Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fifteen Seconds of Fame!

Women Leaders at Work: Untold Tales of Women Achieving their Ambitions (Apress: December 2011), written by Elizabeth Ghaffari, broke through the 100 mark of’s top listed books in print in the category Women & Business.  This category is a subset of Business & Investment which contains almost 1.6 million titles, but the Women & Business subcategory contains “only” 1,638 books in print.  So, clearly, we are very proud of this breakthrough.

Even more interesting is that the Kindle version of Women Leaders at Work hit #50 this week among’s top listed digital books in the category Management Science. The Kindle Store on offers 1.2 million titles, Nonfiction offers about 800,000 titles, the Business & Investing subcategory has about 67,000 titles, Management & Leadership has about 15,000 titles, and Management Science has 880 titles including a couple of books from Peter Drucker.

So, to summarize, Women Leaders at Work celebrated 15 seconds of fame the week beginning January 22, 2012 when it ranked in the top 100 out of 1.6 million Business & Investment titles and in the top 50 out of 800,00 Kindle nonfiction digital books.

We thank you for your support!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ms. Magazine at 40

On Janaury 26, 2012, Ms. Magazine will celebrate its 40th anniversary of publishing a woman’s perspective in a luncheon in New York City.  See:

From the HerStory link on the Ms. Magazine website: “When Ms. was launched as a ‘one-shot’ sample insert in New York Magazine in December 1971, few realized it would become the landmark institution in both women's rights and American journalism that it is today.”

On Dec. 31, 2001, Eleanor Smeal’s Feminist Majority Foundation assumed ownership of Ms. Magazine through Liberty Media for Women, LLC. A consortium of feminists have been publishing the magazine since 1998.  (Smeal was president of the National Organization for Women from 1977 to 1982 and from 1985 to 1987.)

I think it is ironic that just one little town in France this year (2012) finally decided to give up the distinction between Madam and Mademoiselle, trashing the latter in favor of the former. Cesson-Sevigne, France bid “adieu” to the word “mademoiselle” in the town’s official documentation in an effort to improve gender equality. This was in response to a campaign by two women’s organizations’, Osez le FĂ©minisme (Dare Feminism) and Les Chiennes de Garde (Guard Bitches), to eliminate sexism, arguing that men make no such distinction between married vs. unmarried men.  (Interesting that they have no problem using the term “bitches.”)

So, when I hear women tell me that we should be following the lead of the French in establishing gender quotas for boards of directors, you’ll excuse my lack of enthusiasm for a nation that is struggling with a forty-year old definition of diversity.  I think American women HAVE come a long way and a lot farther than that.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

When Political Winds Turn

One reason for not supporting legislated quotas for women on corporate boards of directors in the US is the lesson learned from watching other legislated mandates (for equally worthy purposes) die when the popular political winds turned.

Support for public radio/television programming and planned parenthood are two examples.  More recently, we’ve seen the demise, in California, of the loan guarantees supporting small business entrepreneurs -- a highly successful program by all measures (and “guarantees” only -- not even direct funding of new business growth). 

Now, at the federal and state levels, we see the slow erosion of Head Start early childhood education (ECE) support.  The way it usually happens is that DC administrators change the rules (“tightening performance criteria” -- as if government agencies know what that means).  That produces greater investment in the federal overhead required to administer (police) the state and local agencies, usually resulting in increased staffing, compensation, and associated benefit packages for the federal regulators, but sizable shaving back of operations and funding for the point of service delivery to the customer.

In the case of Head Start, we have the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Head Start, the California Department of Education’s California Head Start State Collaboration Office, and the Los Angeles County Office of Education’s Office of Head Start, plus the California Head Start Association (the nonprofit advocacy entity).

Head Start is a 50 year old program from the Lyndon Johnson “war on poverty,” providing preschool care for low income families (now redefined as 130 percent of the poverty level of $28,600 income for a family of four).  Another 10% of headcount can include children from higher income families. Head Start nationally  serves about a million infants, toddlers and preschoolers.  Recent studies by the General Accountability Office (GAO) have questioned the performance of Head Start programs including that of the LA County Office of Education (LACOE, which is ranked #2 in the nation). LA was one of 130 agencies that did not meet enhanced federal performance standards.  LA County’s share of the Head Start marketplace is about 23,000 children served by 25 contract providers.

Nationally, there are 550 Head Start programs with 506 (92%) having waiting lists for children to be served.  A total of 1,600 nonprofits receive Head Start money estimated at $9 billion a year, although there is no specific estimate of the amounts that go directly to program support vs. amounts required to administer and oversee the programs at federal, state or local departments.

LA County total population is 10 million with 646,000 children under the age of 5 years and in need of some form of pre-school and other early childhood education (ECE) services. Thus, Head Start serves 3.6% of the total possible need in LA County alone.

According to, the supply vs. demand for child care/family care services is 25% overall, statewide. That means just one if four kid is getting the ECE she/he needs. Riverside (the tightest market) supplies only 16% of the “slots” ECE demanded by area family while San Diego (the best served market) provides 34% of the “slots” demanded.

According to population research conducted by the University of Southern California, the state lost 8.1% (220,041) of the children in the 5 to 9 age range over the past decade because of poor economy produced inadequate incomes to support families through job-creation.  LA County lost a whopping 21% of children in the 5 to 9 age range over the same period.

Early childhood education is too important today to be entrusted to the political whims of government regulators.  Like the Internet in DARPA, it might have been appropriate, in the early years, to kick-start and prove the viability of the concept.  A fifty year gestation period is long enough.  In five decades there could have been significantly more innovation in the ECE field in tandem with the growing shares of women in the workforce.

Today, there is an emerging capacity to deliver such educational services through private enterprise and potentially develop innovative solutions to better prepare more youngsters for higher (elementary) education.

The private sector delivers a significant quantity of early childhood education services.  The top fifty entities nationwide in 2010 reported over 5,000 centers providing ECE services to more than 710,000 infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers (or an average of 142 students per center).  Ownership of private entities was equally divided between men and women (and many were jointly men/women owned).  Today, there are many case examples demonstrating a viable array of women-owned, co-owned, co-founded and co-managed service providers in the ECE field.

Only 8 of the top fifty companies offerred 100 or more centers.  The three largest by far were:

  • Knowledge Universe - 1,699 centers serving 226,500 children
  • Learning Care Group - 1,053 centers serving 157,000 children
  • Bright Horizons Family Solutions - 700 centers serving 77,000 children
These companies provide a full array of standalone centers, franchise facilities, and in-company (hospitals, universities, and corporate) facilities both here and abroad.

Mothers in the workforce, today, continually complain of the inadequacy of supply and quality of ECEs -- a problem that will not be overcome by throwing more government resources or regulations after bad.

An examination of the private sector offerings reveals that this area is ripe for investment and growth.  It is incredible to think that the US can devise eating-out or coffee establishments that successfully blanket the country -- profitably -- yet we cannot build a viable ECE delivery network supported by our escalating consumer demand profile. For those who rear up in indignation that ECE could possibly be considered “a business,” let us suggest that this is a business that ought to be uniquely and appropriately well-suited to women entrepreneurship.  There exist a number of quality educational programs to train women in the creation and proper management of ECEs. UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, in conjunction with Johnson & Johnson, has developed one of the nation’s top programs in this field.  Education of this caliber should increase not only the performance of ECE program managers, but more than justify their increased earnings potential.

Private investors have stepped up to the plate to seed top ECE-providing companies.  The Milken brothers have played an important role as investors in Knowledge Universe, Morgan Stanley Private Wealth played a key role in the early days of Learning Care Group’s evolution, including the consolidation of five ECE providers.  

A key problem is that private sector providers must compete with the previously-subsidized government-supported sector which distorts the marketplace (and occasionally invites fraud).  The government's more appropriate role is to ensure an even playing field free from abusive or fraudulent practices.  Then, get out of the way of innovators capable of quality expansion of the supply and efficient delivery of ECE programs nationwide.

If America can deliver computers, hamburgers, gas, coffee and a whole host of other human essentials to a significant share of the marketplace, why cannot we deliver family support/ECE services effectively to more than just a million kids?  When the ill winds of budget cuts begin to turn against public subsidy of this valued service, not even these kids will be able to get the early childhood education “head start” they need -- not at any price, not at any location.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Give Me a Few Minutes

You’ll have to give me a few minutes to recover.  I just spent an hour watching UCTV (University of California TV) broadcasting a panel of three women and one man discussing the topic of “Empowering Women to Take a Seat at the Table” (women getting on corporate boards).  The panel was held December 7, 2010 at University of California Davis, led by moderator Professor Kimberly Elsbach.

This panel did NOT “empower” women at all.  It was one of the most depressing collections of academic research since the early 1970s.  One woman was an “expert” on institutional barriers to women’s progress, another was an expert on the sociological impediments, while HE was the expert on the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes.  Professor Kimberly Elsbach, of the Graduate School of Management, focuses her research on the acquisition and maintenance of organizational images, identities and reputations.

Collectively, their message was that all the above negative factors were so ingrained, pervasive, and enduring in corporations that that “explained why” women can’t, don’t, won’t, and haven’t.  Corporations and government alike all were to blame for the impoverished, excluded, and isolated state of women today.

Even though more women than ever before are being educated, constituting a majoring in some professional fields, still women were failing by all their measures and in all their research.  And men weren’t doing anything to make things better for women, either.

So THERE! Consider yourselves “empowered,” women!

I disagree. But, as one woman who has written two books on the subject of women in leadership and how they tell us they achieved these goals and ambitions, I left this session downright depressed.

I wished the panel had had just one person -- just one voice of diversity -- who might have challenged their gross generalizations and groupthink.  Their abject over-simplifications were apparent from every statement that began with “All women….” -- as if they could tamp the wide variety of backgrounds and educations, professions, and experiences that women possess, today, into one stereotype for ease of analysis.  I wish someone could have said that their mentality was exactly the negativity that will keep women “in their place” of low-self esteem and lack of expectations of achievement.  I wish just one of them could have exercised just a little “policy of intervention” to suggest that maybe the leadership of several top tier corporations by women today is having a positive, affirmative effect.

But, no.  UC Davis panelists were having too good a time hyperventilating about how miserable women are and how it’s everyone else who is foisting all this alleged failure on women.  That is the lesson UC Davis Graduate School of Management is teaching the next generation of women.  And that’s why it’s going to take me a few minutes to come out of my funk.

Oh, Woe!

If you Google Meg Whitman and “flatline” to retrieve her late December comment, you’ll see over 6,700 reports echoing her statement of misery, which goes something like this:

Meg Whitman, chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, the world's largest technology company by revenue, said that while women have made advances in areas such as academia and medicine, the scarcity of women in the boardrooms of top businesses shows that their progress in the corporate world had "flatlined".

"Women made tremendous gains in the 70s, 80s and 90s," said Ms Whitman. "But the last decade has not been great. We are now almost at critical mass at the business schools and law schools. So what is driving this flatline?"

This quote comes from the leader of the company that had three women directors; the first woman CFO take over as CEO; two women CEOs in its past, and one of the top women in charge of all electronic business -- a woman who recently was added to the corporate board. 

“Flatline?” Are you kidding me, Ms. Whitman?

Meg Whitman is part of the problem as are all other women who “bemoan” the tragedy of so few women, thereby inspiring zero women to follow their footsteps into leadership.  Whenever an aspiring woman hears this negative tripe, she must say to herself, “Why should I bother to even try if Meg Whitman can’t find any hope in the data?”  

For shame, Ms. Whitman!

As shown in my year-end wrap-analysis of press releases announcing women added to corporate boards, (see:, the number of women named to boards reached a new high of over 300 announcements in 2011, a 35.3% increase over the same data in 2010.  Part of the reason “some women” can’t see the progress is that they focus on too small a sample: “only” the Fortune 500 firms or the Large Cap 250 firms, which could be described as dying dinosaurs compared to the growing number of emerging technology firms across the country and ESPECIALLY in California

Women director appointments to boards among the handful of F500 companies represents but a fifth of all of the new appointments of women to all boards, including smaller, emerging companies. So, for every single major announcement in the traditional press there are four other top tier, talented women appointed to some company board.  

California consistently leads in the number of women appointed to boards both because it is an engine of new entrepreneurial growth, but also because California is America’s technology hub. As my first book documented (Outstanding in their Field: How Women Corporate Directors Succeed, Praeger: 2009), technology provided the greatest opportunity area for women to acquire new skills and competencies over the past two decades.  The technology path dominated every other path into the boardroom for women.

I seriously question how Ms. Whitman could possibly believe that progress has not been made since the 1970s when there was just one woman corporate director -- Patricia Roberts Harris -- named to a corporate board (1971 - IBM, a technology company).  Ms. Whitman has ignored the 1,672 women directors whose board nominations have been acknowledged since July 2005 by the webblog,

Ms. Whitman could read my latest book, Women Leaders at Work: Untold Tales of Women Achieving their Ambitions (Apress: 2011), where she will find women in leadership and directorship in business, politics, science, engineering, mathematics, law, medicine, academia, and nonprofits. Women are leading and collaborating effectively in every sector of our economy, today.

Enough, Ms. Whitman and all of the other woe-begoners!  It is time for women in leadership to acknowledge and to foster the continued progress that women of achievement are making. Stop with the negative, unsubstantiated misery-loves-company kvetching!  If women like Ms. Whitman are not part of the solution, at least they can stop being part of the problem.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lessons from the 2011 NACD Public Company Governance Survey

The Governance Survey is the 13th such survey conducted in the past 20 years and is available to all NACD members.  It covered 1,281 NACD public companies plus 2,400 ISS public companies that held their annual meetings during the first half of 2011. 

At a recent governance conference, I said that many such director training sessions sometimes strike me as “shuffling the chairs on the deck of the Titanic” because they focus inordinately on detailed, small check-the-box issues of corporate regulatory compliance rather than concentrating on long-term strategic performance of the corporation and ensuring the best possible returns for shareholders.

So, I was pleased to read the NACD’s survey report echo my concerns, finding that 72% of public company directors surveyed felt that “strategic planning and oversight” was Priority #1 for their boards in 2011. Priority #2 (41%) was “corporate performance and valuation.”  Following these, were “risk and crisis oversight” (27%) -- which should not be as high as it its if other prioritized corporate oversight was performed as effectively as possible.

Two other priorities were the “management of executive talent” and the “development of corporate leadership” (26%), followed by “CEO succession.”  While “diversity” of boards or C-suite staff was not explicitly mentioned in the survey report, we might suspect that the talent pool at the very top is of serious concern because the ranks of talent at that level are thinning out faster than corporations would like.

For women seeking director roles at public companies, it is worth noting that directors average 227 hours on all board-related work in 2011, up from 204.5 hours in 2010, and that 90% of the directors make on-site visits (sometimes overseas) to gain a closer look at operations and corporate talent.

Average board size is steady for small firms at about 8 directors, 9 directors for medium size firms, and 11 to 12 directors for larger firms.  Committee structure also is relatively constant with just above 3 members per Audit, Compensation, and Nominating/Governance Committees at the smaller firms and just above 4 members per committee for the larger firms.

Three fourths of all firms rely on “personal” networking or word of mouth” to find new director candidates.  This year, “leadership experience” rose to the top (61.9%) as a priority attribute for new director qualifications, surpassing specific industry experience (54.2%), financial experience (46.6%), strategic development (28.8%) and global experience (17.9%)

Even though boards have put into place protections against ol’ boy entrenchment, still the average length of service increased to 7.5 years per director in 2011, up from 6.2 years last year.  Over half (52.9%) of all boards surveyed require director resignations upon a change of their professional status (but they may vote not to accept). Almost half (48.4%) of boards surveyed have age limits (typically 72 years). Term limits typically are 2 terms of 3 years each.  Only a third of boards limit the number of additional board service (typically 3 outside boards).

For women, the challenge is to get on the radar of boards searching for new director candidates.  I disagree with those who would suggest that women should simply “network-network-network.” My research suggests that women who are named to boards perform as leaders in their firm, in their profession, and among all their peers.  They become “known” as reliable performers. They stand out, speak up, and deliver performance results in their chosen field.  That is how they build a network of associates (women and men) who advocate on their behalf when it is time to take the next step forward into a board role.

That is why “leadership experience” has risen to the top priority in director searches. These are the times that demand leadership from women as well as from men.