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Time to End the “Good Ole’ Boy Network”

Upon occasion, I like to turn this column over to industry thought leaders and allow them the opportunity to directly address issues of pressing importance to the business community from their perspective.  Coincident to Mother’s Day, this column and next week’s will be addressing the question of:  “What advantagedo companies that are run by or employ women in senior positions have over traditionally male-dominated companies?”

Deborah A Bussiere shares the secrets of harnessing the power of women in leadership.

Deborah A Bussiere shares the secrets of harnessing the power of women in leadership.

The guest blogger for these articles is, Deborah A. Bussière. Deborah self-identifies as a Corporate Refugee currently advising startups after a very successful career that included senior level positions at Ernst & Young, UBS, and Morgan Stanley.  Having seen what it takes to rise within the most competitive corporate environments, Deborah shares some of her thoughts on the impact and competitive strengths companies may leverage by maximizing the opportunities to broaden the senior ranks beyond the “old boys club” commonly found in Corporate America.  You can hear Deborah speak and meet her at two local functions.  On May 13th, she will be moderating a panel discussion of 10 Female Founders sponsored by Cyrus Innovation (#changetheratio).  The topic is, “10 Things Every Female Founder Should Know.” (tickets).  Deborah will also participate in a fireside chat with Beth Comstock at Startup Grind Greenwich (#sgwomen) in celebration of Female Founders month (tickets).

I can’t believe it is 2015 and we are STILL HAVING THIS DIALOG!

I started my career on Wall Street, where I spent 15 years mainly in hedge funds and private equity. And while there was a lot of bad (sexist) behavior in the 80s and 90s (a la Wolf of Wall Street), I still think of Wall Street as the “great equalizer”. It didn’t matter if you were black, white, male, female, old or young; as long as you were making money for the firm, you were golden.

Then I moved to professional services where there were a lot of affinity groups. Sometimes, I was asked to participate in those centered on women and I felt very uncomfortable in those roles. I always said that I would be happy when we no longer needed affinity groups at all. That will mean we’ve reached gender parity. And I surely had hoped that my young children at the time would never know the difference.

But here we are in 2015, my son is almost 21 and my daughter is now 17, and we are STILL TALKING about gender inequity. And so now, perhaps for the first time in my life, I am a more-than willing participant in the gender parity dialog.

On the good news front, the dialog is current and ongoing and men as well as Corporate America are vocal about the gender gap

In CNN (5/8/15):

  • “Google commits $150 Million to diversity” – trying to get more women and minorities into technology because it’s good for business
  • As of 2014, only 17% of Google’s tech workers are female; 1% black; 2% Hispanic
  • “Richard Branson: Equality is a mindset.” He makes it clear  that he thinks the path forward is a quota system, similar what the Scandinavians have done with Board membership.

But what would be really powerful is if we could DISRUPT the gender dialog altogether. What if we SHIFTED the conversation from women talking at men and with other women to PEOPLE talking to and about other PEOPLE in hopes of significantly reducing or even eliminating gender disparity? To be successful, I firmly believe we need more men talking about the issue and – more importantly – helping to solve it. Surely good leaders should be able to do just that.

Positive attributes: women in leadership

Interestingly, the research group, Zenger Folkman, revealed that female effectiveness increases in a statistically significant manner after women turn 40 – typically when they hit their leadership stride.

Women, by nature, tend to be more inclusive managers. And we know that greater diversity of thought yields greater problem solving and innovation. This, in turn, leads to better decision-making and overall results. No wonder.

Here are some of the valuable leadership skills that women generally bring to the table, as supported by numerous studies:

  • Taking initiative
  • Driving results (a “we’re number 2, so we must try harder than the boys” mentality)
  • Developing others
  • Inspiring and motivating
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Collaboration
  • Teamwork
  • Relationship-building
  • Planning
  • Selling an idea / winning over a crowd

Perhaps this upward leadership trajectory can be attributable to today’s trend towards more transformational leadership (defined as getting employees to take ownership of company goals by providing inspiration, motivation and intellectual stimulation).

Additionally, these skills that women bring align well to functional areas such as Marketing, Sales and Human Resources – roles that far more women than men tend to hold.

Bottom line: companies that are run by or employ women in senior positions have much stronger bottom lines. It just makes good business and economic sense.

  • Study after study shows that companies with more women in senior leadership positions generally outperform those with the least on three financial measures. According to Catalyst:
    • return on equity (53 percent higher),
    • return on sales (42 percent higher),
    • and return on invested capital (66 percent higher)

A recent Mintigo study reports that female CEOs of large companies achieve 18% higher revenues than male CEOs.

And this is true not just at the F500s, but in the startup world, too. Recent studies by Dow Jones VentureSource and SBA Office of Advocacy also found that companies with women in senior leadership roles outperform those with only men.

(PART II of this column will appear next week).

David Zahn