who chose to emphasize the family and the human caring portion of their careers. It is crucial for women to do their first and best job well -– in some cases, that is the job of helping society keep the continuity of life from one generation to another.

My own mother was a housekeeper, a homemaker, a mother of six, an at-home teacher, a wife. Because of the choices she made and the way she educated and raised me and my siblings, we have more choices, more opportunities, and therefore more responsibility for our lives.

Women who have made those choices, whatever their choice, for whatever their well-considered reasons, should be supported in their decisions -– even if it happens to be different from the one I might choose for myself, personally, today.

The critical error is the failure to consciously make choices; it is the failure to think about the future, and the failure to contemplate the consequences of our actions and of our inaction.

When we merely "fall into" our decisions by happenstance, that is not living and choosing. That is very close to entropy. And that I cannot condone.

In that same article, we read the following:

    "I rarely thought about combining life and work."

    "I enjoyed the work ... but life got in the way."

    "I am doing what is right for me at the moment, not necessarily what is right for me forever."

    "Back in college,... she gave no thought to melding life and work."

These are the statements of "happenstance" -- not of choice.

If we are going to re-define success, if we are going to re-establish new relationships between personal and professional success, we cannot do it without thinking deeply about how we DO want to succeed, about how we are going to accomplish it, about what we need to do it, and about how WE, personally, will be re-defined in the process.

We cannot just "fall into business" the way they are suggesting they "just fell into work" and then "just opted out."

We must examine what will we be, now that we have the opportunity to choose and to make a difference.

And, as my good friends remind me, this is good sense not merely for women, but also for men in our workplaces.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Flow, Creativity, and Leadership

There are a number of theories in development about work-family balance, about how we must be mentally engaged in our work if we are to be successful, and what we can do to ensure that our 9 to 5 experience is a meaningful part of our entire life. Lest you think this is all just "touchy-feely gibberish" from the California fringe, take a look at the following very serious researchers.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi On Flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced: CHICK sent me high ee) is a leader in part of this thought-process. He was a psychologist at University of Chicago from 1971 through 1999 when he did his most important research, described in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990).

He defines "flow" as "the state of optimal experience in which one loses oneself in a task or activity" -- the capacity for full engagement in an endeavor. You know the feeling -- "in the groove".

MC has now joined Peter Drucker at The Claremont Graduate University as the C.S. and D.J. Davidson Professor of Psychology and Management within the Drucker Quality of Life Research Center, a non-profit research institute that studies "positive psychology".

In MC's latest book (Penguin: March 2004), Good Business: Leadership, Flow and the Making of Meaning, we read:

"Our jobs determine to a large extent what our lives are like."

"Leaders must make it possible for employees to work with joy, to their heart's content, while responding to the needs of society."

His earlier books include: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience; The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium and Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.

"He believes workers must put personal accomplishment and gratification above possessions and financial gain, and he also calls for business leaders to create opportunities where employees can 'work with joy, to their hearts' content, while responding to the needs of society.'"

At a recent presentation at the University of La Verne, MC presented the key points of what constitutes "flow":

  • Completely involved in what we are doing - focused, concentrated.
  • A sense of ecstasy - of being outside everyday reality.
  • Great inner clarity - know what needs to be done, and how well we are doing.
  • Knowing that the activity is doable - that our skills are adequate to the task.
  • A sense of serenity - no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.
  • Timelessness - thoroughly focused on the present where hours seem to pass by in minutes.
  • Intrinsic motivation - whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.

These are many of the same points made repeatedly by Peter Drucker and Edward Demming as they described the "knowledge worker" of the 21st Century. MC is now reminding Corporate America that they cannot treat employees, today, as if they were the brawn and brute serfs of yesterday's factories.

Teresa Amabile On Creativity

Another authority in this same field addresses the same challenge, but from a different direction: the psychology behind creativity.

Teresa Amabile heads the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School and has spent 3 decades in the study of creativity:

    "looking for moments when people struggled with a problem or came up with a new idea." ["The 6 Myths of Creativity" by Bill Breen in Fast Company Magazine Issue 89, December 2004, pp. 75 ff.]

She is also a prolific writer, drawing on the results of perhaps the largest single study of creativity. See Creativity in Context: Update to the Social Psychology of Creativity, by Teresa M. Amabile et al. (Westview Press: 1996)]

In her Fast Company interview, Amabile contrasts the myths vs. the truths her research has revealed about creativity and creative people.

Myth 1: Only creative types can be creative.
Truth 1: Anyone with normal intelligence is capable of doing some creative work.

Creativity requires experience (knowledge AND technical skills), talent, an ability to think in new ways, the capacity to push through uncreative periods, intrinsic motivation (defined as "being turned on" by your work), and a work environment where the barriers to creativity have been removed.

Myth 2: Money motivates creativity.
Truth 2: While people need to perceive that they're being compensated fairly, they put far more value on a work environment where creativity is supported, valued, and recognized.

People are more creative when they care about their work, when their projects are matched to their experience/expertise and interests, and where they have the opportunity to stretch their skills.

Interestingly enough, "pay for performance" programs tend to make people more risk averse and certainly NOT more creative.

Myth 3: Time pressure fuels creativity.
Truth 3: People need the ability to focus on the work and be protected from distractions.

People must know the work is important and that everyone is committed to it. They are the least creative when they are fighting the clock and cannot deeply engage with the problem.

Myth 4: Fear forces breakthroughs.
Truth 4: Creativity is positively associated with joy and love and negatively associated with anger, fear and anxiety.

"One day's happiness" allows a person to make a cognitive association that incubates overnight and reappears the next day in the form of a creative idea.

Myth 5: Competition beats collaboration.
Truth 5: The most creative teams are those that have the confidence to share and debate ideas.

People stop sharing information when they compete for recognition. Failure to share information is destructive: "None of us is as smart as all of us."

Myth 6: A streamlined organization (i.e., downsized and restructured) is a creative organization.
Truth 6: Creativity suffers, greatly, during and after downsizing and reorganizations.

Communication, collaboration, and people's sense of freedom and autonomy are all sacrificed - along with creativity - when organizations undergo major downsizing.
What do you think might be the implications of massive workforce outsourcing?

What is so unique about her research is that it tosses out much of the classical assumptions about workplace creativity.

Warren Bennis On Leadership

Finally, we have the classical authority, Warren Bennis, Emeritus Professor at USC, writing many years ago the classic, On Becoming A Leader.

Interestingly enough, Amabile's research was cited by Bennis in his book, with Patricia Ward Biederman, Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration (Perseus Books, 1998). But, Bennis takes the "old school" view of leadership and tries to apply it to 21st century knowledge workers.

For example, he argues that every great group must have "a strong leader" -- when most today speak instead of a masterful enabler or conductor. Bennis also says that great groups must have "an enemy", that they must see themselves as "winning underdogs", and that they become "their own world", driven by "self-righteous hatred" and that their work becomes "sexy". Sexy?

Bennis describes 15 traits of "great groups" and "great work" that he's studied principally in the top corporate echelons of the American capital marketplace.

He does say that "leadership always comes down to a question of character." That "we long for meaning" and that "problem-solving is the task for which we evolved." But it is hard to see how he makes the leap from character, meaning, and problem-solving to competition, a "king of the hill" mentality and sexy.

The contrast between Bennis' view of creative collaboration and that of Csikszentmihalyi and Amabile demonstrates the huge and growing gap that exists between the leadership of today's corporate world and that of the people who actually work there.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

You Call This Work-Family Balance?

So, you think you understand the challenges women today face as they try to establish work-family balance in their lives, do you?

May I respectfully suggest that Judith Warner's forthcoming book, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, will give you scathingly refreshing insight into the issue. Her article for just hints at the rage that is about to be unleashed as we begin to discuss her interpretation of the challenge of redefining "work-family balance" in the 21st Century:

    "For real change to happen, we don't need politicians sounding off about 'family values' … We need solutions -- politically palatable, economically feasible, home-grown American solutions - that can, collectively give mothers and families a break."

Wagner interviewed 150 women across America. Her article title speaks volumes: "Mommy Madness: What Happened When The Girls Who Had It All Became Mothers? A new book explores why this generation feels so insane."

Wagner's book, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, will be released in 2005 by Riverhead books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Here are selected excerpts from the article:

    "Women told me of their exhaustion and depression, and of their frustrations with the 'uselessness' of their husbands."

    "Our schools had given us co-ed gyms and wood-working shop, and had told us never let the boys drown out our voices in class. Often enough, we'd done better than they had in school. Even in science and math."

    ". . . there was a generation of optimism."

    "The new generation of fathers would help."

    "These are the harsh realities of family life in a culture that has no structures in place to allow women - and men - to balance work and child-rearing."

    "And so [mommies today] take on the Herculean task of being absolutely everything to their children, simply because no one else is doing anything at all to help them."

    "This has to change."

    ". . . this perfectionism is not empowerment. It's more like what some psychologists call 'learned helplessness' - an instinctive giving-up in the face of difficulty that people do when they think they have no real power. At base, it's a kind of dispair. A lack of faith that change can come to the outside world. A lack of belief in our political culture or our institutions."

    "It really needs to change."

For those who think that this is a "new" idea, see The Type E* Woman: How to Overcome the Stress of Being Everything to Everybody (Reed Business Information: 1986).

This twenty-year old book was written by the late psychotherapist, Harriet Braiker, who specialized in stress management programs for corporate women. She originated the concept of "Everything to Everybody Syndrome" - a form of traumatic stress disorder experienced by today's high-achieving woman who suffers stress while trying to excel in both personal life and career.

So, who wants to tell me now how "we've really solved all these work-family balance problems - REALLY?!"

[Thanks to Dr. Susanne Savary who pointed the way to the Judith Warner article:]