Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Turning Off The Mummy Tapes

Cornelia Dean, former Science Editor of The New York Times, wrote about her own and other female experiences with sexist comments, usually from males, dismissing her math and science competence “because she’s a girl.”

Ms. Dean remembers hearing grade school peers call her “a freak” for getting a top math aptitude score on a state exam. “I resolved then and there on a career in journalism,” she wrote in a confessional article in The New York Times, shortly after Dr. Lawrence H. Summers put his foot where it did not belong.[1] More recently, Ms Dean wrote another article echoing the kvetching among female science and math educators at a recent Rice University conference. [2]

Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, newly named president to replace Dr. Summers at Harvard University, in an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep also remembers hearing her own mother tell her: "It's a man's world, sweetie. And the sooner you learn that, the better off you'll be." [3]

"It seemed [to my parents] almost squandered to have me be talented in school. It was seen as sort of a problem – 'What do we do with her?'" Dr. Faust said in Mr. Inskeep’s interview.

I don’t doubt either the sincerity or depth of Ms. Dean or Dr. Faust’s opinions on the “little slights and disadvantages” that women in science, math and academia have faced from family and peers. I have my own personal collection of slights, oversights and underestimations which I also collected along the way in my career as a business technology professional. It’s probably accurate to say that if there is a woman of achievement today who says she has not experienced bias, prejudice or discrimination en route to her current height, she probably was not paying attention.

But, so what? What difference does it make today that those comments might have occurred 10, 20, 30, or 40 years ago? These “tales of woe” that women love to share represent just a miniscule fraction of the totality of experiences that enabled these talented individuals to succeed. Isn’t it far more important what we do and say today? And, so, what IS it that we are saying today?

Just the simple fact that Drew Gilpin Faust is now the 1st female president of Harvard should be enough to silence those little boys, little girls, and other small-minded mothers in our memories. But, it takes more than personal achievement to shut those demons away. It takes leadership to stop regurgitating those ancient messages.

I know the harsh sound of the doors of opportunity closing on a young girl’s ambitions. I know how painful those very same comments were as a child. But, isn’t it time for women to focus on how much we have accomplished in spite of those doubts and doubters? Isn’t it time we talked about the work we are committed to doing that will ensure that those prejudices do not occur in any academic framework in which we have a say – from day care to advanced degrees?

Might it perhaps even be because of those historic and erroneous slights that some women stood up and said, “Sir, you are mistaken in your presumptions about me.” And some women went boldly onward to become Science Editors of The New York Times (no small achievement at all), Science Journalist of The Wall Street Journal (Sharon Begley) and Science and Technology Editors of The MIT Technology Review. And yes, one woman went on to become the president of Harvard University. I yearn to hear more of these achievements.

Is it really the right message for the leader of Harvard University to tell the next generation of females, “Women today still face boundaries?” Even Steve Inskeep couldn’t believe it when he heard it – he asked, “isn’t that the same attitude that got Dr. Summers into trouble?”

And he is right. Enough with the “trouble talk” already. Jeffrey Immelt wouldn’t get any leadership brownie points if he whined in an interview about being left off the baseball team when he was in grade school. Ms. Dean and Dr. Gilpin likewise win no kudos for their strolls down a rocky memory lane.

The time has come for women to cease replaying their mothers’ tapes. It’s time to lead by example and to tell us the stories of their success. Women with the power of the pen, such as the Science Editor of The New York Times or the President of Harvard University, have the opportunity to set the stage for the next generation of women who might aspire to leadership roles by their choice of education and careers.

You ARE at the top. You set the tone. What will it be? Will you constantly replay the tapes of a few troubles you experienced growing up or will you present the more complete and far more inspirational script that is your role as a woman of personal and professional achievement. What will your choice be?


[1] For Some Girls, The Problem with Math is That They’re Good At It by Cornelia Dean, Science Editor, The New York Times, February 1, 2005

[2] Women in Science: The Battle Moves to the Trenches by Cornelia Dean, Health & Fitness, The New York Times, December 19, 2006, Tuesday; Late Edition - Final, Section F, Page 1, Column 2 (2506 words).

[3] Harvard's Faust: Boundaries Remain for Women. Feb-19-2007, EDUCATION: Morning Edition, National Public Radio interview with Steve Inskeep:

Sunday, February 25, 2007

If Barbie Tells Herself ‘Math Is Sooo Hard,’ Will She Flunk AP?

Sharon Begley, Science Journal columnist of The Wall Street Journal, reported on the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in her February 23, 2007 column entitled “Studies Take Measure of How Stereotyping Alters Performance.” [page B1]

“Reprising what piles of other studies have found, women reminded of the negative sex stereotype did worse than the other women, making 14% more errors.”

“ ... A study about to be published examined the effect of the ‘what is your sex?’ question that appears on standardized tests. If it were moved from the top of the Advanced Placement calculus AB test to the end, 4,700 more girls in a typical year (out of about 80,000 female students who take it) would score high enough to receive AP credit.”

That’s almost a 6% increase in the pipeline of top candidates for advanced math coursework.

Do I really believe the problem is the placement of one question on one exam taken by 80 thousand girls? No. What’s more important and debilitating is the constant, incessant, negative barrage of headlines every other week about “barriers” that women face, about “how few” women aspire or progress or hold positions. One question is nothing compared to the downright depressing news that women get to see, hear, and read day in and day out in our American media.

And it is not just the guys who do it, sisters. It is also one whale of a lot of women academicians and researchers, so-called female advocates, so-called supporters, networkers and enthusiasts writing about the litany of “problems” and “trouble” that women of achievement encounter in their day to day efforts to become the best they could be. One recent example is the Tuck Graduate School of Management, Dartmouth College research study released November 2006.[1]

“An ambitious research effort launched six years ago… has yielded a startling [YES! A STARTLING] discovery about why there are so few women CEOs in major companies.”

Why? What IS the STARTLING discovery? It turns out the answer is: Because,

“nearly half the thousand largest U.S. firms had no women in their official listings of principal executives.” [2]

Back the wagon up, cowgirls! Read that again, my friend: “nearly half” means less than half -- as in the minority. In fact it means just 48%. That means that after six years of research, these gallant educators found that THE MAJORITY (52%) of the firms among the top 1,000 largest US firms DO have women executives. So, why didn’t they report that “most firms today have women executives at the top?” Because, if they report that progress actually IS occurring among corporations which are aggressively searching for talented female executives, then they won’t be able to write such conclusions as the following:

“Their findings, the authors believe, should impart new urgency [Yes! NEW URGENCY!] to longstanding concerns [Ah, yes, such LO-O-O-O-O-NGSTANDING concerns] about the lack of women CEOs in the corporate world.”

What it really means is that a lot of female researchers would actually have to change their research models and construct different hypotheses based on more contemporary insight and information –- throwing out a lot of the old, easy to foster conclusions.

Do you think that you could possibly forecast what the share value of a stock will be in the year 2016 based on the accumulated performance of the past 40 years? Many of the companies that were IN BUSINESS 40 years ago are not there anymore, but somehow we expect that “past performance” of women’s education, accomplishments, and achievements spanning your mother’s 4 decades of existence somehow should provide an accurate foundation for forecasting the share of women who will be in executive ranks within the next 9 years.

Methinks not.

In fact, we’re seeing data about the “past performance” of the past 2 years alone is being shattered to smithereens by the present performance of women achieving corporate board of director roles and responsibilities in record numbers in 2007. These results DO offer the promise and the very high likelihood of their being a huge upsurge in the number of female CEOS, CFOs, CIOs, CTOs, and heads of mutual fund, hedge funds, and a whole slew of other public corporate executive positions.

“The women [in executive positions today] were younger, had less company tenure, and less tenure in their current positions than the men. These factors suggest that many companies were aggressively hiring and promoting women into the top executive ranks ... Once women are in the executive hierarchy, they do well in terms of rank.”[2]

It’s not your mother’s executive hierarchy, anymore. So, toss out your slide-rules. It’s time to tap into that terrific technology training that started and thrived at Dartmouth College 40 years ago. It’s time to model the future of women in executive positions using today’s “innate intelligence” that abounds among talented women in leadership positions throughout corporate America. Put your 40-year old Barbie doll away, because Barbie today is doin’ the math just fine, thank you!

[1] “Tuck Research Uncovers Obstacle to Growth in Number of Female CEOs” Tuck Research press release; November 14, 2006.

[2] “The Pipeline to the Top: Women and Men in the Top Executive Ranks of U.S. Corporations, Academy of Management Perspectives, November 2006, by Constance Helfat and Paul J. Wolfson of Tufts with Dawn Harris of Loyola University Chicago

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Glass Ceiling vs. The Pyramid of Needs

Twenty-two years ago women were introduced to the concept of “the glass ceiling” and haven’t really stood upright since then. What if, instead, women had been introduced to a concept of opportunities and possibilities? Might women now be standing on the shoulders of a new generation of giants, successful and looking forward to their rightful place in posterity? The question is "Why do we STILL talk about “the glass ceiling” as if we have not learned one whit in over two decades?"

In March 1984, Gay Bryant switched from being editor of Working Woman to editor of Family Circle. Her transition reflected the shifting focus of the female audience and, to describe the change she saw, she coined the phrase "glass ceiling:"

“Women have reached a certain point -- I call it the glass ceiling. They're in the top of middle management and they're stopping and getting stuck. There isn't enough room for all those women at the top. Some are going into business for themselves. Others are going out and raising families."

"What interests Bryant now, though, is watching the baby boomers to see where they'll go and, of course, what they'll read. 'They're the right age to be Family Circle readers now.' she says. 'I can get them -- the ones who aren't right at the top, the ones who are having families and buying homes. Their expectations are diminishing. They're settling down and settling in and I hope they're starting to think about life's simpler pleasures.'" [1]

The phrase was picked up two years later by Carol Hymowitz and Timothy D. Schellhardt who took a much harsher view of the barriers to progress encountered by women in middle management. Bryant wanted to market a magazine. Hymowitz and Schellhardt wanted somebody they could blame:

"More than a decade after large numbers of women joined American corporations as first-level managers, few have climbed as far or as fast as their male colleagues. Today, women fill nearly a third of all management positions (up from 19% in 1972), but most are stuck in jobs with little authority and relatively low pay. Even those few women who rose steadily through the ranks eventually crashed into an invisible barrier. The executive suite seemed within their grasp, but they just couldn't break through the glass ceiling."

"To these women managers, the road to the top seems blocked by corporate tradition and prejudice. Women have a hard time finding the necessary sponsors in their companies. Furthermore, they often are thought to lack the right credentials and the appropriate drive and commitment to make it to the board room."

"Yet the biggest obstacle women face is also the most intangible. Men at the top feel uncomfortable with women beside them." [2]

Twenty-two years ago, Bryant (then 38 years of age) was tuned to the "diminishing expectations" of baby boomers. Today, she'd be 60 years of age. Now she is editor-in-chief of Success, a two-year old "new kind of business magazine, ... dedicated to success in business, and in life" with a subscriber base of 650,000 women and men.

Because of this type of social conditioning, women in management have come to accept, almost as a fact of life, that they would always live within the confines of some tiny posture-constraining world of professional aspirations. A GOOGLE search on the expression “glass ceiling” brings up about 700,000 entries. Carol Hymowitz or Catalyst Inc. can be counted on to bring it back to light at least annually.

It's time women grew up and accepted the reality that the female market itself is as diverse as the different magazines Bryant edited in her career. Perhaps women might learn something by comparing the tendency to "settle in" with what it takes to progress up Maslow's Pyramid of Needs.

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who, in his book Motivation and Personality (1943), developed the concept of a "hierarchy of needs." [3] Maslow suggested that humans address fundamental requirements, first, before they can progress toward more highly evolved levels of personal attainment. The bottom and largest tier of the pyramid consists of "physiological needs," the basic needs of sustenance: breath, food, water, procreation. If these most fundamental needs are not met, it will not be possible to progress to the next level. Higher levels cannot be comprehended until first we are able to eat and survive.

The second tier consists of "safety needs," including shelter, personal safety, and a reliable stream of income. Being homeless and fearful of the elements are important needs that can be addressed once the first tier of concerns has been satisfied. Food kitchens are adequate, but homelessness, safety, and a job are more advanced concepts that must be met at this higher level.

Each higher level assumes that the previous needs have been addressed and consistently so. The third level, "love and belonging needs," includes the challenge of sustaining oneself within the community and with family. Loneliness is the challenged at this more advanced state.

Maslow described the needs as layers of a pyramid where each lower level provides a large, secure foundation on which the higher levels can be built. At the third level, inevitably, the options do narrow. Especially for women, this was the basis for describing "the glass ceiling." At every higher stage, the opportunities are fewer. It gets harder to progress, and not everyone will make it to the next level. Not everyone can earn the promotion. Not everyone can write the book. Not everyone can perform successfully on the stage.

For some women, this third level is as far as they choose to go. Not all women, but some women simply are comfortable where they have landed. Many women do not want to go outside the protection of family and community. Many women don't want to move beyond that "risk barrier" that separates the lower tiers (the levels of essential lifestyle and personal satisfaction) from the next two tiers. And that is why many women will never free themselves of the mental and emotional limitations that keep them in a way of life that is safe, predictable, secure, and without risk. But, also, that is why many women will not experience a way of life containing the rewards which result from endeavor and adventure.

With "the glass ceiling," women were told that not everyone would progress at the same rate, and that only a few could reach a top management role. Too many women heard this statement to mean that "all women would not make it" beyond this risk barrier into the executive ranks or the boardroom. As a result, only a few women even dared to try.

Women did not understand that, for those who choose to continue along the pathway where only a few would dare, there would be incredible personal and professional rewards and satisfactions. It is the fourth level where "esteem needs" are satisfied. Those are the needs of self, of personal achievement and satisfaction. This tier involves a breaking away from the comfort and protection of the community-family. It requires that the individual challenge the concept of "everyone does it this way". It assumes independent thought and action. Those are very scary concepts for many women. The women who do face the uncertainties of this fourth tier are few, bold and fearless. Typically, they are incredibly satisfied that they did so. And, typically, they are very successful at the things they do at this level.

To be respected, one must take the chance of giving respect, of trusting others. To be esteemed, one must have self-esteem and hold others in high regard. When many women confront the possibility of taking risks, by trusting and giving respect in order to receive respect and trust, they feel out on a shaky limb where they have not dared to go before.

Many women simply "stay at home" in the safety of their own personally-defined world or the Martha Steward/Oprah Winfrey/soap opera equivalent. Bryant called these women "the settlers in" with their "diminishing expectations."

In contemporary terms, women focus on food and sustenance almost to excess. How many cookbooks does one woman need? How many closets full of shoes or dresses? How many "things" does a woman need? If she is not out there buying all these goods, then she is perusing magazines or cable channels telling her what she should be out there buying. Even women who aspire to a “real simple life” feel compelled to subscribe to a magazine telling them all of the things to buy to achieve that goal.

How big a house or yard does a woman need? How many second homes? How many cars? What will it take for a woman to feel "safe" living in and driving around her community?

How many extended families does a woman need? How many organizations does she need to join in order to satisfy her need for support and security? How much is enough?
If women persist in their beliefs that they "don't yet have enough," if women continue to believe they have not yet satisfied the needs they've defined at the lower need levels, then women will not progress to the final two tiers of the pyramid: self and self-actualization.

Women in business "settle in" as well. Many female entrepreneurs dare not let go of control over their business by hiring staff, delegating to employees, or accessing outside financing. These choices entail the risks of trusting someone else other than oneself.

Whether inside the home or the office, too many women hold themselves in low self- esteem. They pursue the visible trappings of fame, or prettiness, or pomp in an effort to gain from others the attention or the respect they seek and need. They are dependent on external sources to provide them with the esteem which they have not yet learned to provide for themselves.

Too often, women look at the next level, "the self," from a sour grapes perspective. Since the level of self-esteem is so difficult to attain, women tell each other, or are told, or just believe, that it is "bad" so they won't be disappointed if they don't even attempt it. Women look at corporate profits as "bad," justifying their decisions to give up aspiring to a corporate leadership role.

To achieve the level of self-esteem requires taking risks. It requires standing alone and challenging well-established assumptions. It means resisting the safety and comfort of the herd mentality. It takes stepping out of the comfort and care of the community-family tier. It demands uniqueness, individuality, testing of ones' self. These are scary things, especially to women.

In reality, no need level is ever satisfied without rewards appropriate to that level of achievement. Each level, once attained, provides personal satisfaction and joy. The most difficult levels, once attempted and attained, provide the highest personal sense of achievement. This is the message women have not heard if we are only telling them about the risk barrier or "the glass ceiling."

Women who have run the gauntlet and reached beyond the family-community needs level show incredible satisfaction and pride in their accomplishments. Women who have dared to become themselves in the fullest possible sense have come to terms with the concept of "going it alone" and are not deterred. Women of achievement appear to be very comfortable in their own skin.

These women aspired to a personal best in their chosen area of endeavor. They are invigorated by their achievements and accomplishments. A primary reason for this sense of joy about their current state of life is that they realize the journey is not yet over. Because they have incorporated the satisfied needs of each and every level that preceded this one, they are working from a platform of great height and dimension. They are not hungry, unsheltered, unsecured, nor alone. Now, they can pursue the next level of attainment, however they define it.

The fourth tier is where the need for gratification of ego is satisfied from within, not from outside. Confidence comes from satisfaction with her own achievements and competencies. Self-esteem is the result of seeing personal success and finding that extremely satisfying. The ability to give respect and trust others comes from a deep well of self-esteem.

The final tier in the Maslow needs hierarchy is self-actualization: being, creativity and growth. Self-confident women continue to pursue the level of self-actualization, the fifth and highest level of the pyramid, as they constantly strive to improve and perfect whatever gifts each was given. Life is not a matter of gathering things together. It is a journey toward this goal, this destination.
Until more women dare to achieve more, they will not develop the competence to pursue more; until they develop those competencies, they will not acquire confidence in themselves and their abilities. Until they have confidence in their own abilities, they will not have pride in themselves, which is self-esteem.

Thus, the first step in crashing through the glass ceiling is NOT to wait for the magic kiss from Prince Charming, whether he is a boss or a board member or some gender-sensitive program, either public or private. The first step in crashing through the glass ceiling is to take a chance, to dare to achieve, to pursue competency in the field of one's personal strengths, to develop confidence based on those finely developed abilities, and to excel as measured by the standards of one's personal best.

The first step is to face the risk, alone; push fear to the side; and move forward towards one's dreams. The end result is to reach the final step on the pyramid: self-actualization, the ability of a human being to be the very best she can possibly be and to use to the fullest all of the unique abilities she possesses as an individual.

If women have as their goal only the love and belonging needs of family, friendship, and community, then women will not see that ultimate goal -- the fullest possible potential of herself as an individual. If women do not look to see that end goal, that personal dream, then they will not crash through the "risk barrier" or "the glass ceiling" or whatever is the name of the mental and emotional mask that some women chose to place over their view of themselves and their place in the world.


[1] "Bryant Takes Aim At the Settlers-In" by Nora Frenkiel from "The Up-And-Comers," ADWEEK, Magazine World 1984 (March 1984): ADWEEK's selection of the Magazine People of the Year for 1983.
[21 "The Corporate Woman (A Special Report): Cover - The Glass Ceiling: Why Women Can't Seem to Break The Invisible Barrier That Blocks Them From the Top Jobs" by Carol Hymowitz and Timothy D. Schellhardt, The Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition); New York, NY: March 24, 1986, page l.
[3] Motivation and Personality by Abraham Maslow (HarperCollins Publishers; 3rd edition, January 1987)

What Women Will Believe!

If I believed everything I’ve read in the public press about women in leadership or women on corporate boards, in the last month alone, I’d need to burn my MBA instead of my bra. This is just a sampling of what WOMEN (not men) have been quoted as advocating:

1. A nonprofit entity provides “appropriate experience” and training to serve on a for-profit public corporate board.

2. Serving on a nonprofit board gets a woman close to the powerful men who make all the decisions about selecting candidates for director nominations.

3. A course in “financial statements for non-financial professionals” qualifies a woman to become “the financial expert” capable of serving on the Audit Committee of a public corporate board of directors.

4. Boards “ought” to add women because only women ask the really important questions about how companies “ought” to provide more day care subsidies, family leave and other maternity/paternity benefits.

5. Having “just one woman” on a board creates an adversarial environment where the solo female director will feel intimidated, silenced, ignored and dominated by the male directors.

6. Having “three women” on a board “makes magic happen.”

7. Female leadership training should make sure that “girls look pretty – or more accurately, feel pretty;” it should educate girls about how “to dress to dazzle, to commemorate and to inspire.”

8. To get on a board of directors, female candidates should look for recruiters or women on boards who share their negative views of boards and who disparage boards as “old boy networks.”

9. Women should band together, in their isolated professional field, and hold conferences where older women “mentor” the next generation of female candidates for leadership by passing on “old wives’ tales” about the abuse they might have experienced 30 to 40 years ago.

10. Women should not be measured by the same standards as men in the economic marketplace: profit, academic articles written or cited, research projects undertaken, companies taken public, or other measures of competition. Women “need more concrete, tangible” goals and objectives.

11. “Creativity and innovation” are concepts that are too vague and difficult for women to grasp. Therefore, more specific and measurable standards of achievement need to be applied to professional women.

12. The reasons women made progress in scientific academia in the late 1960s and the late 1990s was due to the publication of 2 reports during those years.

13. There are “no female role models” out there in the marketplace. Or at least there are “no mentors” who will advise and hand-hold today’s women to tell them what they need to know to succeed in the business marketplace.

14. The lessons of Hewlett-Packard’s corporate board experience are these:
-- all men are evil and cannot be trusted
-- women should not be on boards
-- uppity women, especially, should not be on boards
-- all boards of directors are rigged against women, so why bother even trying?

15. All women share the same beliefs about boards of directors, so there’s no benefit in getting a different perspective. Certainly, there’s no benefit in publishing alternative viewpoints on the subject.

Fundamentally, there is a major difference between what is said by the women who actually ARE on public corporate boards about their experiences there vs. the women who are NOT on corporate boards, but who wish they were, and who get published in the public press in spite of their lack of qualifications.

Unfortunately, the popular press finds the opinions of the latter group to be more fun and controversial. Sort of like watching a Soap Opera. Or just another make-believe “reality show.”