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Women and Leadership – the Missing Link

Posted by on Aug 24, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

The following essay was co-authored by Deborah L. Rhode. She is Ernest McFarland Professor of Law at Stanford University and the author of, among other books, What Women Want.

The number of American women at or near the top of the greasy pole has remained stubbornly low. Of course the figure is higher than it was, say, twenty years ago. But the so-called pipeline has proved a pipe dream – the rate of change remaining sluggish at best. A single example: to equalize men and women’s representation in the U.S. Congress would take more than a hundred years!

In part a response to the problem of women’s advancement, recent surveys of younger, millennial women indicate a new trend. They are more likely than their predecessors to plan to interrupt their careers for family reasons. This change suggests two strong, apparently contradictory dynamics relating to women and leadership.

On the one hand has been considerable progress for women in middle and upper management. Many employers have instituted workplace policies specifically intended to help women climb the managerial ladder. They include flextime; part time; job-sharing; telecommuting; mentoring; sponsoring; coaching; networking; expanded parental leave; and a range of other cultural and contextual supports.

On the other hand young women appear to have concluded that in spite of signs of progress, their situation remains untenable. In their struggle to achieve a measure of work-life balance they – women ages 18 to 30 – plan to play a different game. They intend to adapt to what is, rather than to fight a system that they see as rigged. They consciously are deviating from the Gen X and Boomer women who preceded them, who either struggled to do it all, or who in countless cases dropped out of the paid work force altogether. Instead the millennials are being strategic, deciding that they might need, perhaps prefer, to sequence stages of their lives in order to be both professionally successful and personally satisfied. Of course, whether this intention will enable women of this generation to ascend in growing numbers to positions of leadership remains to be seen. For now all we know is that a high number regard what preceded them as unsatisfactory, which is why they’re choosing to chart a new course.

This raises the following questions. Why is it that women’s expectations have declined, or at least changed, much more than men’s? (Only 66% of women say they expect their careers to be the equivalent of their spouses. In 2012 only 42% of female students graduating from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania said they planned on having a child.) Why is it women much more than men who are always having to adapt to what they perceive to be the reality? Why is it women who are much less likely than men to be in positions of leadership, not only now but also for the indefinite future?

These questions have often been asked and then answered in ways that are socially acceptable and politically correct. But they have not been answered fully or even entirely honestly – which is one of the reasons why the situation has stayed static.

As it stands now, there are three standard explanations for why we are where we were. The first is women themselves. They are too passive, too circumspect. If they aspire to lead they must be proactive, they have to lean in. The second is the nature of the workplace. It is too rigid, inhospitable to the demands of a family or the wish to lead a balanced life. The third is the so-called male leadership model – the 24/7 leadership model. It is too all-consuming, impossible for women who must, or perhaps prefer, to accommodate the other demands on their time.

These explanations are not incorrect. But they are insufficient. They do not take into account the most simple, yet most powerful, of all explicators: nature. It is women not men who carry children from conception to birth. And it is women not men who breast feed. We find it hard to believe that these gender-based differences – physiological and psychological – have no bearing whatsoever on the perennial problem of getting more women to exercise leadership.

This brings us to how to address these gender-based differences, which obviously are innate. Part of the answer is to make temporarily opting out of the paid labor force less costly. In the Center for Work Life Policy’s survey of some 2400 high achieving professionals, 89 percent wanted at some point to resume their careers, but 25 percent of those who wished to return were unable to do so, and only 40 percent found full-time professional jobs. It’s why Netflix’s recently announced policy of allowing new parents – father as well as mother – unlimited time off during their baby’s first year is so welcome.

Still, we are under no illusions. Getting new parents to take extended periods of time away from the workplace is not easy. Men even more than women worry that a prolonged absence, no matter how valid the reason, will impede their careers. But putting such policies in place is a necessary step. Equally necessary or maybe more is finally saying loud and finally saying clear that carrying a child for nine months – not to speak of probably breast feeding it – just might have implications for whatever is subsequent.*


*In 2013, 77 percent of new American mothers breast fed their children.

Note: Due to other commitments, I will not be posting any new blogs for about two weeks.


Imagine It – Melania as First Lady!

Posted by on Aug 20, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

So far she’s been nearly invisible and entirely inaudible. But one of these days Melania Trump will emerge from behind her gilded curtain and then, well, just you wait! You think the press and the people have gone gaga over Trump now… once his wife is part of the picture the celebrity factor will be multiplied many times over.

Melania Trump is no bimbo found in the bulrushes. Before she married Trump – she is his third wife – she was a highly successful model. She has since become a businesswoman, and is involved in several charitable endeavors. But let’s get real: the insatiable interest in her will be not for her substance, but for her style. She is drop dead gorgeous and dresses to kill.

Melania would hardly be the first wife of a presidential candidate, or of a president, known not for what she says or does, but for how she looks. Most recently in our history was Jackie, Jacqueline Kennedy, a formidable political asset I decades ago dubbed a “Decoration.”

The first book I ever wrote – it was published in 1980 – was titled All the President’s Kin.  It made what at the time was an original argument: that for various reasons close members of president’s families – their parents, siblings, spouses and offspring – were becoming politically consequential.  I grouped the presidents’ kin into several different types, one of which was “Decoration” – one of whom was Jackie.

Decorations were defined as follows

Decorations make the president [or candidate] more attractive. They enhance the man, make him and his administration more glamourous – or at least more appealing. They add nothing to the substance of the presidency but a great deal to the style. They lend an intangible aura of pleasure to the grit of day-to-day politics; their presence alone lends grace. At their best Decorations are in fact quite removed from politics. In what would appear, but only at first glance, to be a paradox, it is this distance that allows their charm to exert its political impact.

Let me be clear. Typing Melania Trump a Decoration does not mean typing her a lightweight – any more than typing Jacqueline Kennedy a Decoration meant typing her a lightweight. All I am claiming is that physical beauty can be a political asset of considerable consequence.





The Buck Stops Where?

Posted by on Aug 18, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

Hillary Clinton is being blamed for e mail evasion – and maybe more.

Her top aides are being blamed for e mail evasion – and maybe more.

Her lower level staff is being blamed for e mail evasion – and maybe more.

Her lawyer is being blamed for e mail evasion – and maybe more.

The State Department is being blamed for e mail evasion – and maybe more.

John Kerry is being blamed for e mail evasion – and maybe more.

But, where does the buck stop? To take the obvious examples: if the former secretary of state is guilty of something, and if the present secretary of state is guilty of something, and if state department officials are guilty of something, well, then, how does the incumbent president remain long out of the loop? Is he not the chief executive as well as commander in chief ? Is he not responsible for what happens on his watch? Should he remain immune from inclusion?

Coke Classic – CEO Compromised

Posted by on Aug 18, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

The diminished status of chief executive officers is everywhere in evidence. But every now and then one of the most prominent of American CEOs is so openly demeaned that even I am struck.

Such was the case several days ago when an article appeared in the Wall Street Journal (link below) that chronicled in painful detail the decline (and likely someday fall) of Coca-Cola’s CEO, Muhtar Kent. The publication of such a piece is itself humiliating, revealing for all the world to see Kent’s perceived weaknesses. It is also debilitating, no doubt enfeebling Kent still further, if only  because his leadership has been so visibly thrown into question.

The essence of the piece – in five easy pieces:

  • Coke’s board has been urging Kent “to appoint a No. 2 for some time.” Translation: Coke’s board has been urging Kent for some time to share his power and authority.
  • Recent discussions between Kent and Coke’s board had “gotten intense and focused.” Translation: Coke’s board was becoming increasingly impatient with Kent’s procrastinating, and increasingly insistent that he agree to the appointment of a second in command.
  • Kent has been a “detail-oriented executive who is sometimes reluctant to give up the reins to other executives.” Translation: The board concluded first that Kent hoards his decision making authority; and second that he lacks the leadership skills to reverse the company’s declining fortunes.
  • Coke’s appointment of James Quincy, who was given the titles of both president and chief operating officer, is intended to “compliment Muhtar’s skills and qualities.” Translation: The board expects Quincy to pick up what Kent has let drop.
  • The lead independent director, Sam Nunn, said of Coke’s board that it remains “fully confident” in Kent’s leadership. Translation: Coke’s board is already looking around for Kent’s successor, with Quincy a top candidate.

Coca-Cola has suffered slings and arrows in recent years, which have little to do with Kent and lots to do with context. The growing evidence that soda is bad for our health is a hill that all soda-sellers will find difficult to climb. I am not claiming that Muhtar Kent is Clark Kent. I am only pointing out that whatever his leadership deficits, he has been a victim of bad timing.

Donald’s Ducklings

Posted by on Aug 13, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

If being a leader means no more than, though no less than, getting others to follow, Donald Trump is the real thing! The degree to which he has twisted the usual campaign template to suit his unusual carnival temperament is stupefying.

He’s not what’s remarkable. What remarkable is us. What’s remarkable is the degree to which we’ve been willing to bend to the whiff of his will, oblige his every whispered whim, and follow his lead no matter how dopey the destination.

The media has been willing, nay eager to carry his water, unable, nay unwilling, to turn its prying eyes away from its political prize. We in turn are the consumed consumers, waddling in line behind The Donald who leads us to we know not where.