Friday, July 25, 2008

No Gender Differences

This blog began with the shock of hearing the President of Harvard University suggest that there might be “innate differences” between men and women that explained why there were fewer women at top levels of math, science and engineering positions in research and academia, January 2005.

What a difference 2.5 years make. Dr. Lawrence Summers was replaced by Drew Gilpin Faust as Harvard President. Jane Mendillo was made CEO of Harvard Management Company in March 2008. Throughout the year, there were countless other comparable naming of outstanding women to leadership positions for which they were all most assuredly qualified.

July 2008, the National Science Institute released a study concluding there are “no differences” between the genders academic performance now that women are taking advanced placement training, getting the requisite education to advance themselves to top leadership positions. More business degrees mean more women in leadership.

Math Scores Show No Gap for Girls, Study Finds

Our research supports this study from the perspective of the progress women are making taking undergraduate and graduate degrees in business and management. In 2005-2006, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics, women received 49.8% of the degrees conferred in business, management, marketing and related support services at the undergraduate level and 42.9% of the degrees conferred at the graduate level.

In terms of annual headcount, that translates into 158,400 women taking business/management classes in college plus another 62,900 women taking those classes at the graduate level for a total of 221,200 women getting a business education every year.

Almost a quarter of a million young women getting a business education every single year. Stay tuned, Dr. Summers. The best is yet to come.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mismeasure of Women

Mismeasure of Women: Why Women Are Not the Better Sex, the Inferior Sex, or the Opposite Sex also by Carol Tarviz (Touchstone, 1993)

“Tavris, a social psychologist … presents a comprehensive analysis of how women are measured against men in society. She examines why women are not inferior, superior, or the same as men. Comparisons have led to labeling men as ‘normal’ and women who do not perform physically, sexually, mentally, or emotionally like them as ‘abnormal.’" From the Amazon review.

Even though she ends up in a better place, Ms. Tavris has written another book devoted to “what women are NOT.” It seems as if we must, always and first, go through the litany, that exercise in futility: itemizing all the faults, failures, problems, limitations of women before we can attempt to see the gold in the ore, the diamond in the rough, the women hidden inside all the stereotypes.

It’s as if we cannot ever freely go on a vacation without, first, doing the mental checklist of all the possible things we forgot to do, buy, turn on or off before we spring free for a rest from all that onerous stuff.

When I speak about “outstanding women in leadership, today,” lauding those women who have earned our respect, admiration and emulation, the first questions I hear from the audience almost always are these:

“BUT [of course, the BUT}, what about……
Work-family balance?
Sacrificing for the children?
Failed marriages?
The home?

Even though the data does not support any of these “yeah, BUTs” anymore, still women give them hearing and credence as if those ancient demons, those “old wives’ tales,” were still valid in today’s dynamic, changed, 21st century life.

The data supports an accelerated path toward gender equality. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, 42 percent of the 10,500 Olympians who competed were females -- the highest percentage ever, according to IOC. At the 1996 Atlanta Games, it was 34.2 per cent. Anita DeFrantz, chairman of the IOC's Women & Sports and a former bronze medalist in rowing for the U.S. team, predicts that women will reach 50-50 parity at the 2012 London Games. The U.S. sent 285 female Olympians to Beijing -- a record number and just 26 athletes short of the 311 male U.S. Olympians.

Unfortunately, women echo the doubts and negative stereotypes that they hear, see, read and experience all around them. So, before Mismeasure can get to the heart of her positive message, Ms. Tavris believes she must first give all of the myths and the mistaken assumptions credit and ink:

It’s all her fault!
It’s all HIS fault!
There outta be a LAW!

Her message is there, hidden under the usual detritus: the message of the data says that there really are few substantive differences based on gender that a little education, effort, perseverance, and ambition can’t overcome.

Some day, and soon I hope, we will start the story not by enumerating all of the things women are NOT, but celebrating and cherishing all of the things that women ARE.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mistakes Were Made

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. (Harcourt, 2007)

I like the ending of the book, a quote from Lao Tsu:

“A great nation is like a great man: when he makes a mistake, he realizes it. Having realized it, he admits it. Having admitted it, he corrects it. He considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers.”

Mistakes Were Made tells us about all of us who have failed to learn this lesson from the great master. At first, Tavris suggests we might be hard-wired, mentally, to deny the ethical truths which we face daily. Politicians cherry pick among security data to justify their aggressions. Politicians pontificate righteously about corporate ethics or moral causes, then wallow in sexual dalliances with their backs turned to family and friends.

“It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t me,” pervades our society.
“I didn’t cheat on the test, the exam, the SAT or the AP test.”
“I didn’t lie about my income, the appraisal or the rating of the subprime-backed security.”

Pete Rose said he didn’t wager on the baseball game. He and his friends still hope he can sneak through the back door into the Baseball Hall of Fame, even with his final admission of guilt.

Jamie Cayne of Bear Sterns, according to a Fortune article, had the choice of being forthright with his investor clients or protecting the reputation of his firm -– and he lost both in the final analysis.

A financial executive at a governance/director training session listed the rationalizations used by those found guilty of cooking the books in cases he’d supervised in the post Sarbanes-Oxley environment. The excuses are exactly the same ones used to justify sports doping and illicit gambling, infidelity, vice, fraud and other cons:

“Everybody else is doing it.”
“I have to do it to be competitive.”
“Nobody really cares.”
“Nobody will get hurt.”
“The rules are unclear.”
“No one will find out.”
“If I keep lying, no one will find out.”
“They will never be able to prove it.”
“Nothing will happen if I get caught.”
“Disclosure would hurt the company.”

I like to post these reminders prominently for those board members who might need an occasional reminder of what “mistakes in the making” look like at the beginning.

The one statement that is missing from this list is the most insidious because it is the legal training wheels used to prepare today’s generation for justifying malfeasance:

“While neither admitting nor denying any wrong-doing, Mr. X settled with Agency Y and paid Z dollars in fines.”

I call this the NANDAW defense which translates directly into: “Mistakes were made, but not by me. AND I can buy my way out of this lie.”

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Modern Woman: The Lost Sex

Sometimes I read books with which I know I will disagree, but from which I hope I will gain understanding of the issue. Modern Woman: The Lost Sex (Harper & Bros., 1947) by Ferdinand Lundberg and Marynia Foot Farnham, MD is just one example of that experience.

Ferdinand Lundberg went on to write The Rich and the Super-rich: A Study in the Power of Money Today (Kensington Pub Corp, 1988) among others.

A film clip of Dr. Farnham describing her theories can be seen at YouTube:

I discovered Modern Woman when I was reading Carol Tavris’ book Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts (co-authored with Elliot Aronson) (Harcourt, 2007). Tavris gives short shrift to Dr. Farnham's 61 year old book and dismisses her arguments by essentially saying,

“Well, if working is so bad for women’s psyche, then why is this woman a medical practitioner, researcher and author? Isn’t Farnham herself a contradiction of her own treatise?’

Dr. Farnham argues that work defeminizes women and thereby destroys the family, the home, children (if any) and the male-female sexual relationship.

Two quotes from the book are surprisingly familiar even in today’s more enlightened society, because we still hear these arguments in one form or another:

"Work that entices women out of their homes and provides them with prestige only at the price of feminine relinquishment, involves a response to masculine strivings. The more importance outside work assumes, the more are the masculine components of the woman's nature enhanced and encouraged. In her home and in her relationship to her children, it is imperative that these strivings be at a minimum and that her femininity be available both for her own satisfaction and for the satisfaction of her children and husband. She is, therefore, in the dangerous position of having to live one part of her life on the masculine level, another on the feminine. It is hardly astonishing that few can do so with success. One of these tendencies must of necessity achieve dominance over the other. The plain fact is that increasingly we are observing the masculinization of women and with it enormously dangerous consequences to the home, the children (if any) dependent on it, and to the ability of the woman, as well as her husband to obtain sexual gratification."

"The psychosocial rule that takes form, then, is this: the more educated a woman is, the greater chance there is of sexual disorder, more or less severe. The greater the disordered sexuality in a given group of women, the fewer children they have."

Dr. Farnham’s first point in the book is that the Industrial Revolution stripped both men and women of the essentials of their psychic well-being. It took physical labor and personal creativity away from agriculturally-oriented men and plopped them into stifling suits, stale offices, cars and cul de sacs. Their brutish competitiveness in capitalistic markets are merely a natural expression of their male desire to express their masculinity. (“Men will be men.”)

For women, that same Industrial Revolution “Emptied out the home.” Formerly, the home was the focus of livelihood of the family, the center of economic status, the hub of all family education and recreation.

“What is still called the home is to a large extent a vacuum, nothing of consequence happens there.”

“… the people themselves [in contemporary homes] have very little of a life in common.”

Family size is smaller, some homes are huge but empty, while others are small and superficial as most activity, recreation and eating take place outside of the home today.

Some social costs or consequences of this emptying out are borne by all: suburbanization, rush hour traffic to connect origin and destinations, antique-collecting (to ape the rich). Most critically, Dr. Farnham says, “the home is an extension of the maternal womb.” Thus, the destruction of the home has been emotionally hazardous for society -– and the one person most harmed by this phenomenon is Modern Woman. “[This] is the root cause of women’s restlessness and discontent.” Women suffer from neuroses as they struggle to find their appropriate identify outside of the home.

Dr. Farnham takes an interesting stroll through key judicial decisions by Chief Justice William Coke (1552-1634) of England and William Blackstone (1723-1780) to review their key roles in the arbitrary reversal of common law precedent which caused womens’ rights in property, law, economics, and ultimately society to be stripped to the bone. Women and good men have been battling ever since to re-establish those natural rights that once were considered inalienable for women as much as for men.

Dr. Farnham argues that the social freedom of women depends upon the degree of social safety and security provided by the environment. “With the attainment of some degree of civilization -– and civilization can only be attained under conditions of peace -– the personal rights of women broaden.”

If we look at China or any nation at war today (including our own), we could agree that social safety and security do broad the personal rights of everyone, not just women.

Unfortunately, Dr. Farnham’s “cures” are what make Modern Woman the archaic treatise that in fact it really is:

1. The government should subsidize psychotherapy for all the neurotic women thrust out of the security of the home.

2. We should return as many activities to the home as possible

3. We should return women to that protected home, where they can be safe and secure once again.

Ironically, we will hear many of these arguments today: we will hear it from those who say that all women, everywhere, are in a constant search for “work-family balance.” We hear it from those advocating more government faith-based initiatives to reconstruct the American home; from those who argue that women who are successful achieve those results only by emasculating themselves, their spouses and their families; and from those who argue that government “should” take action against a sea of psychological ills that afflict only one-half of the participants in the marriage contract.

At least now I understand where these arguments found their “home.”

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Two New Governance Books

Two brand-spanking-new corporate governance books are worth checking out:

The Board Book: An Insider's Guide for Directors and Trustees by William G. Bowen (former president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Princeton University) (256 pages, Norton, April 2008). His biography is at:
William Bowen is scheduled to be a feature speaker at the NACD Corporate Governance Conference in Washington, DC this October 19-21.

The primary focus is on board leadership, CEO compensation and succession planning (evaluating and replacing leadership). Some discussion of board structure and mechanics, with two whole pages on “diversity.” One interesting chapter discusses the question of whether for-profit and not-for profit board practices might be converging, a theme often discussed in this blog and our other articles.

Coming this October will be the release of Ralph Ward’s latest book on governance: The New Boardroom Leaders (Greenwood/Praeger, October 2008) based on his conversations with independent board chairs, lead directors, and committee chairs who are shaping this boardroom revolution. Scheduled release date is October 30, 2008.

Ralph D. Ward is publisher and editor of the corporate governance newsletter Boardroom INSIDER, and the editor of The Corporate Board magazine. Other books by Mr. Ward should be in every director's library: Saving the Corporate Board, Improving Corporate Boards: The Boardroom INSIDER Guidebook, and 21st Century Corporate Board.

See his website: Board

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Closing the Innovation Gap by Judith Estrin

Watch for a new book by Judith Estrin scheduled to hit the stores September 1, 2008:

Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in a Global Economy (McGraw-Hill).

For those who cannot wait, see her web site at: The Innovation Gap.