Olivarius: It’s time for more Ms. Managers

Culture Quotient

Positive discrimination” has been a hot topic in the UK lately. Cranfield School of Management found that women accounted for just 12.2 percent of directors of the 100 biggest companies in 2009, and only 7.3 percent of the 250 biggest. Surprising, given that women earned 57 percent of the top degrees awarded in the UK in 2010. Almost half of British boardrooms surveyed had no female management at all.

On this side of the pond, women hold only 16 percent of corporate board seats, according to an annual survey from Catalyst. This isn’t just the case at old-school, old-boys companies. Women are basically absent on the boards of even techie, dynamic startups — Twitter and Facebook.

Why, in 2011, does the glass ceiling still exist in the corporate world? Is it possible to smash it — and, if so, who should do the smashing?

According to the Institute of Leadership & Management, which surveyed over 3,000 British managers, half of female managers admit feelings of self-doubt, compared to only 31 percent of men. Similarly, at the start of their careers only 50 percent of women expect to become managers, while two-thirds of men do. In the survey, more women aspire to running their own business rather than pushing for promotions within established firms.

These are the kinds of statistics that many cite when they justify overwhelmingly male-dominated boardrooms — “it’s not my fault, but men are better managers than women.” (After all, they might get pregnant and not come back after maternity leave).

But this deficit of female confidence in the business world is not one of nature; it’s nurture. It’s not that women can’t be good leaders, it’s that they aren’t expected to be and aren’t told that they can be. It’s the same reason girls don’t talk in math class. The problem is profoundly cultural: seeing so few people of your gender in positions higher than you erects a psychological barrier to success.

Many countries have come up with governmental “solutions” to the lack of women in the boardroom. In 2006, Norway demanded that publicly traded companies must have 40 percent females on their boards. The Netherlands, France and Spain have instituted similar quotas. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said this month that the country’s male dominated boardrooms were a “scandal” and that companies had “one last chance” to rectify the issue before facing enforced quotas.

Many European countries have found quotas successful.

Lord Mervyn Davies of Abersoch (yes that is his name), who led a British review into gender disparity, ruled out rigid, direct quotas. But his report, issued this week, cajoles individual companies to increase the proportion of women on their boards to an average of 20 percent within two years, and to 25 percent by 2015. If progress is not made, Davies warns that quotas could return to the agenda.

Mandates like this are controversial. To us, they seem un-American. When people argue against affirmative action, they say it isn’t “fair,” that it undercuts meritocracy, that it is a Band-Aid solution to larger cultural problems. “My grandfather climbed up by his own bootstraps, you can too” — and you don’t want companies run by people who have the right gender but the wrong ideas.

In America far more than Europe, it is difficult for the government to meddle in the affairs of private corporations.

The perils of educational affirmative action have been discussed for 40 years. It can backfire, leaving its beneficiaries feeling falsely patronized, and everyone else complaining about double standards. But Yale used to have a 5 percent quota for Jews and kept out women altogether; affirmative action was for white, Christian prep school men. The reason boardrooms have a tradition of white males is not just coincidence.

At first a quota seems artificial; but after a while, if it works, it can change the landscape. Yale men got used to co-education; as it turns out, girls are just as smart. Quota legislation for boardrooms might do something similar. Given the greater number of women graduating with good university degrees, enforcing quotas does not damage the meritocracy. As Amanda Jobbins, a senior executive at Cisco, stated, “While I wholly agree all roles should be appointed on merit, who is determining the definition of merit today? The male incumbents.”

Women’s success should not be measured solely by the number of corporate board seats they fill. Discrimination will not disappear because there are more women at the top; racism has not disappeared in America because Obama is President. But at least the recent European policy changes are an honest recognition that sometimes, to break the glass ceiling, you need a sledgehammer.

Kathryn Olivarius is a senior in Branford College.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    *It’s the same reason girls don’t talk in math class. The problem is profoundly cultural: seeing so few people of your gender in positions higher than you erects a psychological barrier to success.*

    Are you SURE?

    I think it may just as likely be Biological Determinism. If guys think a girl is pushy and a leader and smarter than they are, that girl may fear she won’t get a mate before her “window of opportunity” to reproduce the species closes. Of course, this is all computed in the UNCONSCIOUS, a Freudian concept which your generation ignores, or a pooh poohs.

    My observation is that girls speak softly for the same reason: What guy is going to want a mate who refuses to be background music to HIS IMPORTANT life? (a skill which “finishing schools” actually used to teach females)

    SEXISM.

    BIOLOGICAL DETERMINISM.

  • elijah

    I agree — the important thing to remember is that the only thing women are concerned with is having a mate in this day and age. Other things, like personal ambition, self-fulfillment and that sort of thing just falls to the sidelines. The next time you see a woman succumbing to male-dominated hierarchies and tacitly occupying a social position that places her safely under the subordination of a few strong-willed males, don’t resent her for playing into the hands of the patriarchy. Rather envy her, because she’s clearly having more sex than you.

    The unconscious is a wonderful concept, but it shouldn’t allow you to gloss over the reality that when you set up the goal of a girl to get a mate in her window of opportunity, you perpetuate a construct that is facilitates sexism and oppression. This line of thinking places women in a position where they’re dependent on men and conveniently doesn’t do the same to men.
    And besides, regardless of what you may say about pooh poohing and Freud, do you really think that the fact that “if guys think a girl is…a leader and smarter,” then it’s ok for them to be threatened and turned off? And that that reaction’s also biologically determined? At some point you’re clearly just using Freudianism to justify sexist cultural tropes (don’t respond only to the last sentence if at all, please).

  • SY

    “. . .the only thing women are concerned with is having a mate in this day and age.” Why is that, compared to the day and age, say 30-40 years ago? Are men less concerned than in the past?

  • The Anti-Yale

    “This line of thinking places women in a position where they’re dependent on men and conveniently doesn’t do the same to men.”

    NOT AT ALL Men are just as much victims of Biological Determinism as are women. Promiscuity (programmed by the Unconscious) is the price they pay. They are TOTALLY dependent on women, just not ONE monogamously enshrined woman.

    Thornton Wilder said it best: “Nature’s goal is to cover the planet with as much protoplasm as it can as fast as it can.” (This was before the discovery of DNA and the obviation of the concept of protoplasm.)

    If that means making males promiscuous cuckholdd-makers and women mate-seekers at any cost, even subordination, that is what Nature (the Unconscious) will do.

    John Edwards, Elliot Spitzer and Mark Sanford little puppets of Biological Determinism, like the males in Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata”, led around the stage of the world by their erect phalluses, willing to become international fools, to gratify the Great Unconscious Regulating the Universe (GURU).

    Ah, what fools these mortals be.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “This line of thinking places women in a position where they’re dependent on men and conveniently doesn’t do the same to men.”

    NOT AT ALL Men are just as much victims of Biological Determinism as are women. Promiscuity (programmed by the Unconscious) is the price they pay. They are TOTALLY dependent on women, just not ONE monogamously enshrined woman.

    Thornton Wilder said it best: “Nature’s goal is to cover the planet with as much protoplasm as it can as fast as it can.” (This was before the discovery of DNA and the obviation of the concept of protoplasm.)

    If that means making males promiscuous cuckholdd-makers and women mate-seekers at any cost, even subordination, that is what Nature (the Unconscious) will do.

    John Edwards, Elliot Spitzer and Mark Sanford little puppets of Biological Determinism, like the males in Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata”, led around the stage of the world by their erect phalluses, willing to become international fools, to gratify the Great Unconscious Regulating the Universe (GURU).

    Ah, what fools these mortals be.

  • River Tam

    > It’s the same reason girls don’t talk in math class. The problem is profoundly cultural: seeing so few people of your gender in positions higher than you erects a psychological barrier to success.

    Ms. Olivarius passes off a hypothesis as fact.

    “It’s the same reason boys do worse in primary school. The problem is profoundly cultural: seeing so few people of your gender in teaching positions erects a psychological barrier to success.”

    Look at that. Pablum disguised as thinking.

  • Goldie08

    I am an investment banker and it sucks miserably. It is a male dominated industry and it needs a woman’s touch. That is all I have to say.

  • The Anti-Yale

    ” it needs a woman’s touch”

    Leona Helmsley? Christine Whitman? Sarah Pailin?

    Since the advent of feminism, there is no such touch.

  • Leo

    **”Cranfield School of Management found that women accounted for just 12.2 percent of directors of the 100 biggest companies in 2009, and only 7.3 percent of the 250 biggest. Surprising, given that women earned 57 percent of the top degrees awarded in the UK in* 2010.”*

    This statistic ignores significant qualitative differences in the education of men and women. In America, for example, while women tend to earn more bachelor’s degrees than men, they earn much fewer degrees at the Masters and Ph.D. levels. In addition, women earn most of their higher degrees in education and sociology, rather than business, economics, math, or science. Since you have failed to break down the statistics any further than “top degrees,” you have in no way controlled for education. Therefore, your attempt to attribute the difference in outcomes to discrimination is fallacious and misleading.

    *”When people argue against affirmative action, they say it isn’t “fair,” that it undercuts meritocracy, that it is a Band-Aid solution to larger cultural problems.”*

    I am against affirmative action because it is state-enforced discrimination against particular groups – in this case white males. The most extreme historical example of affirmative action was the Holocaust.

    *”In America far more than Europe, it is difficult for the government to meddle in the affairs of private corporations.”*

    Actually, it is astounding how much the US government meddles in the affairs of private business. Affirmative Action laws already impose de facto quotas, euphemistically called “goals,” for the hiring and promotion of nonwhite and female workers. I guess in Europe they aren’t afraid to go ahead and call them quotas.

    And at least you aren’t afraid to call the coercive power of the state the “sledgehammer” that it is.

  • 11

    PK, I can’t imagine why you drop a random quote from a midsummer night’s dream. It doesn’t add learning or gravitas to your comments, it just makes them seem irrelevant.

  • The Anti-Yale

    11:

    IF YOU DON”T THINK a world is full of FOOLS when men and women, running everything from governments* to divinity schools** are LED AROUND ON A LEASH BY THEIR HORMONES then I don’t know what a fool is.

    *try Italy and Mr. Berlesconi’s antics with a 17-year old hooker; try Governor Sanford; try Governor Spitzer; try twice Presidential candidate Gary Hart, M. Div. ’61.

    **try Harvard, where the dean resigned for watching porn on his office computer

    PS I am quite used to sounding irrelevant. Doesn’t phase me in the LEAST.