Sunday, September 30, 2007

What Would You Attempt?

What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail? Doesn’t that message just trigger mental synapses to fire excitedly in pursuit of the possibilities?

Now, flip the statement on its head and feel the difference.

If you were only told that failure, barriers, bias, prejudice, discrimination, and obstacles would litter your path and limit your future, why would you even bother to try?

The latter is the dominant message of the Harvard Business Review articles on women in leadership these days. If we keep telling women they will only fail in corporate America -– just as women struggled one generation ago –- then why would women even bother to pursue the trek up the corporate ladder? If we keep telling women to fear the business world, to be wary of the evils lurking therein, why would they dare to try?

In the post Drew Gilpin Faust Harvard Business School world, we are pulling out opinions from journalists (Hymowitz and Schellhardt, 1986) giving their two decades’ old research the fresh breath of legitimacy or relying upon sociologists (Eagly and Carli, 2001) to assess our contemporary post-Sarbanes Oxley corporate life. Together, they provide a message of a contorted, crushing and concrete ceiling, pressing in on women’s spines and psyches.

Never mind about the data from two decades of progress. Never mind the fact that a woman is The Leading Candidate for President of the United States. Never mind all the progress that outstanding women have made in the intervening years.

Instead, let’s pretty up the same old message and scare the bitches back into the nest:

  • the solo woman is STILL Hestor Prynn
  • it’s only “safe” to go out as groups of women
  • women can’t be real presidents or CEOs, they must be co-leaders
  • the fundamentals of the economic marketplace somehow don’t apply to women: all women are “different” from men, but all women are “alike”: all women think alike and all women choose the same things
  • women always “mother:” help other women, help others succeed, help, help, help, give, give, give, save, save, save everyone else but herself
  • never look at how real women are succeeding and achieving; always look at how women suffer and fail.

    We keep reading that it is always society, culture and the corporations that must change to accommodate the special needs of women. Above all else, change comes not from women themselves as economic actors making educated and informed choices. There “must” be special preferences for women to succeed.

    What could women do if they could see, instead, a message of opportunity, effort, education, potential and personal achievement? What could women do if they saw outstanding female leaders who are succeeding in today’s marketplace – in the 21st century economy – as if they believed they could not fail OR that they would learn from their experiences, good or bad.
  • Friday, September 28, 2007

    CSI: More Than a Crime Thriller

    CSI stands for much more than the television crime thriller. It represents a fundamental trilogy of economic choices available to every individual actor on the marketplace stage. And it applies to women, too.

    You choose what you want to do with the resources available to you. Consume means the short-term satisfaction of perceived needs or wants. Investment means the placement of resources in the hands of some better, probably longer-term, alternative with a probability of giving you back your outlay sometime in the future plus a premium to compensate you for the risky use of your resources. Savings is a deferral of the decision where you have a high security of getting your outlay back and a lesser premium for the wait and risk.

    There it is -- CSI: Consume, Invest or Save. Choose one.

    Women understand consumption really really REALLY well. They do not understand investment or savings as well. As a result, we see more evidence of the economic indicators of women’s prolific consumption behavior and far fewer indicators of either investment or savings economic choices. And women pay the expected price for their decisions.

    Women spend or control 80% or more of our consumer dollars as a nation. We hear a great deal about women’s alleged aversion to risk, yet probably the riskiest resource allocation strategy one could ever chose would be a persistent practice of only consumption.

    Women-owned businesses are dominantly sole proprietorships: earning pittance revenues, but consuming ravenously. Women-owned businesses tend not to be employer firms, thus limiting the potential investment in the labor of others. When women-owned businesses do hire workers, they tend to have a lower average number of employees per firm.

    Women need to learn they have alternative choices to consider; measure the risks and rewards of all the possible choices; evaluate the potential stream of benefits; and choose the next best opportunity compared simply to “eating the crop seed.”

    That expression came from our agricultural heritage and describes vividly the choice families face. They can defer some consumption and preserve some seeds for the next planting season where the potential for a larger crop exists, offering a future where there could be more seed to eat AND more seed to plant for the future after that. But, somebody has to plant the seed: somebody has to be willing to invest in the ground, manage the terrain, and test themselves with nature.

    Is there anybody who really believes women could NOT cut back a little on their consumption and divert something toward either effective savings or investment? What are women afraid of -- that Wal-Mart of Pet Stores revenues might dip? If our economic house is built only upon a flimsy ring-tone house of cards, the sooner we learn this reality the shorter the fall we inevitably will experience.

    The sooner 51% of the decision-makers in the marketplace begin to value the returns from longer-term investments and savings, the sooner we as a nation will reap the benefits of wiser choices about the risks-rewards of viable women-owned businesses. It makes no sense for half the market (women) to continue to spend mindlessly on short-term personal preferences AND at the same time demand that the other half of the market (men) provide them with jobs or mentors or family-friendly programs or flexible work hours or entitlements and advancement and executive positions. Why? Is it simply so that women can continue to support their ravenous short-term consumption behavior? That just doesn't compute.

    Thursday, September 20, 2007

    The Leading Edge

    Women-Owned Million-Dollar Firms by the Center for Women’s Business Research (CWBR), research underwritten by AT&T and KeyBank (January 2004)

    In 2002, the CWBR under Dr. Myra Hart, director, surveyed women owned businesses selected from the Dun & Bradstreet database of publicly-held firms. A total of 278,924 women-owned businesses were identified as earning one or more million dollars a year (5.7% of the CWBR estimated total of 4,893,400 compared to 1.8% of all women owned firms as estimated by the Small Business Administration). Firms solely-owned by women numbered 112,712 (40.4%) and firms equally-owned by men and women numbered 166,212 (60.6%).

    The SBA 2002 data indicates that less than 2 out of every 100 women who opt to go into business for themselves earn 67% of all the revenues. The other women earn far less than $50,000 a year, on average.

    Of the 278,924 women-owned million dollar firms in the CWBR study, 84.4% earned between $1 M - 4.9 M (235,411), another 9.2% earned $5 M - $9.9 M (25,661) and 6.4% earned $10 M or more (17,851).

    Thus, women-owned million dollar firms represented 6.6% of all million dollar firms, and 94.3% of the women-owned businesses earned less than $1 M (or 4,614,480).

    According to the SBA data, million dollar women-owned businesses achieved $5.4 M in average annual revenues per firm by being different from their female peers and more like their male counterparts. Successful women-owned businesses were likely to be in the wholesale trade, construction, manufacturing, and transportation, communications and utilities industry sectors. Successful women-owned businesses were less likely to be in the services and retail trade sectors. That is exactly where smaller women owned businesses concentrate.

    Fifty percent of million-dollar women-owned businesses have a board of directors (about the same as male-owned million dollar firms). The women-owned million dollar firms are more likely than smaller women-owned firms to seek the advice of an external accountant or financial advisor (40.7%), an internal accountant or financial advisor (25.7%), followed by a female mentor (18.3%) or a male mentor (9.3%). Only 13.3% seek the advice of a board of directors.

    Based on these estimates, about 117,100 million dollar women-owned firms have a board or directors. Yet, only about 15,600 actively seek the advice of their board resource.

    Million dollar women-owned businesses are more likely to have a partner (46%) compared to smaller women-owned businesses (22.4%). Of those with partners, 70.3% have 1 partner, 14.5% have 2 partners, 4.3% have 3 partners, and 7.2% have 4 or more partners.

    Of those who partner, 64.7% have a male partner, 21.8% have a female partner and 13.5% have a mixed partnership.

    Of those who partner, 68.4% do so with family members, 17.3% partner with business colleagues, 7.5% partner with friends, and 6.8% have a mixture of partners.

    We have a choice. Looking at the data, do we sit back and “blame” discrimination, male-dominance or other too easy old fashioned targets? Or, for a change, might we say to ourselves -– some women have learned how to build successful businesses? We have the opportunity to learn from them.

    Saturday, September 15, 2007

    How Can I Compete?

    When women ask questions about “how to get on a board,” sometimes it appears as if they are looking for an edge, an out or an indirect -– perhaps easier -– path into the boardroom. It occasionally sounds as if they presume they are not welcome, not competent or not as capable as their male candidate counterparts. Sometimes, it seems as if they believe the “guys” all have some genetic mutation that makes it smoother for them to traverse the difficult terrain to a leadership role.

    They’ve often asked questions such as the following:

  • Do I have to be a CEO or could I be a director without it?
  • Do I have to know the headhunters?
  • Do I have to qualify for boards’ more formal search techniques?
  • Is networking with board members still the key into the boardroom?
  • Are governance courses and director training more important than other education?
  • Do you have to live in the area of a company to be considered for their board?
  • Aren’t women on Fortune 1000 boards “way out there” – in pretty rarified air?

    There’s almost a sense of hopelessness about the question: “How can I possibly compete with ‘outstanding’ women in leadership?” They seem to want another route -– one that makes it possible for average people (“like me”) to achieve such positions of responsibility.

    There’s also the implication that companies should stop looking in that “rarified air” for women of talent; stop putting them on pedestals of high expectations from which they might fall, fail or disappoint. Companies “should” lower their expectations about women director candidates and instead increase the “help” or “incentives” or “encouragement” for more average women in the marzipan layer of middle management.

    Frankly, my dears, there will never be the book entitled “Corporate Governance for Dummies” or “Ten Easy Steps to Become a Director.” Or at least we hope not.

    Women on corporate boards are not necessarily the “superwomen” that some people imagine them to be. They are they same hard-working, persistent, dedicated women that exist everywhere.

    As to the question, “How do I find a corporate board of directors’ role?”
    The answer is this: “You don’t. You build a career of achievement and leadership. When a board needs your skills and expertise, they will find you.”
  • Friday, September 14, 2007

    What’s In It For Me?

    Why do the media and the publishing industry persistently dwell on the negative message, especially when it comes to women in leadership?

    Donna E. Shalala, former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under President Clinton asks about the choices we make ourselves:

    “We need to ask ourselves -— when given the choice and the power to influence girls’ lives, did we choose to have a positive effect or a negative effect or no effect at all? When a girl is looking in the mirror of popular culture today, what will she see? Will she know that her health and future are more important than her image? That the size of her ambition is more important than the size of her clothes? That the dreams she creates for herself are more important than those created for her by others?”

    That was the message from a conference held 7 years ago and reported in Reflections on Girls in the Media, from Children Now's Fourth Annual Children & the Media Conference, August 1997, co-hosted with the UCLA Center for Communication Policy and Stanford University.

    Two questions were at the heart of the conference:

    1. How are females portrayed in today’s media?
    2. Do media messages influence our nation’s girls?


    Reflections on Girls in the Media


    We have not made very much progress since then.

    Today, still, Media Matters (www.mediamatters.org) delights in shaking their sabers about Chris Matthews making stupid sexist comments regarding the looks of a woman news commentator. Women journalists persist in rehashing the same old message about all the many and different ways women can fail: hitting glass ceilings, concrete ceilings, marble ceilings, vaulted or mosaic ceilings. Don’t you just feel physically contorted by their very choice of words?

    What is in it for them? What is their “take away?” What is their motivation for spewing the negatives? What does it benefit them to constantly advocate that women are marginalized, desperate and hopeless? If they make women sound so miserable, is it just to ensure that women will be pitied, favored, pampered, babied, and treated like the princesses they wish they were?

    Who today really believes that the current opportunities for women to achieve leadership roles are LESS than they’ve ever been in the past? Who believes that discrimination, bias or prejudice against women is MORE today than in the past?

    The message matters. The picture that we see and read in our public media is the message we take to heart.

    1. If the market is divided into a small segment vs. a large segment, then the media wants to market to the larger sector of the two. The small share of women on boards means that the larger market is the number of women who are NOT on boards. We have a choice. We could make those women feel bad and discriminated against or we could inspire and encourage them to strive, to excel and to succeed. It’s easier to make women feel miserable.

    2. If Party A has something that Party B does not have, then blame Party A for not sharing. It’s not Party B’s fault for failing to excel. It’s the fault of the evil corporations and executive males for not inviting more women onto their corporate boards.

    3. Those in positions of authority should provide special favors or incentives to those who have not developed or acquired the credentials or capabilities for leadership. Or provide bribes to those who don’t want to participate in the business marketplace or full-time work.

    4. “We all” have a stake in this because “it takes a village” to solve problems that deal with women, but anybody else can solve his own problems all by himself.

    5. Throw out numbers that shock and awe, so you can be confident in using the word “only” to demonstrate suffering, invoke guilt and demonstrate failed expectations for women “only.”

    For example, “only 15%” of corporate board seats might be occupied by women in 2006. Be sure not to cite any statistics that would put that data point into historical perspective.

  • How much of this progress has occurred in recent years?

  • How have boards and governance gone through tectonic change in the brief five years since the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed in 2002?

  • How have boards themselves changed: reducing their overall size, adding more women while letting more men go?

  • How is it today that fewer women hold multiple corporate board seats and that more companies than ever before have placed at least one women director?

  • How are corporations reaching deeper into their available top tier of executive ranks to find competent women and diversity candidates?

  • How is it that so many more women, today more than ever before, are qualified by their education and their experience?

  • Is the share of women directors comparable to that of women in leadership in other parts of the economy?

    Women on the Supreme Court (11%), in the U.S. Senate or the House of Representatives (16%), deans of law schools (15%), U.S. Supreme Court law clerks (19%), law partners (17%), Fortune 500 firm general counsel (17%) or Fortune 1000 firm general counsel (16%).

    It's hard work dealing with these tough questions. What's in it for the media? Maybe it's a simple as taking the easy way out.
  • Wednesday, September 12, 2007

    On the Matter of Family

    When I first began my research and examination of women on corporate boards of directors, I discussed the subject with some women in business colleagues. I distinctly remember that dinner conversation.

    “When you interview those women on boards, you be sure to ask them about how they sacrificed their time with their children,” said one of the younger members of the group – who was not even married or had children.

    An older member of the group echoed her thoughts and added emphatically from her own experience:

    “Yeah, you ask them about the guilt they felt from their child when they had to work late. I can’t stand it when my daughter makes me feel that way.”

    Sacrifice? Guilt? Did I really want to probe into the personal lives and choices of women business professionals with these presumptions? Did I want to play Dr. Phil with them? Or Geraldo Rivera or Oprah Winfrey? Would I really want any researcher to bring those presumptions into a conversation with me about my career choices? What right would they have to ask such questions? What would be the benefit or lessons to be learned?

    I felt then, as now, that such questions merely project onto the recipient the preconceived notions of the individual asking the question.

    “Your guilt is your problem,” I felt like telling my women in business colleagues. “You’re looking at the women directors through a biased lens, not on their terms.”

    A business associate told me once about the fact that her previous marriage repeatedly was written up in current biographies of her business accomplishments. Another woman described how the press referred to her as “the current wife” of her husband, as if to suggest there were a host of predecessors or even others that might follow.

    “What’s the purpose in reporting that?” she asked. Indeed, what was the real purpose? It was to place doubt in the minds of the reader. Doubt, guilt, sacrifices made or not made. The perfect soap opera script. Or the perfect Vogue or Cosmo article. Gossip. Rumors.

    I felt then, as I do now, like telling my colleagues, “Grow up! Put away those little girl fairy tales. It’s time to look at today’s women in business as the leaders they are. Look at them through the perspective of 21st century realities.”

    Just to satisfy the lusty inquiries of my women in business colleagues, I didn’t ask the women directors about their families but I did let them inform me as they chose.

    One woman described her two adult daughters (now in their late 40s) as “terrific women” who joined her when she was recently honored with a professional lifetime achievement award.

    Another woman who had two boys late in her career mentioned that the youngest confided to her that he wanted to be a CEO, just like she was, IF boys were allowed to be CEOs too.

    One woman gave birth to her first daughter just as she was taking over as head of a technology firm on the brink of bankruptcy, then let it (with two children) successfully for the next thirty years and sold it for $245 million.

    A woman took another company public just about the time her first child was born.

    Another took time off to adopt a Russian daughter, and then returned to start a new venture that would revolutionize personal communications.

    A woman adopted two boys from war-torn Lebanon, home of her parent’s ancestry; funded a scholarship in their name; and partnered with an associate to form an independent film distribution company.

    One woman heads the private investment arm of a major securities advisory firm and has a family of five children from her husband’s previous marriage.

    Some women cared for ill spouses during both brief and long-term illnesses. Some women chose to exit marriages: for their own reasons. Many re-married; some may not have done so. A few did not marry.

    In short, there is as much variety in the choices made by women directors as there are choices made by women in society as a whole. Their personal lives undoubtedly contributed to what they did and who they became. These women did not allow those personal facts to define them. The women did not, as individuals, allow their personal choices to limit or constrain them. They most certainly did not make personal choices based on guilt, sacrifice, or doubt. They made choices that enabled them to rise to their current positions of influence.

    And that is why they are leaders.

    Monday, September 10, 2007

    Darwin's Finches

    “Low expectations of women can be as destructive as overt discrimination.”

    “Squandering talent is one of the key issues of women in science and engineering.”

    “According to the National Science Foundation, almost no doctoral degrees in engineering were awarded to women in 1966 (0.3 percent), in contrast to 16.9 percent in 2001. And in the biological and agricultural sciences, the number of doctorates earned by women rose from 12 percent to 43.5 percent between 1966 and 2001.”

    “The question we must ask as a society is … ‘how can we encourage more women with exceptional abilities to pursue careers in these fields [of math, science, and engineering]?’”

    Source: Dr. John L. Hennessy (Stanford), Dr. Susan Hockfield (MIT) and Dr. Shirley M. Tilghman (Princeton) in an op-ed piece, “Women and Science: The Real Issue” in The Boston Globe, February 12, 2005

    According to the American Association of University Women’s (AAUW) May 2003 report on Women at Work, 28% of women study in a computer and technology field that will prepare them for work in science, engineering or information technology –- fields “critical to thriving in the new high-tech economy.”

    The solution is not merely to lower the competitive playing field for women, but rather to challenging women to pursue the many possible alternative opportunities available to them. This means that women need to learn all of the possible ways they could compete effectively in the business marketplace.

    Women who rise to leadership roles compete somewhat like Darwin’s finches. In the book, The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time (Vintage Press: 1995), Jonathan Weiner described how hungry newcomer finches with smaller beaks would eat the nuts and berries dropped into niches by larger finches that had evolved more cumbersome beaks during the time when they faced no competition. Rather than challenge the established finch hierarchy, the newcomers would feast off the bounty that was available to them because their smaller beaks could reach into the crevices in the rocks.

    Research has identified 6 different paths that women have followed into the boardroom: nonprofit, academic, government, investment/securities, entrepreneurship and the corporate ladder. There is a fair amount of diversity within each of these primary paths. For women corporate directors today, niches include university trusteeships, federal reserve bank boards, entrepreneurial firms, venture/angel organizations and CxO roles or division presidencies at levels just below the traditional “big beak” CEO ranks.

    Over the past eleven years (1995-2006), Catalyst Inc.’s own data shows that the total number of Fortune 500 corporate board seats declined by 638: male-occupied seats account for 861 of those lost seats, while women-occupied seats increased 223, indicating that many women directors successfully identified niches in that old boys’ hierarchy.

    Half of the current (2005) women directors on California-based Fortune 1000 boards were named in 1999 or later. Half are 56 years of age or younger. Just under half of the women on California-based top firms live and work outside of the state, suggesting that boards searched for competent and experience candidates rather than simply settle for home-grown talent.

    Growth in boardroom opportunities for women was matched by increases in the number of women getting top-level educations and their acquisition of business competencies. The women on top California boards earned 1.75 degrees apiece: 116 bachelors’ degrees, 66 masters’ degrees and 35 doctorate degrees. Eight of the masters’ degrees were 2nd masters’ degrees. At least 30 of all of the 66 masters’ degrees were MBAs. Among the women who came by way of the investment/securities path, over 96% had masters’ degrees.

    While many women-on-board advocates look to the boards to do all of the heavy work by recruiting women directors and enticing women with work-family “incentives,” the research about women in leadership suggests interesting alternative lessons about what women, themselves, can do to earn a place at the boardroom table:

    o Pursue a top-quality business education
    o Develop experience in business, finance, investment and governance
    o Expand their awareness of business formation, creation, mergers and acquisition strategies in entrepreneurial and financial management

    And, if barriers to entry still exist among “the big beak” corporate top tiers, then look for value-rich niches in contemporary growth markets at smaller, younger firms:

    o Technology and telecommunications
    o Biosciences
    o International markets
    o Creative finance and investment

    Wednesday, September 5, 2007

    Oh The Poor Little Girls

    Douglas Branson begins his book, No Seat at the Table: How Corporate Governance and Law Keep Women out of the Boardroom (New York University Press: December 2006), with the vignette about the National Organization of Women (NOW)’s Martha Burk objections to the Augusta National Golf Club's exclusion of women. If Branson wanted to learn a little more about “how real women do it,” he might have taken a look at top women corporate directors such as Maureen E. (“Moe”) Grzelakowski.

    “Moe” also saw the challenge of limited play opportunities and “persistent clubhouse rules that exclude women” at golf course amenities. Rather than simply sit back and whine like a poor little girl victim, “Moe” went out and bought her own golf course in Clarendon Hills, IL. Now, she can play golf anytime she wants.

    “Moe” is one savvy businesswoman, drawing upon top executive experience at AT&T, Dell, and Motorola. She sits on the board of Broadcom Corporation, is a senior advisor to Investor Growth Capital Inc. (a venture capital and private equity firm) and still is an active technology consultant.

    The National Golf Foundation estimates that women constitute 24 percent of adult golfers: that is equal to 6.1 million women, with 2.5 million of them described as “core” golfers – equally as serious as their male counterparts. PGA America estimates that the average woman spends about $4,000 a year on direct golf expenditures (e.g., golf fees, lessons, equipment and food and beverages). That does not include indirect expenditures such as golf-related travel and clothing.

    Maybe it’s time we stopped with the “poor little girl” victim mentality, emphasizing how “Women Golfers Still Feel Mistreated,” and instead start to follow the most excellent example of role model “Moe” Grzelakowski who used her business acumen to make one smart investment in something that gave her great personal satisfaction and which also happened to be one brilliant investment: a golf course where “Women Can Feel Welcome” to conduct their business and to spend their money.

    Oh, and by the way, Ms. Grzelakowski also wrote a book entitled Mother Leads Best: 50 Women Who Are Changing the Way Organizations Define Leadership (Kaplan Business, 2005) which examines the positive impact motherhood can have on the leadership skills of senior executive women.