Saturday, July 22, 2017

Why So Few Female CEOs?

This weekend’s big read long form story is a New York Times article about why there aren’t more women CEOs. Written by Susan Chira it complains and complains and complains about the injustice of it all.

Chira has mostly interviewed women who have not quite made it to the top and this opens her to the suggestion that her subjects are simply sore losers. On the other hand, being number two or being an important executive in a corporation is a significant achievement. Why diminish it by complaining about not having risen higher?

In itself, the complaints might be the reason why more women aren’t CEOs. They might be so conscious of the obstacles to their advancement that they are less focused on the task at hand. Thank you, Sheryl Sandberg, for teaching women how to fight against injustice. But, however successful Sandberg is, being a fighter against injustice will not look good on your résumé.

There are a few bottom line points we can make here, in no particular order.

First, nothing about anyone’s corporate charter says that company performance is judged by how many women in has in which positions. We do not know what happens in a company when there are more or fewer women in which positions. If the government imposes gender equity requirements, this might persuade the non-women on the team that the women who succeeded did not earn their way. Thus, gender diversity quotas can breed resentment and make cooperation more difficult.

Second, if having a woman executive improves profitability, then the marketplace will naturally produce more female executives. Chira and her sources suggest over and over again that women leaders are better than men. This might be true. But it might not be true. Since Chira’s sources were women who were passed over for promotion, they might have cherry- picked the facts that make their grievances look more just.

Third, the article largely ignores the cost of motherhood. It barely hints at the fact that when women become mothers they often choose to spend more time with their children and less time on the job. You might think that it’s inconsequential. The chances are that it isn’t. If you take Anne-Marie Slaughter’s experience seriously, it is extremely difficult to be a good mother and to work your way up a status hierarchy. Given the choice, most women will choose as Slaughter did and opt for their children.

Fourth, most women simply do not want to advance up the corporate hierarchy. One recalls the basic Darwinian principle, namely that a more powerful man becomes more attractive to women while a more powerful woman becomes less attractive to men. Most women know this and choose their careers accordingly. It is not sexist. It is rational. Of course, the rule has exceptions, but for the most part it seems clearly to be true. Chira mentions one woman who said that in order to stay on the CEO path she would have had to uproot and take a job abroad. When the opportunity arose she turned it down… perhaps for reasons that had to do with family. This was her choice. We should respect it for as much. It must have contributed to her failure to become CEO.

Fifth, the article scrupulously ignores the possibility that men and women are differently constructed, both in terms of physical strength and in terms of the mental ability to respond effectively to stress. Chira ignores the facts, but this blog has not. Links here and here. Chira suggests that our culture does not teach women to be assertive and to lean in. But theynshe suggests that when women become assertive they provoke negative and even hostile reactions. It might be that men are sexist, but it also might be that when you are physically weaker your assertion of strength will be seen as a bluff. And it will also be seen, not as a gesture of self-assertion, but as a gesture of hostility.  Chira also suggests that women are less competitive, but, for all she or anyone else knows, this too is part of a woman’s DNA. When women are more competitive they are less likely to survive in a world inhabited by men who are constitutionally stronger. This does not mean that some few women might have the competitiveness gene, but it means that such women will be the exception, not the rule.

Sixth, the constant discussion over sexual harassment has made it that men are often wary of taking meetings alone with women or of traveling alone on business with them. When women become a threat to their male mentors, this does not enhance their career opportunities.

Seventh, Chira notes clearly that the higher executive ranks are mostly a male domain, even a male locker room. The presence of women upsets the dynamic and the male bonding. You may think that this is trivial, but if you have never engaged in it, how do you know? It means that men who behave and speak in a certain way when women are not present will be obliged to change the way they function when women are present. One suspects that when women are in the company of other women they do not talk about men as they would if there were males present. Moreover, now that the night riders of the thought police have descended on the culture what man would risk his livelihood on the chance that he might, in the presence of a woman, say something that is sexist, or, God forbid, inappropriate? Feminists cheer when a powerful man is brought low by charges of sexual harassment or sexism, but, even assuming that it is a just result, the people who will pay for this might very well be other women—who will no longer be included in meetings or trips.

Eighth, Chira and her interviewees completely ignore the emulation factor. Leaders do not just lead by drawing up plans and by motivating their teams. They set an example; they lead by example. Every study of executive leadership makes this point, over and over again.  If a manager sets an example of good conduct, company loyalty and office decorum, his staff will, almost unconsciously, follow his lead. He will not have to tell them. Showing will suffice. This works because all people want to improve themselves; they want to better themselves. They do so by emulating their betters, because they want ultimately to be like their betters.

How many young men do you know who want to grow up to become like Hillary Clinton? By the way, how many women do you know who would like to be just like Hillary?

Case closed.


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Why isn't Susan Chita a CEO? It's a very valid question, if she's so fired up about the issue.

trigger warning said...

"Chira has mostly interviewed women who have not quite made it to the top..."

Perhaps the Peter Principle intervened.

James said...

"Perhaps the Peter Principle intervened." very possibly true and quite funny!

Sam L. said...

Could it be, (I'm just speculating here, just blue-skying a thought) that men and women are...different in their wants and desires?

David Foster said...

I don't think the Emulation argument really works, unless one believe that all (or virtually all) female executives are bad people along the lines of Hillary Clinton.

Anonymous said...

Top men in all fields work harder, longer, sleep little. Trump. 3 or 4 hours?!

Success is their only raison d'etre. An extreme example of what all men deal with.

"Women are Life. Men its servants." -- Joseph Campbell

Simply by being, a woman has a raison d'être. If she and (actual or potential) offspring are sustained well & secure, the rest is gravy.

No male angst about "What am I good for?" - which plagued me most of my life.

Many women are brilliant high-achievers. Many more, perhaps most, extremely competent in their professions and work. I respect admire acknowledge that.

But they're also the Font of Life. Men are mere sperm donors. Huge difference. IMHO - Rich Lara