Saturday, April 17, 2010

Aim for the Target

A crucial lesson from sports is that you have to aim for the target that you want to hit.  Aim for the basket, the strike zone or in-between the goal posts.  Set as your goal the finish line, not the brick wall at the 18 mile mark.

The same lesson is true in work.  If women want to earn equal pay for equal work, then we need to focus on the things that will, in fact, achieve that goal.  One example of such an effort is the fact that more women are getting better educated – at the undergraduate levels and, increasingly, at graduate levels.  They are acquiring competence in the tough fields of math, science, engineering, economics, finance, law and technology.  A better education in fields in great demand has a clear and present impact on women’s ability to negotiate higher salaries in those professions.

By contrast, consider whether or not any of the following efforts realistically hit the target of women earning equal pay for equal work:

            - scheduling an Equal Pay Day: our very own special holiday preferably scheduled when Congress is in session;
            - commemorating International Women’s Day;
            - celebrating Women’s History month;
            - one more nonprofit national coalition of women’s (AND civil rights) organizations which will “advocate and raise awareness;”
            - pass legislation “meant” to address underlying discrimination.

Those who assume that “a hostile environment” and discrimination MUST be the only explanation of pay differences probably are aiming at a target that may have no impact on potential incomes or earnings profiles for women at work.  Do laws really change people?  Or do you also need a host of people also on your side enforcing those laws in the workplace?  If you don’t have the enforcement structure in place, how does one more law help?

There are other, better, real targets that are far more likely to produce change in pay status for women. One clear fact is that human resources personnel are dominantly women.  Yet, how could it be that only 28% of 600 major global firms even track gender differences in pay?  What are 72% of the human resources departments at major global firms doing to determine if differences in pay even exist or not?  It’s just a damn sort field, for crying out loud.  How hard is it to answer this question to our own satisfaction?  Human resource managers don’t even need to report this information to anyone – all they need to do is answer the question to their own satisfaction:  “How are we doing as a firm?”

Human resource managers also should be intimately aware that the SEC’s new public company risk disclosure requirements mandate an awareness of possible sources of corporate (and thus shareholder) risk from this source – including the potentially embarrassing risk of lawsuits (class action or otherwise) stemming from unexplainable salary differentials the exist by gender or other alleged sources of potential discrimination.  Should HR managers do the most fundamental examination of potential class action lawsuit risks such as Dukes v. Wal Mart, based on a company’s failure to properly oversee management development, promotions, and salary/reward structures? 

Is a company’s workplace “a hostile environment” or are the women unprepared to negotiate their full and fair compensation?  If women dominate within company HR offices, is that not the most appropriate forum from which to gather specific evidence of what patterns are statistically supported?  Wouldn’t HR officers be better judges of those issues than Census surveys conducted once every ten years?

Why do women diffuse their activities by piggy-backing on other dissimilar civil rights movements when the very specific issue is getting paid what you’re worth, not a civil, social or voting right?    Are women afraid to bid in the marketplace, alone, on their own merits?  Do women perceive they need the power of a group in order to negotiate what they are worth as independent economic actors?

Which is more likely to have an impact on pay differentials:

- nonprofit advocacy of a bill in Congress arguing that equal pay is a nice, desirable goal?
- a for-profit pay-tracking and -scoring company, comparable to risk and compensation “auditors” who advise HR departments how to avoid lawsuits relating to unsubstantiated salary differentials?

Aren’t the benefits, influence and potential power of the second much more proximate and relevant than the former?  Which is more likely to hit the target of eliminating unsupported pay differentials?

If companies can make money surveying firms’ executive compensation salary structures, why can’t women figure out how to make money – and make a difference – by actually measuring salary differences and consulting with women to enable them (through training and negotiation strategy development) to overcome unacceptable differences?

Unless, of course, the woman is still expecting to kiss the frog and turn him into a prince charming who will take care of her.

Aim for the target you want to hit, and you increase the chances you will succeed.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Not A Nation of Beggars

It was June 1999, not yet a year after the August 1998 massive devaluation of the ruble wreaked havoc upon the financial security of the Russian people and two years after the City of Moscow celebrated its 850th anniversary. Many months before, we had booked a tour with UCLA Alumni Travel to cruise the “blue highways” – the interior waterways of the former Soviet Union. Our primary tour guide was a highly educated professor from Moscow University's History of Arts Department. Several specialist adjunct guides were young women from Russian cities, far and wide. All of them talked freely about the chaos inflicted on their lives, on their families and friends by the greed and corruption of their financial crisis. They told us personal stories of lost jobs, decimated pensions and broken dreams.

Their pride in Russia remained strong. They impressed us with their strength, endurance and courage: all of them were rebuilding futures, one step at a time. Their ability “to distinguish between the people of America and their political leadership” (their words, not mine) was a comforting surprise. We cherished many open and honest debates as we traveled up and down the inland riverways.

Side trips by bus took us to interior cities and gave us the chance to see monasteries, basilica and icons that somehow survived years of Soviet and Stalinesque persecution of the faithful. Our tour guides described the origins, the transitions and how the churches managed to survive it all.

The bus parked at one church, and our guide prepared us for the walking tour, concluding with the following admonition:

“You will notice, here, a group of young children who will approach you begging for coins. We recognize that it will be difficult for you to follow my instructions, but please resist the temptation. Instead, ask them if they are doing well in school. We do not want tourism to teach our children the wrong life lessons. We did not endure decades of tyranny under the tsars and the soviet regime only to become a nation of beggars in a free world.”

Saturday, April 10, 2010

ProPublica and KCRW Out-Do Angelides' FCIC

On today's On Air program, hosted by Ira Glass (April 10, 2010 at 10:00 AM at KCRW), we heard the detailed investigative report of ProPublica's Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein getting down to the brass tacks of how hedge funds played the credit derivative obligations and credit default swaps scheme perfectly.  See: The Magnetar Trade: How One Hedge Fund Helped Keep the Bubble Going” by Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein, ProPublica - April 9, 2010 at Magneter article

“For seven months, a team of investigative journalists from the group ProPublica has been looking into a story for us, the inside story of one company, one small group of people, who made hundreds of millions of dollars for themselves while worsening the financial crisis for the rest of us. This and other stories of inside jobs.”

Eisinger and Bernstein did a much better job than Phil Angelides' Congressional Committee has done in the months it has been operating.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wilma Mankiller - Outstanding Chief

In her autobiography written with Michael Walls, “Mankiller: A Chief and Her People” (St. Martin's Griffin: August 11, 1999), Wilma Mankiller said she wanted to be remembered not just for being the Cherokee nations’ first female chief, but for emphasizing that Cherokee values could help solve contemporary problems.

“Friends describe me as someone who likes to dance along the edge of the roof.  I try to encourage young women to be willing to take risks, to stand up for the things they believe in, and to step up and accept the challenge of serving in leadership roles.”

Truly an outstanding warrior, woman and chief of a proud people.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Why? Why? Why?

Alice Krause of correctly calls to task U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for failing to name a woman to the board of directors of AIG to represent the government's shareholder interests.  Instead, the Secretary added two more men to the board, probably bringing the total to 12 directors.  Currently, there are two highly competent women on the board of AIG among 10 sitting directors: Laurette T. Koellner (Former Senior Vice President of The Boeing Company and former President of Boeing International) and Suzanne Nora Johnson (Former Vice Chairman of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.)  

Mr. Geithner had the temerity to speak before the Women in Finance symposium March 29, 2010. "Our hope," Geithner said, "is that we will hear some ideas about how to improve disparities."  Ok, buddy, here you go.

The symposium was coordinated with The White House Council on Women and Girls.  My first suggestion is stop trying to deal with all female issues at once: adults and children are different, sir.  You would not focus on corporate executive qualifications in the same session as counseling teen boy behavior, but somehow we believe that “women and girls” always go together like sugar and spice and everything nice.  Adult women are the candidates for leadership, and they require top quality competence and expertise.  Girls require a totally different set of treatments and counseling.  Deal with women separately and maybe you’ll actually develop more women for leadership.

Mr. Geithner talked about “two theories” as if women in leadership were some mystical, magical, unknown scientific experiment:   “.. whether diversity of opinion and experience leads to better decisions and whether increased opportunities lead to better diversity in business and finance.”  Wow!  Could we possibly get any more esoteric and meaningless?  Why is it that we try to address these powder-puff questions only when it comes to women?  Mr. Geithner would be laughed off the stage if he tried this stuff before a group of male financial experts.

Here’s some insight, guys:  education in finance, accounting and economics leads to better business builders; comprehension of basic science, math, and engineering skills moves one up the ladder of competitive competence in the modern advanced-technology world;  experience in governance and leadership across the community fabric (business and social and community) improves the probability of developing fundamental strategic skills.    If we want more women in top leadership positions, then women’s capabilities in all these areas need to be strengthened.

Mr.Geithner opened his presentation with an invitation to women in finance to go work for the government: “As you think about your career, in addition to the private sector, think about working for the government.”  Would Mr. Geithner like to repeat that admonition among the men of Harvard Business School?  Would he dare subject himself to the ridicule that would follow?  Why is it that women, alone, should go work “in service?”  Is it because women are sooooo good at servility? 

Statistics prove that 4 out of 10 of the women who currently sit on top corporate boards of directors came to their positions of leadership by way of the corporate path (including technology, finance, law, and retail).  The next strongest path into the board room was by way of entrepreneurship (23% of the experience) followed the investment/securities path (15% of the experience).  Government service explained only 9% of the corporate board leadership experience (the same share as the academic path).  Of course the White House Council on Women and Girls really believes most in the nonprofit path (accounting for barely 5% of the experience).

Maybe it’s because of all the really dumb advice that we’ve given to women and girls that we have barely 24 women CEOs at top Fortune 1000 firms and that young women entering the workforce bid only 75 cents on the dollar of their male counterparts when it comes to their first salary.  So, my advice is to stop giving young women and girls such really really dumb advice as “get thee to a nonprofit,” or “work for the government,” or “be happy, be quiet.”

Thank heaven for U.S. Treasurer Rosie Rios who put Mr. Geithner in his place: “Too often girls are told what subjects they should study . . . and what jobs they should do. They should be told that it is okay to study mathematics and economics. We need you."  Brava, Ms. Rios!

Thank heaven, too, that there were other talented, competent women on the podium who spoke a better truth than Mr. Geithner:  Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chairman Sheila Bair, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro, Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Christina Romer, Small Business Administrator Karen G. Mills and Congressional Oversight Panel Chair Elizabeth Warren.    Not to overlook Mr. Geithner’s own host of excellent talent among his members of the Federal Reserve Banks across the nation.  Why didn’t he give them the recognition they have so powerfully earned?  Why didn’t he mention their long-standing past careers in law, finance, and business -- long before government?

Maybe Mr. Geithner’s views are way, way too tainted by hanging around Lawrence Summers. Rather than focusing on today’s real world women in leadership, Mr. Geithner focused on the trivial, all too typical day care problem, even in government: “who does or does not provide paid leave for new parents?”  Here’s another thought guys:  who provided all the day care over the past decades for all the women who are in leadership positions today? If they could do it, why can’t today’s adult females (and males) figure out this most essential and fundamental challenge – if you want kids, be prepared to take care of them.  And, if women are responsible for 70 to 80% or more of our consumer dollars, and probably as much of our investment dollars, why is it that they cannot figure out how to build a better child care business model? I’m all for putting women at the helm of Wall Street firms, but the women who made it have earned the opportunity just like everyone else.  If they can do it, so can those who would follow in their footsteps.

Why is it that today’s women expect business and government to solve all their family problems for them?  Why is it that Catalyst gives awards to (typically male-owned) businesses for their family-friendly programs rather than the outstanding women in leadership who have beaten back the competition and excelled (as all of the women on the stage have done, in fact)?  Why doesn’t Catalyst give awards to the women who are creating viable businesses that are solving all too typical, common every day problems about which women (and men) constantly complain?  Why do we only give awards to women who sacrifice, who suffer, who are miserable beyond credulity?  

In conclusion, if you really want to “hear some ideas about how to improve disparities,” then stop telling women what they should do and, instead, start recognizing, acknowledging and affirming the outstanding accomplishments and achievements of women in today’s global marketplace.  And start doing it, not just during one tiny little month out of twelve – but do it 24/7, 12 months a year, every damn opportunity out there.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

LA Women Leaders in Law

In a special advertising supplement to the LA Times, at the end of March 2010, ALM Media presented the “Los Angeles’ Women Leaders in the Law 2010” which was unique in several respects.

The attorneys were not from “the usual suspects” of women providing sacrificial, supporting services to bold, brash men at traditionally large corporate law firms. The women were noteworthy as entrepreneurial partners collaborating as peers with lawyers at small LLC/LLPs. Some of the women were from that exceeding rare phenomenon, the women-owned law partnership.

The interviews did not focus on the usual “powder puff” issues of how the women managed work-family balance or whether the women attorneys have house-husbands to tend to it all in the background. Titles of the articles reflect far more substantive matters: personal injury cases, product liability suits, the economic impact of Los Angeles Superior Court closures and other topics of interest to all members of the legal community.

Finally, we see women presented as the professionals they are, worthy peers, intelligent and articulate, capable of speaking their minds and writing on subjects that add to the legal discourse. This, then, is why they are leaders.

Congratulations to the women leaders in law in LA, 2010, and to ALM Media for a good job well done. Now, if only we could convince the LA Times to look, listen and learn how it’s done!