A data-science guy’s mansplaining-free perspective on women, leadership, and business success.
Back in 2010, as CEO of StreamBase, I attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Bill Clinton, Christine Lagarde, Bill Gates, Jack Dorsey, Reid Hoffman, and many other notables were all in attendance at the famous annual gathering of global leaders and influencers. It was cool to meet many of these people, but the session that made the greatest impression was about women and power.
At the time, I was a recently widowed dad to a 7-year old girl, Ruby, and I was concerned about how to successfully guide my daughter in a male-dominated world. The Power of the Purse session featured Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Booker Prize-winning author Margaret Atwood, and former Director of the National Economic Council Laura D’Andrea Tyson, among others. How’s that for an advisory panel?
I sat riveted for two-hours—one of only a handful of men among 60 of the world’s most accomplished women—getting schooled topics in business, wealth, leadership, and society from the female point of view. I took extensive notes, wrote up observations, and absorbed a lot of instructive information for both personal and professional use.
Seven years later, Ruby is in high school, Sandberg’s in the news tackling a struggle similar to my own, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is the hot hit series on Hulu, and StreamBase and I are both part of TIBCO. It seems like much has changed.
I was reminded of my Power of the Purse experience when we campaigned for gender equity on #GettingTo5050 day at work last week, and with Mother’s Day right behind us, my thoughts have been circling on the larger. So I decided to revisit some of the observations I made back in 2010.
1. Female leaders collaborate more effectively. That Power of the Purse session was discernibly different than others at Davos. The discussion flowed like an improvisational jazz performance. Discussion was thoughtful, the ego in the room was low, people listened intently to each other, and built upon each other’s point of view. The male-dominated sessions, by contrast, were more like rock shows—full of screaming solos, ego-driven charisma, and one-upmanship. Interestingly, studies have shown that companies with three or more women on their board of directors perform better financially. Perhaps that’s due to greater collaborative finesse.
2. The board of directors’ gap needs minding. The women leaders in Davos lamented that only around 7% of companies had a woman on their board of directors. Since then, the number of companies with women on their board is up by 54%. That’s progress, although Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean.In.org estimates that we’re still 100 years away from gender equality in the C-suite. The “right” benchmark is difficult to choose, but one thing we can say for sure is that change is happening.
3. More women leaders lead to more profit. One women executive at the Davos session said: “Companies that don’t have women executives are leaving money on the table. Companies with women executives have a healthier top and bottom line.” She didn’t have data at the time, but now we do—and it seems that she was right. As Fortune reported last year, companies with at least 30% female leaders had net profit margins up to six percentage points higher than companies with no women in the top ranks.
4. A call for balance, not quotas. The Davos panel of women seemed undisturbed with the natural bias that men (or, indeed, any group) chose to work with people they’re comfortable with. Their call to action was for an increased but balanced presence of women leaders, not a coup d’état. Seven years later, although 14% of boards have at least one woman, only 3% have more than three women. It’s progress, but not yet balance.
5. Would you want your daughter to work at your company? Laura Liswood, senior advisor at Goldman Sachs and author of The Loudest Duck, posed this question at Davos. An honest answer is as telling now as it was then.
I left Davos in 2010 impressed, inspired, and hopeful about the future possibilities for both my company and my daughter. And I felt the same way at work on #GettingTo5050 day 2017. The fact that we still discuss these issues and even have a 50/50 day indicates there is still a lot of work to do to address the challenges facing all women. But thanks to pioneers like Sandberg, Atwood, Liswood, and countless others, attitudes are changing. The world Ruby will enter as a professional in a few years will be vastly better prepared to accept, nurture and benefit from her talents.
That kind of progress is good for our businesses. It’s good for our daughters and mothers. It’s good for us all.
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