Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lord of the Flies – Take 2

Let me see if I get this straight. A crowd of 400 people stood outside the doors at the Valley Stream, NY Wal-Mart store on November 30th. At about 5:00 AM, approximately 1,600 shoppers, who had been hiding in their cars, protected from the cold, mobbed the line of bargain-hungry people who had queued up beforehand, and together they all broke through the secured doors, flooded the store, and over-powered a 6-foot-5, 270 pound, 34-year old male: Jdimytai Damour. They stomped him to death as they rushed to get holiday deals on electronics and toys, while also injuring several others including an 8-month pregnant woman. And the family of the man is suing Wal-Mart.

Also on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, in Palm Desert, CA, two men shot and killed each other in another retail confrontation where their female friends fought over a toy.

Did I get it right? Three people died in our pursuit of cheap toys and electronic gizmos.

Just out of curiosity, could someone please tell me how you can walk over the body of another human being without, you know, looping back around to see what you did to him? How does anyone go on to the toy counter and just casually shop and buy a present after committing manslaughter? When these people went home, did they hold up Elmo in front of the kids and grunt something about the "spoils of war?"

With our blessed, so-called religious society (some 80% of whom allege they are regular church-going faithful), surely 80% of the people who trampled this man to death went on to confess their sins on Sunday, saying: "Father, forgive me, for I killed someone."

Are we now going to need weapon detectors at the entrances to our shopping malls? Do we now need to post new signs at the front doors of our retail outlets, saying "Shopping may be hazardous to pregnant women seeking deep discounts." Somebody please tell me why an expectant mother would even consider going to Wal-Mart at 5:00 AM on Black Friday?

Is it worth a human life to get 20% off the price of any toy? Even 50% off – is it worth it? Is this what Michael Dell meant when he said he wanted to excite "“product lust" among electronics consumers?

Have you noticed newspapers are very hesitant to voice an opinion on these events because they fear alienating their advertising clients. There has not even been an editorial cartoon expressing outrage at shoppers’ stupidity in either of these two events.

The Nassau County Police are pouring over surveillance video tapes to identify the hit-and-run shoppers who killed the temporary worker. They might want to scrutinize the credit card purchases made during the first hour after store opening as well because if those people did not actually pummel the man, at a minimum, they were witnesses to the murder and left the scene of the crime.

But, in any event, the only reason for suing Wal-Mart is our great American faith in deep corporate pockets and our incredible ability to delude ourselves into believing that we are not responsible for our own actions. It would be like a drunk sneaking alcohol while hiding behind a bathroom stall, then saying (after a hit and run accident), "The bartender made me do it."

Wikipedia reports that Valley Stream is a little Long Island town with fewer than 40,000 people and a median family income of $110,000. I bet every person in town knows exactly who was there and when.

The Nassau County Police should hold each and every one of these people accountable for participating in this utterly uncivilized, terrorist-like behavior that resulted in the death of an innocent bystander. And maybe we all should re-think our sick compulsion to shop to excess.

It was not Wal-Mart who killed this poor man. It was 2,000 self-centered, greedy, and irresponsible shoppers who played like the little boys in Lord of the Flies.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On Domestic Violence

The logic behind Fortune’s November 24, 2008 article on "domestic violence" goes something like this: "Since banks are the site of most bank robberies, banks should be held responsible for implementing 'SafeHaven' programs and Human Resources counseling for robbery victims. And THAT will stop bank robberies in the future!"

"Domestic violence" is not simply a taboo subject in corporate halls -– it is a subject ignored by the mental health profession; by the local, state, and federal police authorities; by the video/computer gaming industry; and by the advertising and entertainment industries. Not one of these sectors "owns" the problem of "domestic violence" in its entirety, but all of these entities participate in the misdiagnosis of its cause. All of them contribute to its perpetuation. Even calling this brutal abuse by its politically-correct euphemism, "domestic violence," just paints the ugly pig with pretty pink lipstick.

First, we need to recognize that stalking is a premeditation to do harm: planning aforethought that is similar to bullying, which -– if not aborted -– will lead to injury or death. Driving recklessly will earn the perpetuator at least a ticket or a fine, but stalking warrants zero deterrence. Stalking triggers a presumption that the victim, alone, must act to deter the next, worse behavior: the victim needs to initiate a protection order, not the authorized policing entity. We do not assume the stalker owns any responsibility for his/her actions. We pass the buck exclusively to the victim.

Two reasons why personal abuse and stalking victims get no help from public authorities are: the potential size of the problem and its complexity (Is it her fault? Is it his fault? Will she file a complaint or forgive him again?). Another reason is the lack of mental health training to properly diagnose and deal with stalker behavior. And still another reason is that, too often, members of traditional police forces see themselves in the behavior or attitudes of the perpetrators: people enamored of control and power may not have the capacity or desire to stop such behavior in others (who might not carry a shield of authority).

Women create the "usual solutions" to "domestic violence:" the nonprofit organization made up of sympathetic, caring, emotionally-supportive fellow abused victims whose primary treatment is the magic of words ("Recognize. Respond. Refer." Wow, if that doesn’t stop him, then nothing will!) Nonprofit counseling for victims of abuse is like hospice care for terminal cancer patients: palliative, too little, and too late.

Alternatively, women try to pass the buck to their employers, corporations which have become their alternative protectors in the modern economy. But, putting "domestic violence" into the Company Store of products provided to employees by well-intended Human Resource personnel simply relocates the problem from public/police accountability into the more litigious world of corporate liability. It does nothing to diminish the problem; it does nothing to get at the root of the problem.

At a minimum, let’s stop playing patty-cake with the terminology: "domestic violence." Let’s at least call this pig the big, ugly thing it really is: "Aggressive Conduct Disorder" or bullying, in the vernacular. It's a mental health sickness. Stalking and bullying are mental health problems.

Researchers at the University of Chicago reported in the journal of Biological Psychology (November 2008) did a study using functional MRIs on 16 adolescent boys (16 to 18 years old), half of whom had a history of "aggressive conduct disorder," compared with a control group without any such indications. The fMRIs measured synaptic activity to determine the areas of the brain "excited" by observing video clips of people in pain as a result of an accident.

In the aggressive boys, activated areas were the amygdala and vertral stiatum -– areas associated with "feeling rewarded." The control group, rather than delighting in the pain of others, empathized with the victim. Their brains were activated in the medial prefrontal cortex and the temporo-parietal junction areas, parts of the brain associated with self regulation.

The researchers concluded that a "bully’s brain feels joy in others’ pain." Another interpretation is that the judgment areas of a bully’s brains are somehow subordinated to the stimulation (excitation) of emotional reflexive areas.

What is patently clear for "domestic violence" is that the perverse aggressive conduct behavior which it represents has yet to reach the scale of public concern that warrants serious consideration and treatment. When a dozen or so workers are killed in some corporate office stalker mahem, then we will possibly give "domestic violence" the knee-jerk attention it truly deserves.

Because, now, while we have the luxury to think about the causes, and possibly preventative measures or treatment, we are ignoring at least the following realities:

1. Stalkers are sick people in need of treatment by adequately-trained mental health professionals and, possibly, behavior-modifying medicines.

2. Abusers are criminals who need to see, up close and personal, the limits of their unacceptable behavior: in terms of financial consequences, limits on their personal liberty, and wide-scale social stigma.

3. Any entity (whether a video game, a movie, a rap music clip, an article in print, or a clip in blogspace) which advocates the subordination of any human being (spouse, partner, child) may be considered a form of personal terrorism, and any reasonable response or act of self-defense may be considered appropriate and legal.

4. Victims who enable are different from victims who defend themselves: the first requires treatment, while the second requires all of the tools and resources which a responsible society can provide. The first victim is a co-conspirator in the domain of Stockholm Syndrome; the latter is an agent in the prevention of a crime.

When women cower in fear in their own homes, their offices, behind "corporate policies to help," or at nonprofit counseling centers, the result is the same: the stalker has won. The abuser controls and overpowers. The terrorist is prevailing. The answer is not to hide; the answer instead is to take on this scourge, this mental sickness.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Women and HR

The "Human Resources" function in business has the responsibility of ensuring leadership development of all employee resources. If women would take the initiative in using HR policies and procedures to foster leadership opportunities within the organizations where they dominate, we might expect to see greater diversity based on performance exhibited throughout corporate organizations overall. Yet, there is even some question as to whether the HR organization actually helps advance women to leadership.

Women represent somewhere between two-thirds and three-fourths of the total headcount in "human resources" professional ranks depending on the country studied. Yet, men continue to dominate the HR leadership at most organizations. Thus, a first question would be how to advance women to leadership roles from their majority position as HR staff inside their own organizations.

McKinsey & Company, in their September 2008 report, A Business Case for Women, argues that HR policies need to be monitored to ensure that they are not "inadvertently biased against women or part-time workers."

"HR policies can inadvertently hold women back," McKinsey reports. HR is in charge of internal processes for identifying high-potential candidates for management. Yet, HR itself often selects candidates based on too restrictive parameters: focusing on too thin age brackets rather than on broader measures such as years of relevant experience. Among the HR "to do list" for women are: "establish targets for diversity," "create better work-life balance," and promote and encourage "mentoring and networking." Why is it that women, in the majority at HR organizations, have not implemented such policies that would advance themselves to leadership?

McKinsey also says that recruiters within companies and operational managers who hire for their own areas need training to help them focus on diversity opportunities and identify prejudices they bring to the interview that might limit their hiring perspective. HR is responsible for educating and training all staff in effective, productive, legal and diverse recruitment and hiring practices. If HR owns that domain, why has their training not adequately advanced women to leadership positions?

McKinsey states that shortages of women in leadership are the result of "mismatches between training and employment." If women are failing to pursue on-the-job training that would ensure their advancement to leadership positions, then this is another area within the unique professional domain of HR that needs to be strengthened.

The report mentions that job postings contain images and content which "market" the employment opportunities. When the photos and copy emphasize "images" which are more appealing to men than to women, then HR potentially is limiting the "targeting" potential of those job ads.

The report cites differences between men and women candidates as they view open job postings and select those positions for which they think they might be eligible. Men self-select if they meet two-thirds of the requirements, while women self-select if they meet 100 percent or more of the requirements. Women want greater certainty of success before taking the risk of applying.

It also describes differences between men and women candidates as they consider applying for promotions. Men tend to apply for promotions even in cases where they don’t meet or exceed performance expectations. Women tend to underestimate their performance and hesitate to seek out challenging promotions.

Is it HR’s responsibility to alter women’s perception of risk? Or is HR’s responsibility limited to making risk-taking and negotiating on-the-job training available to all candidates? Is it HR’s duty to "encourage" women to take risk? Is it HR’s duty to "mentor women" to assess the benefits of more assertive or competitive training? Is it HR’s duty to "encourage women" to network among professional peers to learn from them what works to advance candidates to positions of leadership? Is it HR’s responsibility to bolster women’s self-assessment or confidence that they merit promotions? How many of these essential pre-requisites for leadership are within the control, domain and responsibility of individual women to pursue on their own?

If the Finance Department in a corporation failed to meet the requirements of its function, would the answer be to "mentor" and "encourage" better financial accountability?

A separate study, The Invisible Fire, was recently produced reflecting a Canadian HR perspective. They stated that HR was "too low" a function within the organization to have enough clout to bring the women in leadership the attention it warranted. They, too, advocated more "mentoring, networking, educating management and accountability" in order to promote more women to leadership roles. The Canadian study "delegated the task upward," saying that it is the responsibility of CEOs and the Board of Directors to help and enable women to succeed. In other words, HR wanted senior executives to do the job they could not perform.

In general, if women constitute a significant majority within HR professional ranks, and yet STILL, women do not rise to leadership there; if women do not implement policies within their own HR ranks that would advance women to leadership or develop programs that are known to improve the odds of women rising to leadership; then why should women expect someone else in the corporation to do the hard work necessary to move them forward and upward when they don’t seem willing or interested in doing it for themselves?

There is a distinct "entitlement" perspective in these reports: "I can’t do the work myself, so somebody else please make it happen for me." This is not the perspective of women who currently hold leadership positions in top corporations, today. Perhaps that distinction is the real difference between women who fail to move toward leadership roles and those who succeed in doing so.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

On November 17-18, 2008 The Wall Street Journal convened a gathering of national corporate and public sector leaders for a "CEO Council: 2008 – Shaping the New Agenda."

One hundred and six participants are named in recent full page ads promoting the event. Out of those 106, there were 5 women. Angela F. Braly (WellPoint Inc.), Stephanie A. Burns (Dow Corning Corp.), Lynn Elsenhans (Sunoco, Inc.), Susan Nowakowski (AMN Healthcare) and Mary Sammons (Rite Aid Corp.). Two more are listed on the web site: Charlene Barshevsky (WilmerHale) and Ann Misiaszek Sarnoff (Dow Jones Ventures).

In 2008, I cannot fathom how it might be possible to have less than 5% women in leadership participating at a major media conference to address the needs of the new political and economic agenda.

There have to be reasons: what are they? Were other women in leadership not invited? Were the women too busy or otherwise committed? Do the women not see this type of forum as an important part of their role as women in leadership.

At a minimum, there are 22 other women CEOs on the Fortune 1000 list of top women CEOs who could have been included. (Dow Corning is not on that list because it is a joint venture, not a public company. AMN Healthcare did not make the Fortune 1000 cut in 2008.)

CEO (Company)
Braly, Angela F. (WellPoint)
Woertz, Patricia A. (Archer Daniels Midland)
Elsenhans, Lynn (Sunoco Inc. as of 8/8/2008)
Nooyi, Indra K. (PepsiCo)
Rosenfeld, Irene B. (Kraft Foods)
Meyrowitz, Carol M. (TJX)
Sammons, Mary F. (Rite Aid)
Mulcahy, Anne M. (Xerox)
Barnes, Brenda C. (Sara Lee)
Jung, Andrea (Avon Products)
Ivey, Susan M. (Reynolds American)
Reynolds, Paula Rosput (Safeco)
Gold, Christina A. (Western Union)
Robinson, Janet L. (New York Times)
Bern, Dorrit J. (Charming Shoppes)
Lang, Linda A. (Jack in the Box)
Young, Dona Davis (Phoenix)
Lau, Constance H. (Hawaiian Electric Industries)
Anderson, Kerrii B. (Wendy's International)
Krill, Katherine (AnnTaylor Stores)
Wilderotter, Mary Agnes (Citizens Communications)
Taylor, Cindy B. (Oil States International)
Stevens, Anne (Carpenter Technology)
Gallup, Patricia (PC Connection)
Fowler, Peggy Y. (Portland General Electric)

Even if these women were not included, why not Sheila Bair, Laura D’Andrea Tyson, Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton, Drew Faust Gilpin or any of the 1,100 women who currently serve on the corporate boards of the top Fortune 1000 firms in the country?

I just don’t understand how the Wall Street Journal cannot get better representation from the top women in leadership in this country. This IS 2008, isn’t it?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

There’s Just No Pleasing Some Women!

If you read all of the press releases out of Davis, California this week (November 17, 2008), you probably would be wringing your hands in woe at "the travesty, the tragedy" reported from UC Davis' latest Census of Women Business Leaders in the State of California. You’d moan and groan along with the study sponsors about "only" and "how few" and "how barely."

Some dear friends even suggested that they were "glad they didn’t live in California" after reading the sad, sad news out of Davis.

Don’t cry for us in California. In fact, let’s issue a little challenge to New York, Texas, maybe Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, or any other top states with large numbers of businesses. Let’s ask their academicians to repeat the study conducted by UC Davis: survey your top 400 firms and report to us the number of women corporate directors and the number of women executives in your states. Let’s just compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges to see exactly how well New York, Texas or other states are doing in bringing women to top leadership roles at their public corporations. We could start by asking how many states even have 400 companies anywhere near the size of these top firms in California?

Let’s also read the study from an objective perspective, rather than the whiney approach that so often accompanies these women on board censuses.

Fact #1. Over half of the 400 largest public companies in California have at least ONE woman on their board. That’s 53.2% or 213 firms. Can any other state report such a significant share?

Fact #2. The top Fortune 1000 firms based in California (102 companies) have 138 women corporate directors (from all over the country, not just from this state). That’s an average of 1.4 women per top Fortune 1000 board. What other states match that average for that many firms?

Fact #3. For the top Fortune 100 firms in California, the average is 2.5 women per board; for the next 400 firms (Fortune 101-500), the average is 1.5 women per board; and for the next tier (Fortune 501-1000), the average is 1.0 woman per board. Those are impressive averages for such large firms. Can any state report they are peers in this measure?

Fact #4. The overall percentage shares of women-occupied board seats at California Fortune 1000 firms is very high: 21.4% for the top 10 firms, 13.9% for the F101-500 and 11.6% for the F501-1000. I would like to see any state match that performance.

Fact #5. For all 400 firms in the state, women average 10% of the board seats: representing a total of 328 women-occupied seats out of 3,278 total board seats. Does any other state have more than 300 women directors at top tier firms? Can any other state report a 10% average for all their 400 firms? Can any other state report 400 firms with over $160 million capitalization?

Fact #6. Over half (54.6%) of the women directors at those top 400 firms sat on boards of companies with over $1 billion capitalization. Can any other state report such tremendous financial responsibility given to women in leadership?

Fact #7. Small companies tend to have smaller boards on average and are generally less likely to have women directors. Small cap companies in California average about 7 directors per firm and 1 woman director at every other company. Still, California has 175 companies with capital of between $160 and $500 million with 79 women directors on their entrepreneurial boards. How many states can match that smaller company performance?

Fact #8. There are more corporate director seats available at California’s top 400 firms (3,278) than there are top executive positions (2,772) available at those same companies. Yet, there were more women in top executive positions at those firms (333) than there were women-held director positions (328). How many states can match that executive level performance?

Fact #9. There is a high level of demand for women directors at corporate boards: 328 director positions were held by 287 women, or 41 "multiple seat holders." Where do other states stand on the "multiple seat" status?

If you were a young woman in college or graduate school, today, and you read the conclusions as written by the UC Davis professors, would you be motivated or discouraged from trying to achieve positions of leadership? Would you dare to enter challenging fields such as science, math, technology, or engineering? Would you feel welcome at business schools? Would you feel good about communicating with your own corporate board of directors? Would you aspire to be among the "only," the "barely," the "too few" women who did achieve directorships? How much harm are these studies perpetrating? How much are they deterring women from rising to leadership ranks?

My congratulations to the 287 women directors and the 333 women executives at California top 400 firms. You are exceptional and you’ve earned the respect of this community for your dedication and achievements as a woman in leadership. You also deserve to be recognized for your professional credentials more than simply being dismissed as "barely," "only," or "just a few."

There is no doubt in my mind that we can do better. We differ about how change can happen. It would be my wish that Graduate Schools of Business, across this great nation, might actually study the careers and contributions of these incredible women in leadership in order to learn how the next generation might reach such positions of stature, especially during these days where census after census after census undervalues their accomplishments and their efforts.

Monday, November 17, 2008

On Trust

Two parents were talking about their Generation-X offspring in terms that finally shone a bright light on today’s financial meltdown. "We no longer trust our child. We’re not sure she’ll stay on her job or earn the money needed to support herself and her son. We taught her everything about how to manager her money, how to protect her credit, how not to overextend herself. But, she would get offers every month for a new credit card during college. She’d listen to her friends’ advice more than to us. She got an ARM loan from an aggressive mortgage broker, then watched as the rate jump up three times before we were able to find a desperate buyer for the house. The new broker said, 'How did someone so unqualified ever get such a mortgage loan in the first place?'"

Trust. How do we restore trust in our markets if even fathers and mothers no longer recognize the consumers they thought they had raised? Another friend, commenting on the right wing religious zealotry running rampant in our country: "How did a nation based on the separation of church and state come up with a slogan, 'In God We Trust?'" Maybe because the rest of the slogan is, "Everyone else, we check and verify."

If well-educated, hard-working, experienced and responsible parents no longer trust their own progeny, how can an employer trust that same person as an employee? If that person cannot be trusted to stay on the job, earn a living and pay off her credit card debt, her tuition loan or her mortgage; then on what basis does a landlord trust that she will pay the rent? Could the grocer trust her to pay the food bill? If she cannot be trusted to handle normal adult discretionary and essential expenses, then on what basis do we think she could differentiate between the values of short term vs. long term investment options? Does she understand the implications of the bond initiatives on which we’re asking her to vote?

If banks cannot trust that she will keep her checkbook, savings or retirement funds on their books, then on what basis can they trust that her peers will have deposit balances against which those same banks might make loans to entrepreneurs, for working capital, or to other home buyers, for sound loans backed by the residential or commercial real estate assets of solid income-earners and established business enterprises?

If there is no trust, then there is no basis on which to assess the risk because there is no further possibility of reward or a return on an investment. There is zero chance of recovering all that money expended on the child and certainly no chance of a profitable payback on that investment. There will be nothing saved that might benefit or educate the grandchild she gave to them. No trust means that there is no crop seed stored away for the next harvest. We will simply have to deal with the future next spring when it’s planting time. Risky, chancy, uncertain. Nothing to trust.

How do we start again to rebuild trust? How do we start from scratch, from a total lack of trust? Mohammed Yunus did something like that in Bangladesh that offers us hope. There was no trust, no economy and no future for the women of impoverished rural India. He and his investors had money, but who knew which villagers were winners and which were not? Not unlike Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke’s dilemma today.

Mr. Yunus told the villagers that it was their burden to demonstrate worthiness of trust –- not his. He suggested they create peer groups of 3 to 5 people from among their neighbors and friends. These people had to agree to meet and counsel each other at least quarterly and to demonstrate their confidence in a candidate who would be the first to request financial support from the Grameen Bank. All of them had to ante-up something in support of the group effort. They had to defer something from their own resources (time, donation, currency) which they invested themselves, first. They could use their labor or their funds to seed the Grameen Bank fund.

Next, they all had to agree on which one among the peers had the most worthy and productive entrepreneurial idea and was the most trust-worthy individual to receive the first microloan from the Bank. They were peers –- all in the same economic status and situation, but they had to decide which one among them had the greatest likelihood of succeeding. One of them had to create value worth the vote and support of all their peer group members, and they all had to affirm that trust in their request for funding from the Bank. Only on that basis might trust possibly be re-built.

It did not end there. The peer group had to show continuing discipline by meeting regularly and reporting back on their candidate’s progress. If the candidate failed, all of the peer group would be responsible to pay back the loan plus some small interest. If the chosen candidate succeeded, then she made enough to repay the investment. So the peer group was motivated to counsel her well so they would be able to select the next candidate for the very same cycle. The peer group stayed together until all members created their value, gained a leg up and succeeded in paying back all of the loans with some return to the fund so that others could succeed as well.

The very same philosophy helped thousands of immigrants from Norway, Sweden, Italy and a host of other origins to form Penny Banks, Farmers and Merchants Banks, Sailors Savings and Loans and Credit Unions. They very same strategy can be seen today among new residents from Southeast Asia, Mexico and Latin America.

There is no Daddy and Mommy to force this solution down the throat of recalcitrant children. Peer groups could crop up on FaceBook as easily as in Pilgrim America or Bangladesh. All that is required is a desire to build trust to replace uncertainty and fear. To build trust takes initiative, creativity and a willingness to work together and to look out for the best interests of the peer group, rather than simply "me."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Pity Platform

Have you noticed how web sites or advocates for women’s issues morph into an oh-by-the-way-let’s-not-forget-all-of-the-other-disadvantaged? It’s never just a simple case of women in leadership. It goes on and on to include all poverty stricken women, all abused women, all women of color or minority designations. It’s immigrant women. It’s gay-lesbian-transsexual-bisexual-asexual women. It’s every suffering puppy dog or kitten that can be brought into this great inclusive menagerie of sympathy-evokers.

The UCLA "Leadership Series" introduces the concept as follows:

"Like all leaders, women, African Americans, Latinos, and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender must convey credibility, foster career-building alliances, and master the informally learned nuances of management. Yet, being perceived as 'different' or 'other' presents unique challenges as these managers seek to establish themselves within their organizations."

Pity all the poor leaders! They’re soooo different.

The logic behind the Pity Platform is that if you cannot somehow drop a tear and a few hundred bucks to support one or another of these most deserving candidates for mercy, then you must not be The Caring Woman we took you to be.

Today, though, we listen to news broadcasts, one after another, reporting on doors closing, programs being cutback, and staff pink-slips handed out at charities, symphonies, ballets, foundations and other bake-sale candidate charities. The women-also-ran issues can expect parallel cutbacks in the face of serious economic challenges. The false hope was that, by affiliating with other sympathy-generating groups, women would somehow win broader support than they seemed able to garner on their own merits. The reality was that issue of the advancement of women inevitably became lost and diluted under the weight of competing issues from far-afield.

The real need has nothing to do with any "pity platform." Instead, it is an issue that has earned the right to be considered on the merits and on the basis of performance. The real need concerns how to advance women of competence and talent to leadership positions.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I Just Want To

In talking with another competent woman in a promising position on track toward leadership, recently, I was taken aback when she told me that -– rather than do the performance reviews required to get her less-than-stellar sales staff up to par -– she "just wanted to quit and go run a day care center, instead."

So, she believes that the grass is greener over among hordes of whining, demanding cold-infested children? How tough can performance appraisals be, anyway? She is more than capable of handling the salesman feedback challenge – but she may need some advice and probably better examples of tough performance appraisals than the ones she has received to date. She is a performer: used to positive and affirmative annual reviews. She’s a self-starter who charts her course by her own compass. So, where would she have seen or learned about giving that type of good "constructive criticism" that now is required of her?

You can see the astonishment in her eyes: the disbelief that her salepeople are laying back, trying to tread water, float through the quarter and pretending the deliverables will be overlooked by management. She wouldn’t think of trying to "get away with it" herself, so it’s difficult for her to comprehend what motivates slackers to slack.

Where, in her years of training and upbringing, were there lessons and case studies of how to deal with, much less motivate, such people? Did she learn about them in school? High school? College? Or did she get the "sugar and spice and everything nice" special training that we reserve only for the two-X gene pool? Do we fear that teaching her how to handle the “snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails” this late in life will corrupt her by association with those of a more devious persuasion?

She must learn: it is now or never. Because, if she, as a manager, does not have the ability to bring her sales people up to and beyond par, then -– for the first time in her professional career -– she might receive the negative spillover on her own performance review. Then it will be a lesson learned too late: how to deal with staff, motivate underlings, delegate but verify performance all are part of the art essential to every position of leadership. The sooner women learn how to address those essential challenges successfully, the better off they and their businesses promise to be.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What If?

The naming of the next Secretary of the Treasury will have "huge significance" for the Obama Administration and for the direction of U.S. capital markets.

The nominee chosen (November 25) is 47-year old New York Federal Reserve Bank President Timothy F. Geithner, a former U.S. Treasury assistant secretary for international affairs, who gained a lot of attention since the start of the financial bailout.

For a more complete overview of the key economic appointments, see Washington Wire of November 24th

Now, we have two interesting "side bars" to this very solid selection. The first is that Lawrence Summers will be Barack Obama's Director of the National Economic Council, while the second is that Christina Romer will be the new chair of the Council of Economic Advisors.

Dr. Summers upset many at Harvard University with his January 2005 comments before the NBER regarding the reasons he thought women were not rising to top math and science positions in academia. Dr. Romer was given the blackball by Harvard President Drew Faust Gilpin earlier this year after it looked as if she and her husband (both economists at UC Berkeley) would relocate to Boston.

It looks as if the view from Harvard is getting a bit foggy.

Melody Barnes was named Director of the Domestic Policy Council within the White House, while Heather A. Higginbottom was named her Deputy.