Women on Boards

The New Leadership Mix

 
When we’re asked what women bring to the corporate boardroom our response is that, in general, women are more collaborative than men. They tend to have better communications skills and are more risk averse. The addition of women to boards that have been traditionally male encourage enhanced dialog, better problem solving, and ultimately better decision making, which in turn translates into better corporate performance, a growing body of research has shown.
 
More women in senior-level positions have prompted a dramatic shift in our thinking about leadership. Where “strong, brave and aggressive” were traits that once defined leadership, today we’re more inclined to value leaders who exhibit traits thought to be more feminine: honesty, empathy, communication, collaboration and the ability to nurture.
 
This shift in thinking is the focus of a new book, The Athena Doctrine – How Women (And the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future by John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Based on research of 64,000 people worldwide, they found that traditional feminine values and leadership styles are more popular than the macho paradigm of the past. The book is named for the Greek Goddess Athena, the goddess of war who disliked fighting and relied on wisdom to prevail.
 
According to Gerzema and D’Antonio, people from around the globe are frustrated by a world dominated by behaviors that are typically thought of as male: control, competition, aggression and black and white thinking. These “male” behaviors are often cited when talking about world problems: wars, income inequality, reckless risk-taking and scandal. The authors say that roughly two thirds of people around the globe believe that the world would be a better place if men thought more like women.  This is especially true for millenials.

Those In The Know

 
Speak Out, Margaret!
 
Those in the know, namely some pretty big institutional investors, have called the addition of Margaret Hayne to Urban Outfitter’s board “cynical” “bogus” and a “calculated insult" to investors who have supported shareholder resolutions against Urban's all male board.
 
Ms. Hayne, the wife of Urban's CEO Richard Hayne, is president of the company's Free People brand and is Urban Outfitter's second largest shareholder, outside of her husband. A smart businesswoman she's qualified to serve on lots of boards, but not on this one, shareholder activists say.
 
And while there's reason to believe that Mr. Hayne put his wife on the board to silence his critics, maybe he's provided us with an opportunity.
 
When Mark Zuckerberg put Sheryl Sandberg on Facebook's board he got a lot of flack because Sheryl was an insider. But soon after Sandberg's appointment, Facebook added a second woman, Susan Desmond-Hellmann, a Chancellor of the University of California and former president at Genintech.  In our lingo, Facebook became a "W" Company.
 
So, we're reaching out to Margaret Hayne and asking her to speak out; to tell her husband and his cronies that her appointment marks a change; the buck doesn't stop here. The board needs another woman, and maybe a person of color to be more representative of Urban's stakeholders. Ms. Hayne has an opportunity to mend some fences. We hope she's up to the task.

Women and Finance: Roadblock to a board seat? Maybe not so much.

 
We often hear that women need to step up their understanding of finance to land a seat on a corporate board. But, according to the study "Financial Literacy Around the World: An Overview", published in 2011, women seem to know as much as men when it comes to matters of finance. What they often lack is a command of the language of finance, which would make it easier for them to join the conversation in the boardroom.
 
According to the study's author, Annamaria Lusardi, a professor of economics and accountancy at George Washington University, women were less likely to answer questions correctly when financial jargon was used, but that didn't necessarily mean that the women were more ignorant. Women relied on the "do not know" option far more often than their male counterparts. But when the "do not know" option was eliminated, women were no more likely to pick a wrong answer than men. Said Lusardi, when "forced to pick an answer, women seemed to know as much as men."
 
This finding supports the notion that women are more cautious and more risk averse. "Women," said Dr. Lusardi, "are aware of their lack of knowledge while men are less willing to admit what they don't know." Cultural stereotypes add to the pressure men feel that they must be financial experts and have convinced women that they know less than they actually do.
 
Formal education hasn't kept pace with the complexities of modern investing, notes Meg Thakor of MoneyZen Wealth Management. Men and women are confused, but women may be more willing to ask for information.
 

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