Saturday, April 25, 2009

Keep the Hot Light Burning

A response to Kurt Streeter's Los Angeles Times article, April 1, 2009: "Gender Inequality," p. C1.

Mr. Streeter is to be congratulated for taking the time (in the middle of March Madness) to think carefully about the long term ramifications of short term biases and underinvestment in women’s tournament basketball competition. His thoughtfulness goes a long way toward educating his readership about the issues on both sides of the debate surrounding the question, "Why is it that the elite of women’s basketball still play to empty arenas in their playoffs?" Until we take the time to look at the problem of equal opportunity in sport, as in life, we will never have enough of an understanding to actually to solve it. You asked a dozen powerful questions.

1.Will my daughter, the athlete, and her teammates at college level NCAA competition still be second-class citizens in the battle for the hearts and minds of fans?

2. Why are women "lost" in the tall shadows of their male counterparts? Do we have to compare the women to the men?

3. Why is there "paltry buzz" and "far more empty seats than fans" at women’s basketball playoffs?

4. Are the explanations (or excuses) valid, such as the statement that "the women’s game" is too weak to be interesting?

5. Should women settle for the slow growth that has occurred? (Is that a hackneyed statement?)

6. Is "the problem" the fact that women go head-to-head for eyeballs during the peak male basketball playoffs?

7. Should women’s playoffs be held at the favored team’s home court?

8. Are men and women unwilling "to accept strong, aggressive women playing sports?"

9. Are we unwilling to change our stereotypes of women: unable to accept women as team-builders, only capable of accepting women who are male-pleasers?

10. Are we particularly biased against "dark skinned" women?

11. Do we require that our female sports stars be sexually-attractive crowd pleasers?

12. What have we learned from the major tennis competitions, principally Wimbledon?

It would be interesting and educational if you could sit down with other intelligent people such as Donna Brazile or Gwenn Ifill who have tremendous insight into what it’s been like to challenge ancient racist cum misogynist bias and discrimination. I believe that we will experience change only when we challenge the old beliefs as directly as possible.

If I may, I would like to offer a few thoughts for your consideration. I do not agree that it's hackneyed to say that we have come far. From my perspective, as someone who grew up playing basketball in the late 1960s in high school and college, I can tell you we HAVE come a very, very, long, long way from those days. The first woman’s slam-dunk was only 24 years ago (1984): just 100 people watched West Virginia University player Georgeann Wells in a game against the University of Charleston (WV).

I think we need to look at why and where we have made progress in order to continue to do so.

Wimbledon is a benchmark of success as is women’s professional tennis competition in general. But, we had to go through the Billie Jean King victory over Bobby Riggs in order to see, up close and personal, what our bias and prejudice looked like on that game day three decades ago. And Billie had to whip Bobby’s pants off in front of a spectacular audience for us to see the ugliness of the women-haters in the crowd. Billie Jean also had to fight like hell to win equal compensation for the women, threatening to boycott major tennis tournaments if the women were not to be given the same dollar amounts as the men. History has taught us that women must be willing to fight for their victories off the court as well as on the court.

Women always will be compared to men on the men’s playing field because men are the ones who created the sport. Women have yet to put their unique spin on the sport by creating their own history and tradition. In tennis, we had women excelling with the long, deep game. Now we have women with the power game. It just takes time for women to develop interesting variety in their performance.

Venice and Serena Williams certainly demonstrate the required capability to be strong, aggressive competitors and to win the hearts and attention of the lily white Wimbledon audience. The excellence of their performance and superb execution of their game won them the respect and admiration of fans everywhere. The color of their skin somehow gets lost in watching their winning ways. Fans value their game differently from Anna Kournakova –- the latter is fashionista more than a professional tennis competitor. Most people who take the game seriously would rather watch the more serious player. Guys who just want "hot" are not serious fans.

I don’t like the idea of giving women some "easy path" to the championships, such as favorite home court advantages. Would women have benefited from a Marathon that was "just 18 miles"? I think not. We cannot underestimate the value of a Cinderella team, a come-from-behind-long-shot, and their ability to build attention and interest. The fact that the UConn Huskies and the Tennessee Lady Vols have repeatedly made it to the final four has perhaps diminished the excitement in the past. The greater depth of talent among the playoff teams, over time, will produce greater interest.

The men in my life watch women’s basketball, volleyball, softball, gymnastics, soccer, and tennis because they are connoisseurs of competitive sport. They like the different pace of women’s games. They like to focus on the execution, delivery, strategy, and individual talent, much as they also appreciate watching the up and coming teams, the minor league games, and other examples of sport in its purest form. The sheer brawn of men’s sports has become predictable and thus not as interesting.

One big difference between men and women’s sports is the announcement at the end of the game. In the men’s games, you will ALWAYS hear the announcer saying, "Today’s $1000 scholarship donated in the name of the most valuable player goes to both teams." Multiply that amount by the 100s of men’s games each and every weekend, and pretty soon you will start to see a sizable scholarship pool attracting talented male competitors into the sport.

For the women’s game, we won’t hear it, but the reality is: "Today’s most valuable player will be working later tonight on her second job as a waitress in order to pay her tuition, stay in school and compete next week."

In conclusion, Mr. Streeter, I expect that your daughter will grow up thinking of herself as a talented, capable, healthy individual who can play whatever sport she chooses to excel at. I expect that the sport of women’s basketball, over the next two decades, will become more receptive to supporting and encouraging her natural talents. I expect that a primary reason that the enthusiasm for the sport will increase is that good people like you, your family (and hopefully mine) will continue to value talent and competence over our differences. I hope that the bright light of your writing focuses our continuing discussion, laser-like, burning into the backsides of those who would keep us in the dark ages of discrimination and hate.

As an addendum to this post:

"The NCAA awarded educational grants to 58 student-athletes through the NCAA postgraduate scholarship program. The winners (29 men and 29 women) represent winter sports participants who will receive one-time, nonrenewable grants of $7,500. The NCAA will name postgraduate scholars for spring sports later this year. The Association awards up to 174 postgraduate scholarships annually, 87 for men and 87 for women."

Nobody can tell me we have not made substantive, impressive progress.  

Read more about Wingate University's Anna Atkinson at: http://sports.wingate.edu/basketballwomens/newsdetails.asp?ID=4920

Monday, April 20, 2009

More Incredible Women in Leadership

Are we aware of how many outstanding women are being added to corporate leadership these days? How many women are finding very creative ways of "fixing" the mess in which we’ve found ourselves of late, rather than simply crying about the latest "crisis."

There are more women in charge of, heading up, leading a CEOs and Presidents at top Fortune 1000 firms than ever before. See my 2009 tally at: http://www.championboards.com/women_ceos_2009.htm. For those who want to compare last year’s data, see: http://www.championboards.com/women_ceos_2008.htm

In these critical economic times, President Barack Obama has tapped a number of talented women on the shoulders for help meet the financial and regulatory challenges.

Sheila Bair as head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is the primary federal entity responsible for ensuring the safety of our banks and bank deposits.

Christina Romer is Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers and a principal point person to help analyze economic trends and indicators and make sense of them to the American public along with Cecilia Rouse (labor and education economist from Princeton).

Elizabeth Warren heads up the Congressional Oversight Panel charged by the Senate with monitoring the federal government’s bailout programs.

Mary Shapiro is Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the principle regulator of banks and investment entities.

Just across the border, Susan Wolburgh Jenah is President & CEO of the Investment Industry Regulatory Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC), the proposed self-regulatory organization intended to succeed Investment Dealers Association of Canada and Market Regulation Services Inc.

Barbara Topping heads the Canadian Institute of Corporate Directors, the nonprofit entity that trains and certifies the qualifications of Canadian board members.

Back home again, Ann Yerger is Executive Director of the Council of Institutional Investors (CII) and its public voice in congressional testimony and shareholder activism.

Barbara Hackman Franklin is President/Chair of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) and, with Bonnie Hill, is spokesperson on behalf of the NACD’s Directors Challenge to America’s Corporations to adopt the NACD Key Agreed Principles for Corporate Boards of Directors.

Mary Pat McCarthy is the U.S. vice chair of KPMG and executive director of KPMG's Audit Committee Institute. She is a major contributor to articles on the issue of audit committee oversight for Directorship magazine.

In an earlier blog entry, I gave credit and links to Muriel Siebert’s information and web sites for her marvelous Personal Financial Program for NY area schools: http://www.championboards.com/blog/2008/03/muriel-siebert.html

Joline Godfrey is the founder of Independent Means Inc, providing financial education products and programs focused on “Raising Financially Fit Kids” – including a book by the same name. See http://www.independentmeans.com/

Kay Koplovitz is the founder of Springboard Enterprises, a vehicle for connecting women and venture capital. See: https://www.springboardenterprises.org/ She also writes for The Huffington Post.

Suze Orman is taking the lead in another effort to educate women how to "Speak UP!" and say your own name with great pride and self-respect: See her web site at:
http://www.suzeorman.com/ and see my posting at: http://www.championboards.com/blog/2008/04/suzie-ormans-got-new-gig.html

Two innovative electronic news entrepreneurs include Gail F. Goodman
Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer at Constant Contact (see: http://www.constantcontact.com/about-constant-contact/management-team.jsp) and
Cathy Baron Tamraz, President and Chief Executive Officer, of BusinessWire, now a Berkshire Hathaway company (see: http://www.businesswire.com/portal/site/home/bios/).

If you want more inspiration about the unique nature of businesses formed by entrepreneurial women, look at all of the enterprises built by Celeste V. Ford, of Stellar Solutions, Stellar Foundation, and Stellar Ventures (see: http://www.stellarsolutions.com/ford.htm).

Amazing women all. And there are many more out there.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Segmenting the Women’s Market

Helen Gurley Brown has ignored the segmentation of the women’s marketplace for my entire lifetime. As editor of Cosmo Magazine -- that lynch-pin of the Hearst publishing empire -– her work has never spoken to me or my purchasing interests, let alone my investment proclivities. I have placed my money alongside everyone else’s, yet the advertising world has either ignored me or insulted my intelligence. I do not believe that "me" in any way is equivalent to simply "coffee" or "tea."

I got along without Ms. Brown before, and I certainly will get along without her for the last two score of my life.

The women’s market is divided into at least three segments. One is the followers of HGB and Heidi Fleiss -- those who hustle men and their money, as dominatrix or diminuatives. It doesn’t matter: they’re a dime a dozen at any entertainment hub, Las Vegas or New York, as call girls or other professional equivalents.

The second segment includes the women who find themselves lost outside of the warm, comfortable nest of home. There’s nothing wrong with stay-at-home. It’s just another segment, with economic demands and expectations that are unique to the home.

The third segment is the venturesome woman: she who is curious about the outside world and interested in its discoveries and challenges. She has aspirations and seeks to change the world which she has inherited.

There may be more: subsectors and sub-segments. What is important is to realize and recognize that not everyone reads Cosmo, buys bling ad nauseum, or limits themselves to a self-conception of themselves as defined by the men in their lives. Helen Gurley Brown does not define the entire woman's marketplace. Never has and never will.

Friday, April 10, 2009

NACD Key Agreed Principles

The Hon. Barbara Hackman Franklin and Ms. Bonnie Hill are two experienced directors working with the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) to foster dialog and acceptance of the NACD’s Key Agreed Principles to Strengthen Corporate Governance. See: http://www.nacdonline.org/directorchallenge/

The Key Agreed Principles were developed by NACD in collaboration with The Business Roundtable, the International Corporate Governance Network, and the Council of Institutional Investors as part of an effort by boards of directors to take the initiative, once again, in an effort to restore public and investor confidence in corporate American markets.

First published in October 2008, there are 10 key principles to guide boards of directors in their leadership of American corporations. Many rules and regulations exist, but the Key Agreed Principles describe the fundamental governance structures and practices that constitute a solid foundation for competent quality boards of directors.

1. Board responsibility for governance.
2. Corporate governance transparency.
3. Director competency and commitment.
4. Board accountability and objectivity.
5. Independent board leadership.
6. Integrity, ethics, and responsibility.
7. Information, agenda, and strategy.
8. Protection against entrenchment of the board.
9. Shareholder input in director selection.
10. Shareholder communications.

As the introduction discusses, Principle I is the concept that boards alone "own" the duty of establishing their own governance structure and practices. Principle II is the concept that boards must be open and above board in explaining how their governance decisions address crucial corporate needs. The remaining principles (III through X) describe key areas of accountability in greater detail.

The supplemental material provides an equally impressive complete directors’ training curriculum for public company board members.
(See: http://www.nacdonline.org/pdf/Appendix-A-B-Key-Agreed-Principles-of-Corporate-Governance.pdf)

Appendix A (50 pages) compares and contrasts the diverse views of the four organizations which had to be accommodated in order to finalize the Key Agreed Principles.

Appendix B (30 pages) is the Comparison of Sarbanes Oxley, SEC and Listing Rule Provisions Related to the Composition and Functioning of the Board of Directors of a Publicly Traded Company. The appendices were prepared by Holly Gregory, a partner in Corporate Governance Group at the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, with Lyn F. Fay, who coordinates corporate governance projects at the firm.

It should be clear from this seminal document and the effort behind it that we don’t really face a "problem" of defining what good boards do, but rather one of how to ensure that boards actually perform to specifications. The challenge today is no longer writing good rules of governance structure and practices, but rather how to hold men and women on boards accountable for their performance.

But, in that effort, if we could choose the individuals to take the lead in this effort, we could do no better than to select the Hon. Barbara Hackman Franklin, Ms. Bonnie Hill, and Ira Millstein to lead the way.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Will the Last Triple-A Company Please Turn Out the Lights?

At the end of the first quarter of 2000, there are only four companies rated AAA by Moody’s vs. 25 companies in 1980. That means that 21 companies have dropped that esteemed designation over the past 28 years. The surviving top firms are: Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Automated Data Processing Inc. GE had been on that honored list since 1967, but March 23rd was bumped down to Aa2 along with its GE Capital Corp. unit. Not long after that, the venerable Berkshire Hathaway was stripped of its AAA rating.

They say that "man is the only animal that blushes . . . or needs to." The U.S., as the center of the contemporary capital marketplace, should be flushed with the embarrassment that only four U.S. firms can be considered top quality, best return, best risk businesses. So, all of our impressive capital credentials, our high-priced business-educated financial quants have produced a nation with fewer triple-A rated businesses to compete in the modern world than way back when your mother was in grade school.

Today we have the largest flight of capital to government protection at the same time we expect welfare mothers to get of their duffs and get to work, earning their food stamps.

We should be ashamed. Very VERY ashamed.