Monday, November 30, 2009

The Future of Work: Millenials Will Lead the Way

If science allows us to live indefinitely within our lifetime, as a biotech entrepeneur recently suggested to me, most people will also need to work indefinitely. Instead of a 20, 30, or 40-year career, we could see 60, 80, 100-year long work lives. Even those who create a nest egg may want the continued meaning derived from productive work.

Generation Y, or "the Millenials", is already preparing itself for this new world. On some level, Millenials already know they will work longer than their parent's generation because they realize that Social Security will not be around for them. And, perhaps because they know they will work for a loooong time, they realize they will have to enjoy work and integrate work into their lives. They value flexibility and happiness at work over career ladders, job security and a focus on income. This contrasts with Baby Boomers, who are accustomed to a traditional formula of hard work and acceptance of hierarchy for high pay.

This new flexible work world is already upon us. I’ve seen an estimate that 25% of professionals currently work in some sort of flexible or consulting arrangement. At a recent Georgetown Tech Alliance gathering at Google, panelists from Elance, Flexperience and LiveOps estimated that 50% of professional positions will be flexible positions within 10 years.

In a shrinking job market with longer work lives, those with a more entrepeneurial spirit and flexible focus will excel.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bar Mitzvah as Leadership Development

I attended my first bar mitzvah this weekend and was struck by the extent of its leadership lessons. My nephew, Nathaniel who made his bar mitzvah, was on the spot in front of his congregation of 80 people for 2 1/2 hours. He shared the podium with the ever-encouraging and risk-taking rabbi. With her guidance, he led chants, read Hebrew script aloud, welcomed guests to the front. Nathaniel even gave his own insightful and humorous speech tying together the meaning of the Torah section that he had read and one of the chants. After awhile, Nathaniel looked completely relaxed and I thought to myself, "Wow, he's been bored into leadership." What a brilliant strategy!

My confirmation in the Catholic church was a whir of white dresses and curtsys. I remember little about it. My nephew will be building on the skills he learned for the rest of his life.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Finding Hope in Dirty Politics

My response to the Arizona Republic article "Phoenix council-seat battle goes to bitter end":

In your article, “Phoenix council-seat battle goes to bitter end”, you write “The councilman (Sal DiCiccio) fired his own salvo, urging the IRS to investigate Kennedy's 501(c)(4) non-profit Emerge Arizona: Women Leaders for a Democratic Future. Emerge Arizona, he argued, benefits only those who pledge support for the Democratic Party and its candidates.”

Either Sal doesn’t know what a 501(c)(4) is or he is exploiting the eye-glazing tax code to muddy the waters for voters. A 501(c)(3) is a traditional non-profit doing good things, like the American Red Cross or the YMCA. When you make a donation, you get a tax deduction. Then, there are 501(c)(4) organizations, like Emerge Arizona, and its Republican counterpart, Winning Women. Donors to these group do not get a tax deduction and these groups have “an unlimited ability to lobby for legislation and the ability to participate in political campaigns and elections”, according to the IRS website. All of Emerge Arizona’s activities are well within the IRS definition.

The US is 84th in the world in women’s representation at the federal level. It is groups like Emerge Arizona that are giving women the skills and networks that they need to run for office.

Dana Kennedy is Emerge Arizona’s part-time Executive Director. In her role of training other Democratic women, Dana is tireless, resourceful and intensely committed. These are the same qualities that Dana brought to her race for City Council.

The incumbent took a conventional approach to funding his campaign. He accepted donations from developers who explicitly have issues currently before the City Council. He also has personal financial interests in matters before the council.

By contrast, I saw Dana reject a campaign contribution from someone who is suing the City of Phoenix on behalf of a client, though this issue would not confront the City Council itself. Given that Dana chose to set the highest standard for her campaign, with the ideal of removing donations that can cloud a public servant’s judgment, I find it ironic that the incumbent would attack her integrity. My hope is that we have more candidates like Dana Kennedy, whose idealism, commitment and integrity will make the political process better.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Top Picks for Women's Leadership Books

My favorite books about women's leadership have one thing in common: I almost didn't read them. Their titles did not reflect the full scope of the books and I was interested in broader themes and research. I am glad I took a closer look and highly recommend the following books:

"The Female Brain" by Louann Brizendine, MD

I loved this book because it describes men and women's brains and escribes the the brain's gendered physiological and hormonal differences and how these show up in relationships and the workplace. Fascinating and enlightening.

"Off-Ramps and On-Ramps" by Sylvia Ann Hewlett

This book is about more than women's transitions in and out of the workforce as the title suggests. It draws on decades of research and suggests that women have a huge appetite for rewarding careers and that they leave these careers in childbearing years, less because they want to stay home with children, than because the workplace does not reward women in ways that matter to them. Women emphasize the values of connection, flexibility, and recognition over money. Hewlett also links gender diversity to bottom-line results.

"Through the Labyrinth" by Eagly/Carli

The Labyrinth is Eagly and Carli's replacement metaphor for the glass ceiling. They argue that the most successful leaders have an androgynous balance of traits, gregariousness, positive initiative and assertion, social skills, intelligence, integrity and the ability to persuade, inspire and motivate others. In the 21st century, leaders that are too masculine or feminine are at a disadvantage.

"Why Women Mean Business" by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox and Alison Maitland

The authors make a comprehensive business case, and not a gender case, for using women's leadership to increase economic growth. They show how businesses can be more successful by drawing on the complementary strengths of men and women. This title is less known in the US as the author's are British and their focus is Europe and the US.

I hust picked up Joanna Barsh's "How Remarkable Women Lead". This will likely round out my top 5 list.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Guilt-Free Schadenfreude

Dana Kennedy has been running a squeaky clean campaign for Phoenix City Council, rejecting donations from people who might, in the future, have a matter before the City Council. By contrast, her incumbent opponent, Sal, readily accepts donations from real estate developers who have matters currently in front of the City Council. Perfectly legal, and business as usual.

Yesterday, the Phoenix New Times exposed that Sal has taken his self-interests a step further. He has been working with a committee towards a freeway extension that directly benefits two large parcels that he leases, without revealing his financial stakes. Oops.

The odd thing is that there are no laws in Phoenix or even much public scorn for public officials working towards their own financial interests - as long as they are transparent. Sal's donations from local developers shows that Saul doesn't see a problem with members of the public paying for politicians to look kindly on their projects. So, why should it be a problem for himself? What's good for the gander isn't good for the goose?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Leadership Training ROI

A recent study shows that companies with greater investment in leadership and sales training have higher stock prices the following year. At my Vistage meeting last week, our presenter, Dan Barnett made the case that every company must have a a single "Make or Break" strategy that drives the company. Jack Welch's make-or-break at GE was leadership development. Welch was personally involved in every aspecte of Leadership development and training, including building GE's training facility, building the leadership curriculum and teaching leadership classes every year. He visited employees all over the company and his number one question was "What are you doing to develop your leaders?", both one and two levels down. Jack Welch's singular focus on on leadership development resulted in a valuation increase from $14billion to $450 billion, the largest increase on record. Most organizations can do a lot more for their growth with more leadership training.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Women's Financial Insecurity Driving Dissatisfaction?

With our high level of cultural navel-gazing, studies about happiness have large audiences. Add a gendered comparison and the country is riveted. Maureen Dowd wrote in her September 19th column about a recent study showing women’s declining happiness (as compared to men) over the past 40 years. Her piece shot up to the #1 slot on the NYTimes top ten most e-mailed list and remained on the top ten list for five days, the longest I’ve noticed.

The research shows a consistent finding across nations, women are less happy then men and their happiness declines with age. Marcus Buckingham posed an interesting question in a blogpost on Huffington Post about this research: Why?

The reason that men are getting happier, it turns out, is their greater prosperity. I found the results quite surprising. Over the past few decades, our culture has celebrated the shaping of positive attitudes and women seem particularly invested in developing these resources (think of Oprah’s audience). Despite this greater awareness, women’s worrisome financial security is at the core of their declining happiness. Women spend more years in the financially inefficient state of being single, lose wealth and income if they divorce, and earn 80% of what men earn. With the risk of an episode of unemployment or a major health crisis, many women are not far from financial quicksand. And, what happens when all these women age into retirement?

We need a more integrated approach to increase women’s financial security and this may well become a major policy issue in the coming decades. And, it will most likely be addressed when more women are in public office.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Integrity Candidate

I held a fundraiser for Dana Kennedy, Candidate for Phoenix City Council. After Dana gave her talk about the race and her opponent, one of our guests said he'd like to make a contribution to her race. Dana asked him if he had any business before the City of Phoenix and he said, "Well, I have a couple cases against the Phoenix Police". Another guest piped in that the matter didn't directly relate to City Council business, but could end up at the Council. Dana rejected the contribution wanting nothing to interfere with her clear judgement. Her opponent takes tons of money from real estate developers and those with matters before the City Council.

Candidates like Dana restore my confidence in the integrity of poltics and government. Spread the word about her race:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Call for Mediocrity

A recent Stanford and University of Chicago study
shows that "women in Congress introduce more bills, attract more co-sponsors and bring home more money for their districts than their male counterparts do. The study, which examined the performance of House members between 1984 and 2004, found that women delivered roughly 9 percent more discretionary spending for their districts than men." For instnce, "Rep. Zoe Lofgren delivered around $859 million to her district, compared with $541 million brought in by her predecessor, Rep. Don Edwards, during his final term, the researchers said."

The reason for this outperformance is that women still face more primary and general election challenges than men and those women that manage to get elected are superstars. According to the Politico article, "Women who run and win are likely the most politically ambitious and talented of their pool, having potentially overcome hurdles including voter bias and self-doubt about their ability to win."

Since I've devoted the last decade to getting more women into the political pipeline, one could say I'm working towards giving woman equal opportunity to be mediocre!

Read more:

Friday, September 4, 2009

Emerge Arizona Director Dana Kennedy Runs Brilliant Race

A top Phoenix city official called me on Wednesday, Sept 2, to ask me "Who did Dana Kennedy use as her campaign manager? Everyone at City Hall wants to know because she ran such a brilliant race." Dana won enough votes in the September 1st election to force the incumbent into a runoff in November. I also heard that Dana's campaign had the feel of a federal campaign with its number of volunteers and its level of organization. Apparently, Dana has set a new bar for the caliber of race for the Phoenix City Council.

I was happy to report that Dana had been her own campaign manager and Emerge Arizona alumnae had volunteered in force. Emerge Arizona women literally took over the phonebanks at the Democratic Party headquarters during the last week of the campaign. Dana spent $30,000 on her race, while the incumbent spent $200,000, needing five times as much per vote - and the incumbent had much greater name recognition at the outset of the race. How do you want your city to be run? Join me in supporting Dana's candidacy at

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

French Finance Minister Argues in Favor of Legislation and Preferential Treatment of Women

Christine LaGarde, in a Forbes Woman video argues that legislation and preferentrial treatment are required to create more gender equality. LaGarde is the former head of international law firm, Baker McKenzie and currently France's finance minister. She believes "it will take too long" to create gender balance without more aggressive measures.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Growth Capital For the Non-Profit Sector, the Case of Emerge America

The White House has established a Social Innovation Fund that identifies the most promising, results-oriented non-profit programs and expands their reach throughout the country by supplying additional capital.

"Melody Barnes, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council highlighted the Fund Tuesday in a keynote speech to the Council on Foundations. "The Social Innovation Fund reflects the President’s new governing philosophy: finding and investing in what works; and partnering with and supporting others who are leading change in their communities," Barnes said. "We are also working with Federal agencies across the government to identify new solutions to problems that have resisted traditional approaches." (Source: White House website).

As the Founding Executive Director of Emerge America, I can attest to how this kind of money could accelerate the growth of successful programs. Emerge America is a political organization and would not be a candidate for this fund, yet, Emerge America is a great illustration of how the non-profit world can identify a social challenge (too few women in public office) and create a new solution that addresses the core problem (women need campaigning skills and a political network to enter politics as a candidate), and scale that solution. The question is how quickly can this scaling occur. And who provides the growth capital?

We launched our first program in 2002 which provides seven weekend workshops to a group of 25 Democratic women leaders over seven months. Though we are constantly looking at ways to improve and innovate, we had worked out many of the basic kinks by the beginning of year 2. A small example: our application process in the first year was a bit general and we had some program members who were more interested in leadership development (which is great) than running for office (our raison d’etre). One of our board members, Dana Kennedy, moved to Arizona in 2003 and started up our second affiliate. With the combined success of Arizona and California, we were more than ready to launch new affiliates.

In 2005, I set up Emerge America and in 2006, I ran around the country and launched 4 new states with a tiny budget of $150,000. If I had had more money, I would have invested more money in grants to our affiliates and for more staff time to do technical assistance to the affiliates’ executive directors and board members. However, I don't think we would have grown more quickly in that first year.

As an aside, I had an intense passion for meeting with elected officials, donors, and advisory board members and signing them up to the Emerge mission. I would love to have had the money to free up my time from fundraising, technical assistance to affiliates, board management, etc. to have more time and staff to build affiliates. I particularly appreciated the response I got from elected officials. I usually couldn’t say more than a sentence without them signing onto the advisory board and pulling out their checkbooks, wishing we’d been around for them when they wanted to run.

It was really in our second full year that more money would have made a tremendous difference in our growth trajectory. In our second full year, I had a budget of $450,000, including $100,000 for seed money for new and existing affiliates and a small staff of three at headquarters. With these resources, I could only expand by one new affiliate.

The case for expanding more quickly is in our metrics: over 40 percent of our graduates were in public office after the program and over 45 percent of our graduates are women of color.

Hypothetically, with an additional $500,000 per year, I could have added five more states per year, had a staff of seven and more money for grants to states.

We are currently going into our ninth state. Had we had an additional $500,000 in each of the past three years, we would probably be going into our 25th state by now. And in 5 more years, we could be in all states! This is the kind of exciting difference that the White House Social Innovation Fund can make.

For more reading, see this Huffington Post piece.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Onion: Cambridge Cop Accidentally Arrests Henry Louis Gates Again During White House Meeting

WASHINGTON—Upon arriving late to his meeting with President Barack Obama and famed African-American intellectual Henry Louis Gates, Cambridge police officer James Crowley once again detained the distinguished Harvard scholar after failing to recognize the man he had arrested just two weeks earlier, White House sources reported Thursday. "When I entered the Oval Office, I observed an unidentified black male sitting near Mr. Obama, and in the interest of the president's safety, I attempted to ascertain the individual's business at the White House," Crowley said in a sworn statement following the arrest. “The suspect then became uncooperative and verbally abusive. I had no choice but to apprehend him at the scene for disorderly conduct.” Witnesses said that Sgt. Crowley, failing to recognize Gates on their flight to Logan Airport, arrested the tenured professor in midair, once again at the baggage claim, and twice during their shared cab ride back to Cambridge.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Womenonmics: Why Women WIll Rule the World

Here's an article about Claire Shipman and Katty Kay's book "Womenomics" from Time magazine.

Work-life balance. In most corporate circles, it's the sort of phrase that gives hard-charging managers the hives, bringing to mind yoga-infused, candlelit meditation sessions and — more frustratingly — rows of empty office cubicles.So, what if we renamed work-life balance? Let's call it something more masculine and appealing, something like ... um ... Make More Money. That might lift heads off desks. A few people might show up at a meeting to discuss that new phenomenon driving the bottom line: Women, and the way we want to work, are extremely good for business.Let's start with the female management style. It turns out it's not soft; it's lucrative. The workplace-research group Catalyst studied 353 Fortune 500 companies and found that those with the most women in senior management had a higher return on equities — by more than a third.Are the women themselves making the difference? Or are these smart firms that make smart moves, like promoting women? There is growing evidence that in today's marketplace the female management style is not only distinctly different but also essential. Studies from Cambridge University and the University of Pittsburgh suggest that women manage more cautiously than men do. They focus on the long term. Men thrive on risk, especially when surrounded by other men. Wouldn't the economic crisis have unfolded a bit differently if Lehman Brothers had a few more women on board?Women are also less competitive, in a good way. They're consensus builders, conciliators and collaborators, and they employ what is called a transformational leadership style — heavily engaged, motivational, extremely well suited for the emerging, less hierarchical workplace. Indeed, when the Chartered Management Institute in the U.K. looked ahead to 2018, it saw a work world that will be more fluid and more virtual, where the demand for female management skills will be stronger than ever. Women, CMI predicts, will move rapidly up the chain of command, and their emotional-intelligence skills may become ever more essential.That trend will accelerate with the looming talent shortage. The Employment Policy Foundation estimated that within the next decade there would be a 6 million – person gap between the number of college graduates and the number of college-educated workers needed to cover job growth. And who receives the majority of college and advanced degrees? Women. They also control 83% of all consumer purchases, including consumer electronics, health care and cars. Forward-looking companies understand they need women to figure out how to market to women.All that — the female management style, education levels, purchasing clout — is already being used, by pioneering women and insightful companies, to create a female-friendly working environment, in which the focus is on results, not on time spent in the office chair. On efficiency, not schmoozing. On getting the job done, however that happens best — in a three-day week, at night after the kids go to bed, from Starbucks. And here's the real kicker. When a company gives employees freedom, it doesn't just feel good or get shiny, happy workers — productivity goes up. Ask firms like Capitol One, which runs a company without walls or mandatory office time. Or Best Buy, which implemented a system called ROWE — results-only work environment — and found that productivity, in some cases, shot up 40%. Flexibility is no longer a favor to be handed out like candy at a children's birthday party; it's a compelling business strategy.So we need to get rid of the nutty-crunchy moral component of the work-life balance and make a business case for it. It's easy to do. In fact, a decade from now, companies will understand that hiring lots of women, and letting them work the way they want, will help them Make More Money.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Boomer-Consumers Will See Millenial Drive Towards Hyper-Capitalism

In a recent kpfa podcast , Rick Wolff and Harriet Fraad suggest a fundamental change in the relationship between employees and employers. According to the GBN panel, our passe version of capitalism works when employees justify their labor for wages by ever-growing status through ever-growing consumption. The labor-for-consumption model worked beautifully because wages rose for over 100 years, until the 1970s. After the 70's, consumption continued and was subsidized by growing mounds of debt and rising home values. With the implosion of home values and the deep recession, growing consumption as the justification for treadmill jobs is gone. In its place, individuals, particularly young people, will need to identify more directly with their work. We already see Millenials need to be true to themselves, a de-emphasis on material goods and caring less about job security than their parents, the Baby Boomers (really should be called the "Boomer-Consumers") (See Barbara Bylenga's work on Millenials at

What might this mean beyond increasing sales for "What Color is your Parachute"? As Millenials seek less job security (as they acquire less stuff) and move up Maslow's hierarchy to self-actualization, we'll see more entrepeneurs and that Millenials will change the companies they work for. Companies that want to recruit and retain young people will need to leave behind old-school business practices such as coordination via hierarchy and parent-child leadership. Instead, companies will need to implement peer-peer leadership and decentralized decision-making. For more on the comparison of mechanized and dynamic business models, see Dr. Homa Bahrami, PhD, UC Berkeley.

Millenials will also demand greater transparency for the profitability that they bring to their employers - AND - a greater piece of the action. In exchange for greater risk-taking, i.e., less job security, Millenials will usher in hyper-capitalism. Instead of the Marxist slogan, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need", we'll have the Millenialist slogan "From each according to his creativity and stomach for risk, to each according to his profitability".

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Role of Power Brokers in Decision-making

In the late 1990's, Brooksley Born’s efforts to regulate the derivatives market slammed into the triumvirate of Washington’s finance power brokers: Alan Greenspan, Larry Summers and Bob Rubin. She was prophetic in her concerns yet ultimately unsuccessful in her attempts to regulate the derivatives market. Here’s a great article about this battle in the Stanford Magazine. How does any organization make decisions based on the best information and analysis, instead of capitulating to titanic personalities with the mega power bases? How will Obama score on this?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Flexibility at the FBI Reflects Move To Attract More Women

In the past, FBI Special Agents were almost exclusively male. In part, this was because women had a harder time passing the firearms test because the firearm that they use for the test (and carry 24 hours a day) is built for a man's hand. On it's website, the FBI discusses it's need to recruit more women:

"In many cases, women possess different analytical skills, approach problems differently, and have different talents and abilities than do men. These different skills, approaches, and talents often spell the difference between success and failure on a case or investigation. We have found that investigative teams composed of a blend of female and male Special Agents are much more effective at bringing complex investigations to a speedy and successful resolution."

Interestingly, the FBI has even created a part-time program for Special Agents, stating "Female agents are still trying to balance family and work, and the FBI is doing what it can to help, recognizing the tremendous value female Special Agents bring to the FBI." The FBI's recognition of women's performance has moved the FBI to a newfound flexibility on its policies. If the FBI were simply complying with gender discrimination laws, I doubt we'd see part-time Special Agent positions.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Notre Dame's And Obama's Catholic Values

Some prominent Catholics have objected to Notre Dame's invitation to President Obama to speak at its commencement in May and receive an honorary degree.

In an editorial in the LA Times, the university's president, the Rev. John Jenkins, emphasized that the invitation to Obama "should in no way be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of life, such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research."

The editorial concludes, "in resisting that campaign, Notre Dame has kept faith with both its religious and its academic missions." I would make a stronger case: Notre Dame is keeping faith with Catholic values. In the 2004 election, I convinced one of my stalwart anti-choice sisters that she could vote for John Kerry despite his position on abortion by referring her to an op-ed in the NYTimes by the Dean of Notre Dame's College of Arts and Letters entitled "Voting Our Conscience, Not Our Religion". In this piece, Dean Mark Roche argued that Catholics could and should vote for pro-choice Democrats citing evidence from around the globe that liberal abortion laws result in fewer abortions. He also noted that Democrats favor many other policies that are in sync with Catholic views, eg, opposition to the death penalty and the war in Iraq, etc.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What Did Hillary Say To Michelle? Talk to Cherie Blair

In the most recent edition of the French magazine, Paris Match, Michelle Obama is luminous on the cover wearing a pink lace dress. In the article, she is profiled about life in the White House and quoted as saying “the last time that Barack asked me for my opinion was planning our vacation”. What would you think if your girlfriend or sister said this about her husband? You might not believe her. Or you would wonder how she combined a Stepford Wife and Barbie so quickly.

Europe swooned over Michelle last week and I wonder if it is because they embrace the new White House Barbie or because they see through this image to the strong, uber-competent woman and wink, “we’re with you, Michelle and we are excited to see what you will do when the dust settles.”

I find the coverage of Michelle's clothing disappointingly superficial. If fashion were Michelle's career, as it was for Carla Bruni Sarkozy, then it would make sense to focus on this as a strength. However, it's strange for a lawyer to be thrust into the fashion spotlight, simply because of her new position.

I hope Michelle takes her next cue from Cherie Blair and not from Hillary Clinton's mistakes twenty years ago. Cherie Blair continued with her career as an attorney while her husband served as Prime Minister. With Michelle’s giant resume, she has the capacity to accomplish huge things (I’m hoping the White House organic garden took about a millisecond of her time)and still be loved by all.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In Conversation with Germaine Greer: The “Homosocial” World of Power

In Germaine Greer’s view, one of the main obstacles for women is that men are homosocial, i.e., have social non-sexual relationships with members of their own sex, while women are heterosocial, i.e., have non-sexual relationships with both men and women. Men socialize in separate spheres and build their power base in a world that remains largely elusive and inscrutable to women. Without a power base to stand behind them, women can’t withhold approval or say “no”.

And unfortunately, she says, “the corporate world changes women more quickly than women can change the corporate world." To make progress, we need to find a new way.

I was lucky enough to sit next to Germaine at yesterday’s Luncheon Society event. Whether you agree with her or not, she is a quip machine, describing banking as a form of “fiscal pornography” and the corporate world as "profoundly masculinist", where women still need to be a "man's woman". She also decried Michelle Obama’s pose as the “face of receptivity”. Germaine would clearly prefer that all women hew to their own ambition without spending so much time worrying about their romantic relationships with men.

"I only wear clothes with holes in them and women should stop worrying about their next purse," she declared. If more of us had Germaine's humor and mind, I suspect we would all do the same.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Dynamic World of Women and Work

In Richard Florida’s latest article in the Atlantic, “How the Crash Will Reshape America" he predicts the US population will “be sparser in the Midwest and also, ultimately, in those parts of the Southeast that are dependent on manufacturing. Its suburbs will be thinner and its houses, perhaps, smaller. Some of its southwestern cities will grow less quickly. Its great mega-regions will rise farther upward and extend farther outward. It will feature a lower rate of homeownership, and a more mobile population of renters. In short, it will be a more concentrated geography, one that allows more people to mix more freely and interact more efficiently in a discrete number of dense, innovative mega-regions and creative cities.”

These changes reflect the needs of a changing workforce, one that requires an emphasis on talent-rich ecosystems and an ever greater emphasis on the intangible sector of the economy, ie, engineering, design and professional occupations.

There are also dramatic changes looming for the gender landscape of the US job market. According to a recent article in the New York Times, more men are losing jobs than women in this recession. And, this may be the tip of the iceberg. According to the US Department of Education, the number of women with graduate and professional degrees is projected to grow by 16 percent over the next decade, while the number of men with these degrees is projected to grow by 1.3 percent. (Silvia Hewlett – Off-Ramps and On-Ramps, p 15)

With the future economy’s greater emphasis on the knowledge economy, women will be garnering a greater proportion of highly skilled jobs vis-à-vis men. And given that the Millenial generation holds more egalitarian gender views, (which are an important determinant of the wage gap - see my December 8 post "Will Stay at Home Boyfriends End the Wage Gap" below) the wage gap is likely to lessen.

These changes do not necessarily speak to progress for women in becoming top wage earners or joining the ranks of top management. It clearly speaks to solving the pipeline issue, but pipeline alone will not change the gender composition of top jobs. Companies need to focus their energies on retention and promotion of mid-level women. This means developing women leaders through skill building, managing conflict and ensuring that their jobs are satisfying. According to Sylvia Hewlett's book "Off-Ramps and On-Ramps", 52% of women in business leave their jobs because their careers are unsatisfying.

Part of the solution is moving companies from a view of compliance vis-a-vis diversity to a view of financial performance. At a recent meeting of 25 senior executives, I mentioned a Catalyst study which showed that having women in top management made a huge difference in financial performance. As far as I could tell, noone in the room had heard of the study or even the hypothesis and confirmation that women at the top results in improved financial performance. (This better performance probably reflects higher retention rates for both men and women and the evidence that diverse groups are better at solving complex problems.) The group, all men with one exception, felt very strongly in favor of a diverse workforce. This desire was not expressed in terms of goals around performance. They expressed an inherent interest in diversity and a couple mentioned that their own job performance was tied, in part, to achieving diversity at their companies. For even greater impact, senior executives need to link gender diversity and the bottom line. Otherwise, it will be hard to muster the necessary commitment to address women's virtual absence at the top.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Criteria for Promotability to the C-Suite

At a recent event of the "When She Speaks" series (an excellent monthly women's event highlighting various speakers and panels, sponsored by Schwab and IBM and open to all businesswomen), Evelyn Williams, a Stanford Business School professor, mentioned a recent study by Charles O’Reilly on promotability. In that study, he found that the most important criteria for selecting top-level executives is the number of hours worked. Needless to say, this helps explain why we see so few women at the top of corporations - women choose these mega-schedules less often than men. There was a general nod of agreement in the room of 50 businesswomen. To the room, this criteria seemed fair and reasonable.

While 100 hour workweeks may seem necessary to gain seniority, organizations risk missing out on womens’ unique perspectives and leaderships skills if they place too much value on an unrelenting workpace.

•In a Catalyst study, Fortune 500 companies with the highest percentage of women on their boards performed significantly better financially than those companies with the fewest women on their board: 53% higher return on equity, and 66% higher return on capital.
•A recent Washington Post article by Deborah Spar argued that the financial crisis might have been averted if more women had been in charge.
•And from Kristof’s recent New York Times editorial, “There seems to be a strong consensus that diverse groups perform better at problem solving” than homogeneous groups, Lu Hong and Scott E. Page wrote in The Journal of Economic Theory, summarizing the research in the field.

Marie Wilson provides an excellent outline of the distinct benefits of women’s leadership in her book "Closing the Leadership Gap, Add Women, Change Everything”. She cites Sally Helgeson's research on women’s greater focus on the ecology of leadership and managing for the long range – clearly skills that have been lacking in the finance and auto manufacturing industries of late.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

White House Task Force on Women: Yes or No

There are new White House rumblings about creating a task force on women. Many groups, including Women Count and The White House Project have called on the White House variously to create a Presidential Commission on Women or a Woman's Office at the White House. In theory, this is a good idea. We need talented folks ensuring that women's advancement is appropriately framed, monitored, and promoted. In practice, what we most need is passionate advocates for women to be present when all decisions, large and small are made, ie, who is assigned to head up bank nationalization, how are financial industry risk tolerances redefined for a new era, or who is invited to the next White House Saturday night cocktail party? A women's task force, office or commission, by definition, would not be invited to all important meetings, unless the specific topic is women.

I'm in favor of groups whose purpose is advancing women's interests and keeping their perspectives front and center. I'm concerned if these groups become a substitute for what really matters: a seat at every table. A group that is assigned to represent women's interests seems inherently marginal to the need for a constant presence. Instead, or perhaps, in addition, Obama and Biden need to ensure that every meeting and important decision are influenced by persons who are deeply committed to and willing to spend their political capital on the advancement and inclusion of women.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More Sanchez Sisters; Fewer Lehman Brothers

Quoting from Kristof’s op-ed on Februay 8, “At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, some of the most interesting discussions revolved around whether we would be in the same mess today if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters.” It should go without saying that many have mused similar counterfactuals about other crises, eg, would the Middle East have such serious religious and ethnic conflict if women held over 40% of all political positions. Or let’s indulge in a domestic kissing-cousin hypothetical: would the US have invaded Iraq if 40% or more of our federal elected officials were women?

Back to the evidence and again lifting from Kristof’s op-ed, “there seems to be a strong consensus that diverse groups perform better at problem solving” than homogeneous groups, Lu Hong and Scott E. Page wrote in The Journal of Economic Theory, summarizing the research in the field.”

Not usually one to gainsay economists and their tepid if properly modest conclusions, there is a large (and growing) body of evidence which leads to an obvious conclusion: we need more women in every crook and cranny where important decisions are made. Rather than cite all the evidence, eg, that women are more trusted by voters than men (regardless of whether they are in fact more deserving of this trust), or women’s barriers to greater leadership, let’s look at what works in getting more women into leadership positions – enhanced networks, improved skills, and powerful mentors. Groups that provide these tools, like Emerge America and Catalyst, are seeing forward strides for women. More of that.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Emerge Reaches Tipping Point in Many States

In our 3rd convening of Emerge Affiliates from our eight states, I led a visioning exercise to come up with future headlines for 5, 10 and 25 years from now. One of my favorites was an imagined headline in the National Enquirer: “Emerge Graduate Gives Birth to Five-headed Baby”. When Emerge bumps news of an Elvis sighting, you know it is having huge impact. Other favorite headlines included: “10,000 Women Gather for Emerge Convention”, “Half of Democratic Governors Across the States are Emerge Graduates”, “Emerge Credited with Filling Over Half of All Elected Positions with Women”.

After hearing updates from Emerge leadership in our states, I realized we already have a perfect headline: “Emerge Reaches Tipping Point in Many States”. In Nevada, our Executive Director, Erin Bilbray Kohn was elected to be the national committeewoman to the DNC, unexpectantly jumping ahead of many other candidates. In Maine, where three Emerge alumnae have been elected to the House of Representatives, top elected officials and party leaders drive endless hours to present to the Emerge class. In Massachusetts, our Executive Director was chosen by the party to co-chair a woman’s candidate recruitment program. And in Arizona, every elected Democratic woman is assumed to be an Emerge graduate.

As always, I was very engaged by Emerge’s state leaders and the reasons they are so committed to Emerge's work. One woman told us about her dream of moving to California at age 16, not to surf, but to work with Cesar Chavez and Delores Huerta. She movingly recollected how she missed her father for most of her childhood as the daughter of a migrant worker. I also marvel at the innovation and commitment to serve diverse needs. Emerge New Mexico had its first deaf participant this year and raised a lot of additional money to hire multiple sign language interpreters for the seven full weekends and their events throughout the year. I'm looking forward to that headline “Emerge Alumna Serves as First Deaf Member of the US Congress."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kirsten for President

I am thrilled that Governor Patterson appointed Kirsten Gillibrand to Clinton's seat. Unlike Caroline Kennedy, Gillibrand has the skills and grit to retain her Senate seat in her next election. Kirsten is a prodigious fundraiser and campaigner, a pioneer in transparency, and a leader in economic development for her region. As a congresswoman, Kirsten represented a conservative upstate New York district and she supported gun rights, much to the chagrin of some progressives. Now that Kirsten represents the entire state, we will see some of her policies shift to a more centrist stance and she has already declared her commitment to controlling handguns. Most importantly, she has the charisma of a rising star, and yes, she has sharp elbows and ambition. Hallelujah. These characteristics differentiate her from other politicans and are the key to her potential to rise further. Kirsten reminds me of the charismatic Governor Jennifer Granholm, who other than her Canadian birth and the feeble state of Michigan's economy, is one of the few women that I can imagine becoming the first woman President of the United States. I'm ready to write Kirsten a check for 2016.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The More Things Change...

When I first saw this image, I thought someone had used photoshop to place a posse of white men around President Obama. Quickly, I realized that this was a real image. Clearly, there's a lot of work to be done to surround the President with a full spectrum of perspectives. Thanks to Andrea Dew Steele and Catalina Ruiz Healy for bringing this photo to my attention.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inauguration 2009: Frozen Toes, Heightened Rapport and Other Highlights

From the moment I boarded my flight to Washington, DC to go to the Obama Inauguration, I noticed that people were quick to smile and seemed eager to strike up a conversation about the exciting day in front of us. Of course, I had to wonder how much I was projecting my own excitement onto others.

On MLK Jr day, a day of service, I was a judge for young social entrepeneurs ("the young people") in the Do Something program. The young people were pitching their ideas about new programs. I was particularly star-struck by a serious, freckly, doe-eyed, 11-year old boy. He told me about the foundation he started four years ago, when he was seven, the Little Red Wagon Foundation. It provides relief kits to victims of natural disasters. His pitch was about taking his program national. Nancy Lublin, the CEO of Do Something, said at the outset that the "old people" should offer ideas to the young people as if they were capable adults that were ready to accomplish big things. After meeting 10 of them, I was happy to see what Nancy meant.

Over the days preceding the Inauguration, there was much chatter about the weather and which parties everyone was going to. We froze our toes, waiting in a mile-long line to go through metal detectors. During the inauguration itself, I cried when Aretha Franklin sang the national anthem. She made it her own and, to me, she captured the emotion of the moment. My one disappointment was that people boo-ed when Bush was announced. The inauguration is a celebration about the future, not a time to once again show our disapproval of the former President. I was glad that the brief round of hissing was not heard on television and broadcast around the world.

My toes re-froze that evening as I made a dash from the warmth of our car to the Convention Center in open-toed high heels. When I arrived at the Western States Ball, I saw a man who looked like a young Richard Branson and realized that he was, in fact, Sir Richard Branson. I walked over to him and talked with him about the UK’s Obama-love. After we spoke, I stood nearby and watched him interact with a few other well-wishers and noted his phenomenal openness. He spoke to anyone who approached him with the level of engagement that each person brought to him. One woman, who had some green-lit tassels hanging in her hair sidled over and said “I love Virgin’s black lights. If you put yellow highlighter on anything, like your hand, it glows in black light, and so I love Virgin America’s planes.” Branson gave her his electric smile and thanked her with an enthusiastic kiss on the cheek. I marveled at the voraciousness of his curiosity and openness and his enormous talent at just being himself.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Born Equal, Except…

A colleague in her twenties was surprised to find check boxes on a vendor form for “women-owned” and “minority-owned” businesses. She said with surprise and not a small bit of outrage, “I thought everyone was equal. This is unfair if some companies get an advantage just because of their owners.”

I was struck with her genuine view that the disconnect between rhetoric and reality is untenable. In rapid succession, I felt happiness that equality is so very REAL to her, frustration that Millenials see equality when the world is not yet close to this goal, and then hope in the belief that this passionately-held view will actually take hold as the Millenial generation dominates our culture.

Older generations need to beat back the temptation to see Millenials as naïve. They are actually our hope for a fundamental change in attitude that will drive behavior towards greater equality. How do we bottle that?