Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Let the Dialog Begin

Learning from our mistakes is not a damnation of our efforts – it is the beginning of learning. When women truly are ready to begin that process, we should be able to exchange thoughts on a host of important issues facing us. Let the dialog begin.

Has anyone else noticed that women do not participate in a “dialog?” One woman will throw out a broad viewpoint and expect everyone to be “informed and aware” of the rightness of her perspective. And so nobody comments or dares to challenge her world view even if it is a gross and outrageously sweeping opinion or generalization. Women just don’t debate.

So, to be equally wild and woolly on the other side of the discussion, here are some thoughts about the lessons from “what women do.” In reality, there are some things that women do that close the door on opportunity. These viewpoints are examples drawn from my recent direct observations of actions and reactions in the marketplace: a sampling of admittedly small proportions, but meaningful.

1. A board member (male, several years of experience on the board and with the organization) invited a promising woman to work with him on a committee which he headed. The committee was successful, not problematic; he was looking for new talent to train as his leadership replacement. He shared that goal with her. The woman who took it on showed hesitance to make decisions, so he provided coaching and training and gave her background material to bring her up to speed. The second year, she told him she would not be able to take over responsibility for the committee after all because she had “too many other nonprofit commitments.” He had to find an alternative and start all over again.

Lesson: Never take on an assignment unless you are able and willing to meet the commitment in full. Don’t overbook.

2. The leadership of an organization developed a succession plan that included a woman candidate in a vice president position who would progress to the presidency. Six months before his scheduled retirement and her scheduled ascension, she “opted out” saying again she had too many other commitments to take on the leadership role. The organization tapped another, younger and less experienced executive.

Lesson: When an opportunity for leadership is presented to you, don’t pass on it unless you’re prepared not to be considered for leadership again in the organization.

3. The CEO of a major corporation was asked by the board to resign. A woman CFO was named interim CEO. A committee of the board was chartered with the executive search to replace him. The woman CFO immediate took herself out of consideration for the position of permanent CEO.

Lesson: When an opportunity for leadership is presented to you, sometimes the smartest thing is to just shut up and see what happens next.

4. A woman was the head of a major group within a large corporation. Three times, over the span of a decade, successive CEOs to whom she reported were replaced. The third time, she was at least “in consideration” for the position of CEO, but lost out to an outside executive.

Lesson: When the writing is on the wall, read it.

5. A woman was head of an organization where the leadership transitioned every two years, with past presidents taking on a variety of continuity and senior committee roles. She, however, chose not to take on any initiative assignments, but opted only to provide “support” to the then-current president. When his term was up, he transitioned to senior leadership roles as had his predecessors. She became vocally bitter, digger herself deeper into anonymity.

Lesson: Organizational structures, both formal and informal, provide opportunities for growth and leadership. Learn how to utilize them.

6. Public speaking terrorizes human beings more than death itself. Men fear public speaking and yet have established entities like Toastmasters International to provide an organizational structure and supportive network to train members how to speak effectively and how properly to receive and assimilate feedback into better presentation techniques. Men have also created Dale Carnegie programs, Senior Core of Retired Executives and a host of other educational, training, and counseling programs to improve the way they conduct themselves in business settings. When some women receive suggestions that they take training or seek executive or career counseling, they interpret the message as being told that “women need fixing.”

Lesson: If we didn’t need improvement, we could run the world as we are. Listen when someone suggests an improvement. In fact, seek out such advice at every opportunity.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca the Younger, Roman philosopher (5 BC – 65 AD)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Anne Gust

Just about the best thing to result from the recent November elections was Anne Gust, Jerry Brown's campaign manager and wife. I look forward to her leadership of the Governor's Women's Conference sometime next fall.

I look forward to the possibility of a truly different Conference where finally we stop looking at women as the source of simplistic commiseration and instead begin to see in women the leaders we need for the 21st century.

For the past several year, the GWC has been full of tears, bling, and tragedy. If I see one more tear-jerking rendition from a Governor's First Lady, I'm going to lose lunch. Women today are not simply foils of charities -- they are equal partners, educated, mindful, intelligent beings. Few are "desperate" as portrayed in too many television episodes, way way too many journalist articles, and in every advertisement on the face of this earth.

Anne Gust is a talented lawyer well-regarded for her contributions in corporate life. I look forward to seeing that talent take on the GWC and re-charter the event toward
women investing (not simply shopping to please "him")
women building businesses (not simply calling for legislative "ACTION NOW" to tie corporations into knots)
women taking on financial literacy (instead of being duped by every con artist in the country)
women pushing back on bullies (male or female)
women writing with evidence and facts (instead of flailing away at emotionally charged windmills)
women in leadership (instead of simply Corporate Stepford Wives)
women entrepreneurs (building truly innovative businesses instead of simply nail and hair salons)
women solving women's problems (instead of passing the buck to federal, state, and local governments or to corporate welfare programs)
women paying women equitable wages (instead of underearning, underbidding, under paying women themselves)
In other words, I look forward to a Governor's Women's Conference full of Anne Gusts and her kindred sisters. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Quotas for Healthy Food

Does anyone remember the Sonia Sotomayor judiciary hearings when she was asked what she thought about a law that would require people to eat healthy food? She laughed at the idea. Then the San Francisco Board of Supervisors tried to legislate a “healthy food quota” forbidding giveaways of toys with kids’ meals unless the latter met strict dietary criteria. Now San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has vetoed the ban which targeted sales of McDonald’s Happy Meals with children’s toys as too intrusive.

In announcing his veto, Mayor Newsom said, "Parents, not politicians, should decide what their children eat, especially when it comes to spending their own money."

There is a growing tendency in this country to try to legislate that which we have not been able to accomplish yet by other economic or market means.  Really, now, why don’t we all stop buying Happy Meals from McDonald’s rather than trying to legislate that EVERYONE stop buying them?  Last time I looked I thought this WAS a democracy.

Or, even more importantly, if some San Francisco ladies and gentlemen truly believe that it is possible to produce healthy food that meets strict dietary criteria (and hopefully tastes good too) they why don’t THEY go out and start up companies to produce those products economically in the marketplace just like Roy Kroc did decades ago?  Why is it necessary to pass laws to shove this stuff down our throats?

Yes, I don’t like paying for the externalities of my neighbor’s obesity.  Yes, I invest only in the best dietary foods I can find at reasonable prices.  Yes, I detest the marketing hype of selling garbage to kids through entertainment and games.  But, yes, I expect the marketplace to work better than the courts.  That means I will put my money into products and services in which I have confidence.

Think about this when you think about quotas for women or minorities on company boards of directors.  If we’re so smart and so sure we know what boards of directors OUGHT to be, then women as well as men OUGHT to be building quality companies, producing quality well-priced products for the marketplace, AND building boards of directors capable of competing with the likes of anyone.