Monday, January 28, 2013

Davos January 2013

As usual, the media missed the message from the Davos, Switzerland World Economic Forum – Women in Economic Decision-Making panel moderated by Herminia Ibarra, Professor of Leadership at INSEAD. (http://www.weforum.org/node/111075/programme). Panelists included:

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, IMF
Drew Gilpin Faust, President, Harvard University
Viviane Reding, Vice President and Commissioner, European Commission
Lubna S. Olayan, Deputy Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer, Olayan Financing Company
Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer and Member of the Board, Facebook
Kevin Kelly, Chief Executive Officer, Heidrick & Struggles

Laura D’Andrea Tyson (Rapporteur), Professor of Global Management, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley

As usual, the media trivialized the contributions of the speakers during the first 30 minutes until popular icon Sheryl Sandberg spoke and “slayed the gender stereotype dragon.”  I do concur with much that Sandberg said, but strongly disagree with the press reports alleging that the other speakers had nothing to contribute to the debate.  While I may challenge some of their points (i.e., whether quotas work or not), I believe we should listen to their arguments and understand their contributions and perspectives.  That is why I provide the link, above, to the original and complete panel session – because diverse views were expressed and should be heard.

Most interesting to me was the contribution of Lubna S. Olayan of Saudi Arabia, who is a leader in an Arab investment firm – an incredible accomplishment all by itself.  She pointed out the importance of women in leadership setting examples.  Both she and Sandberg stated that women need to take the media to task for perpetuating the stereotypes that women are just pretty faces or fostering limiting messages to us and to our children.

They concurred that the representation of women in the media is unrealistic. There is never a movie, article, or television show about a working woman with kids who is happy.  They’re all miserable and conflicted.

The media seldom reports what women in leadership have to stay on a subject – it’s much more likely they will speak about what she is wearing, how she looks, or her hair. This has been patently clear with role models like Hilary Clinton even though she is a superb example of how a woman succeeds at the top.

Olayan warned women, themselves, to stop playing to the media – they need to bring the focus back to the content, not the head-cover.  Women have to stay focused on what has to be done – not be distracted from our goals and objectives.

Sandberg was explicit about the need for a much more open dialog about gender. She pointed out that companies and women are prohibited by our legal structure and rules from talking honestly about family and having children, about gender stereotypes. In part, women in human resources and diversity training programs have to accept at least partial responsibility for those strictures. If we cannot hold a legitimate conversation about these subjects, we cannot address the stereotypes.  We verbally walk around them, ignore them, and thus allow them to persist.

The conversation that is not happening is that we deliver one message to women and an entirely different message to men. Sandberg cited the example of two t-shirts: one for boys, “I’m smart like Daddy” and the other for girls, “I’m pretty like Mommy” – products of Gymboree, now owned by Bain Capital, and with zero women on their corporate board. Inherently, we are treating women differently by avoiding the issues that do concern women and perhaps ought to concern men:

Don’t you want kids?
Are you sure?
Should you?
Are you “leaving the workplace before you leave?” as Sandberg said in earlier TED presentation.

Sandberg’s more complete thoughts on the subject of “leaning in” will be published in her forthcoming book, “to encourage women to aspire to and pursue leadership roles,” according to her publisher Knopf.  Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead reflects on Ms. Sandberg’s own personal and professional experiences and discusses the latest research on equality in the workplace.

Sandberg and Olayan’s positions did contrast with that of Vivian Reding who believes strongly that progress for women in leadership depends upon the largess of corporate CEOs. “We need men to help us.”  That is the foundation of her proposal for quotas for boards of directors at companies in the European Commission.  Noteworthy is her reference to a database of “Global Board Ready Women” which now contains something like 8,000 names of qualified, experienced, women graduates of major global business schools. http://www.epws.net/2012/12/global-board-ready-women-online-database.html

The question that Reding did not ask or answer is this: “Why aren’t the 8,000 qualified, competent, experienced women graduates of major global business schools building their own companies, their own boards of directors, and advancing women to leadership in their own companies?  Why is the only solution women that can envision is that women be invited to the dance by men?”

Christine Lagarde spoke up a little more at the end of the panel concurring with the point that women need to “dare the difference and speak about it.” She argued, correctly, that yardsticks have been set by men before women entered the marketplace. Women persist in the belief that they have to use the same standards – not their own standards. “Women need to use the voice we have.  Yardsticks and stereotypes have to change.”

An interesting contribution from the audience came from Laura Liswood, Senior Advisor at Goldman Sachs, who agreed that the “double bind problem” persists in the face of an explosion of gender research.  Apparently, the research has persuaded only those in whose favor it has been written.  She directed her question to Kevin Kelly, CEO of Heidrick & Struggles: “What men think is happening and what women think is happening are worlds apart, as indicated by the Heidrick & Struggles surveys. How do we align those parallel universes?”

Kelly concurred that executives have a tendency to “tick the box.” He described the Noah’s Ark version of diversity: check the box with two of these and two of those. But, he argued, the more substantive challenge is how to make the board more effective.

Liswood has written three outstanding books, Serving Them Right (1990 on customer service), Women World Leaders (1996 - interviews with 19 women heads of state and heads of government), and The Loudest Duck  (2009 - a guide to achieving corporate leadership diversity).

Laura D’Andrea Tyson suggested that the body of gender equity research has finally reached a level sufficient to persuade businesses of the competitive advantages of equality.  Yet, if that were truly the case, we would not be discussing the perpetuation of stereotypes.

A very interesting contribution came from Soulaima Gourani of Denmark, founder of Global Dignity Girls.  She described her work organizing 700 young girl role models to tour her country, talking to young girls, and motivating them to get a top level education and consider business leadership roles, rather than simply dressing up for the boys. She said a motto of the group is “Don’t buy new breasts, buy books.”

This is the caliber of no nonsense, take no prisoners, kiss no frogs women of the next generation, for which we can all be incredibly grateful. They are taking their futures into their own hands and making the difference through their actions and their own decision.  The mental stereotypes not longer persist in their minds.  They are the true embodiment of diversity because they do not accept any presumption that they might be second class citizens.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Through the Glass Door

By now, everyone has read and shared the latest research about “women’s pay gap” from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), “Graduating to A Pay Gap.”  Tyler Kingkade provided a very thorough review of the report in a recent HuffPost article,

According to AAUW, the wage gap starts right at the graduation gate: “In their first year out of college, millennial women are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to their male peers.”  AAUW presumes that “the problem” is “workplace barriers.”

Yet, in another research report, we learn that the wage gap reverses itself as more women graduate from college, as more women enter knowledge-based industry sectors and businesses, and as more African American and Hispanic women pursue advanced degrees.

Linda Lowen wrote about how the pyramid is reversal in “Gender Pay Gap Closing with Young Women Earning More Than Men: Wage Gap Reverses Due to Education and Three Key Factors That Benefit Women”  See: http://womensissues.about.com/od/womenintheworkforce/a/GenderPayGapClosing.htm

So, it would appear that AAUW’s “workplace barriers” only hit some women, but not all women.  That would suggest that we have a lot to learn from those women who manage to tip the wage pyramid on its head and actually earn more than their male peers. 

Research by Paris-based OECD gives us another focus about wage differentials, telling us that it’s more universal than simply compensation. It's motherhood, sustainability, and inclusiveness.  OECD, like others, believes that if we solve the gender wage gap “problem,” then all other major societal problems somehow magically will disappear.

Let’s bring the Mother Ship back to earth and talk about real world choices and solutions, shall we?

First of all, if we cannot measure progress, then we will not be capable of managing improvement.  The facts tell us that the gender wage gap has shrunk.  In some circumstances, it has disappeared altogether; and, in some cases, it has reversed itself, entirely.  If we ignore substantive pattern changes or fail to recognize fact-based causes behind the change, we will miss solutions to the problem.  We risk misdiagnosing the ailment and losing sight of where and how effective treatments have succeeded.

The AAUW research, for example, fails to note how much progress has been made from a 50, 60, and 70% wage differential to now 82% in a very short time span.  Sure: NOT enough progress, but the reason progress has occurred is that more women are getting more and more advanced education degrees.

Also, women are entering more serious fields of study which offer higher pay opportunities. Business and knowledge-based industry sectors are examples of where women can expect higher pay for value delivered.  In interviews with women in top fields of engineering, computer science, and math, we constantly hear the message that more women could pursue those high-demand degrees and benefit from their levels of high-compensation.

Women also are learning that all the legislation in the world will not substitute for a woman’s willingness and ability to negotiate for her own best compensation. Women cannot rely on “someone else” to make the marketplace fair and equal.  If women want it, they have to go and demand it, themselves – every day, every minute, every encounter.

Another worthy lesson comes from the Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network report on the status of women in the commercial real estate workplace.  Consistently, CREW research found that women avoid the primary opportunity of high value earnings by refusing to work for bonuses or commissions, demanding instead a steady stream of reliable, but lower compensation.  And, the propensity to pursue C-suite positions still is higher for men than for women. Choices matter. See: http://realestate.cornell.edu/index.php/news/news_detail/crew_cornell_report_on_women_in_commercial_real_estate

While many women will say they have not been “invited” into the C-suite, the reality (in commercial real estate as in law or accounting) is that women have the opportunity to create enterprises, compete in the marketplace, and become business-owning businesses just as much as men do. Women can invite themselves into leadership roles in the marketplace, if they choose.

Women who count on legislation to make the wage differential go away are expecting “someone else” to save them.  The Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, or the Paycheck Fairness Act proposed in 2012 all are examples of women’s failed belief that passing a law magically will ensure fairness and equality.  They are examples of how women have more faith in legislation than they do in their own ability to compete in the marketplace.

In like manner, women believe that government contract dollars will flow to women-owned businesses because of a piece of legislation mandating trivial quotas or because women-owned business bought a special certificate that “says” they are a woman-owned business.  The same logic applies as women believe that more of their numbers will be appointed to corporate boards of directors “if and only when someone, somewhere enacts quotas.”

All that has been accomplished by enacted or proposed pieces of legislation is that a very few lawyers have become very, very rich and that a few nonprofits have become very, very prominent in HuffPost headlines.  What, however, has been the impact on wage differentials?  That impact has been trivial compared to the individual initiative of talented women who have chosen to pursue appropriate education and advanced degrees in industries that pay them their worth.

Take a look at another, more concrete solution to the wage differential “problem:” Glassdoor.com, described in detail in the Fortune magazine (January 14, 2013), article “How I Got Started: The King of Travel and Real Estate” about Rich Barton.

“Glassdoor.com gives job seekers the inside scoop by posting salaries and company reviews by anonymous employees.”  Women should be sharing this website with all their BFFs because finally women can get information about what jobs pay and what companies are really worth working for.  This is “knowledge-based” business at its best.  Women have no excuse for under-bidding themselves now that they have a comprehensive way to compare salary options. 

If women, after using Glassdoor.com, still leave money on the table during compensation negotiations, then we would suspect there that other factors are at play and, in all likelihood, it may not be that other favorite scapegoat, “discrimination.”  It may be that women have yet to learn how to ask, bid, and speak up for themselves in effective negotiations based on a true assessment of their worth in the marketplace.

Fortunately, we are beginning to see advisors address this aspect of the challenge – teaching women how to negotiate for what their work is worth.  But, women still have to pursue this wisdom, heed the advice, and implement the recommendations.  We have more to do to teach women how to value their worth.  It would be nice, for example, if women’s organizations set a better example by paying women their real worth, too.  Would anybody also like to tell me the compensation PAID by Huffington Post for articles written or the compensation PAID by the American Association of University Women to women speakers at their chapter and national fundraising events?

Why is it that women concentrate on passing laws and giving away their valuable intellectual property for free, while men concentrate on building business solutions? 

“My startup philosophy revolves around a power-to-the-people concept that enables people to take control of the decision-making in their lives.” – Rich Barton, founder of Expedia, Zillow and Glassdoor