Chicks Rule – March 9, 2007

Chicks rule?
Future’s Ramblings – Issue 28 – March 9, 2007

I went to a lunch sponsored by the Australian Institute of Management earlier this week; it was in celebration of National Women’s Day. The main speaker Ann Sherry, the CEO of Westpac in New Zealand, made all of the women in attendance turn to the person sitting next to them and exchange a hair or make up tip, then we all did a show of hands vote on who Meredith on Gray’s Anatomy should end up with, McDreamy or the Vet.

Of course I’m messing with you. Ann Sherry talked about the status of women in business, which compared to the status of the women the speaker who went before her described, was pretty good. The previous speaker was from United Nations Development Fund for Women, UNIFEM works for women’s human rights, economic empowerment and political participation which is a pretty big deal in places like the East Timor, Cambodia, Guatemala and Afghanistan.

Of the many insightful things Ann Sherry said, the one that stuck with me was a message to all of us in the room that “with affluence and influence comes obligation” What she meant was that all of us educated and affluent women in the room should be supporting groups like UNIFEM and mentoring other women in business to enable them to make it to the tops in organizations. Her rational was not a moral one but an economic one, because if we do not engage the entire workforce, our chances of success in an ever increasingly competitive global economy are slim.

This made me think of my past mentors and my time at the University of Arizona, Judith Chafee one of only two female professors, did influence me greatly. Judith went to Yale in 1950 and was the only women in her architecture class; she studied alongside Charles Eames at the American Academe in Rome and went on to work with some of modern architecture’s greats: Edward Larabee Barnes, Eero Saarinen and Walter Gropius. She is well known for her houses in the Tucson desert which were described as an American modernism bred of the desert. When I was studying with her she refused to participate in a show of women architects because she wanted to be recognized for her architecture, not for being a woman.

After Judith’s death Chris Macdonald British Columbia Architecture chair said “to have made such fine work in the face of such a powerful cultural force (as Postmodernism) and this in an environment where a forthright and passionate woman would be patronized as a matter of course – represents an accomplishment of singular determination”. I like that quote, but there was another I like better from Professor Robert Nevins, who also taught me and went to Yale with Judith. He said “she was fu%$&ing scary, but even drunk she was smarter than anyone I’ve ever known”. Being a hard drinker and chain smoker, she had mannerisms and a forthright style that frightened many.

She taught me a lot, and I must say I did want to be like her, but have only managed the hard drinking part. There were others like Professor Ellery Green who made this statement to all of the fifth year architecture students in the Ethics and Practice class he taught. “None of you women (there were about five of us) will really make it in business because you don’t play football, and to really understand business you need to understand football”. Yep, it was with those words I began my career in architecture.

Of course today there are plenty of women at the top ranks of organizations around the world: Carly, Martha, Theresa Gattung (ok I’m being cheeky they are all no longer in the job). There are also many women who occupy the top job in the country. In fact there are 8 female presidents in the world at this time: Chile, Finland, Ireland, Israel, Latvia, Liberia, The Philippines and Switzerland and 5 women in the world that occupy a Prime Minister position: Germany, Jamaica, New Zealand, Mozambique and the Netherland Antilles. Who knows over the top of many a republican’s dead body there might be a woman or black president in the United States?

Today women are making in roads in a number of fields that have been traditionally male dominated. Drew Faust is the first president of Harvard University; she succeeds the previous president Lawrence Summers who suggested there was a biological explanation for women failing to excel in the field of maths and science. He said this was not his own view and that he was being deliberately controversial. Never the less, it is interesting that following his appointment in 2001 the number of women offered tenured jobs declined dramatically. Out of 32 four were women.

In Australia women represent 17.2% of professors in Australian universities. According to Judith Bessant who has completed a study on gender in academia, the higher up the career ladder you go in Australian Universities the worse the situation gets. So much so that the University of NSW has launched a leadership program for women in academics.

Of course if we think academia is bad, imagine mining? Interestingly the number of women in this profession is increasing, mainly due to the number of women studying geology. As a matter of fact the head of technology at BHP Billiton is a woman, Dr Megan Clark. Megan did have to do a few hard yards; she got in some hot water for entering a mine in 1982. At that time she worked for WMC resources and was the mine geologist, the law at that time said that a woman could not work underground which made doing her job a bit difficult. After dodging the mine inspectors she finally said stuff it, and went through the mine with one of the inspectors. The inspector had her prosecuted for it. Clark appealed to the then governor-general Sir Zelman Cowan and in 1982 won a waver directly from the Queen which ended centuries of prejudice against women in mining.

Statistics are quite alarming for a number of other professions. In law firms the percentage of women partners 15.6% compares to 84.4% men, corporate officers in Fortune 500 companies have 15.7% women in the top jobs compared to 84.3% men. The worst profession is doctors where the top earning doctors are only 6.6% women compared to 93.4% men.

So why is it that there are so few women at the top? In Paths to Power: How Insiders and Outsiders Shaped American Business Leadership written by Harvard Business School’s Anthony J Mayo, Nitin Nohria and Laura
G. Singleton the authors claim that in all cultures there is a sense that some have won the “ovarian lottery” because they have been born to the right parents, get the right education, have the right skin colour, the right gender and belong to the right social institutions. It is true that in twentieth century America it was the wealthy, white, Protestant (especially Episcopalian or Presbyterian) men from the industrialized centres of the Northeast that had the greatest advantages and opportunities.

According to the authors there has been a gradual opening of access, with education being the greatest contributor. Unfortunately, they believe that there are still are three areas that will place a person on the outside path rather than the inside and those are: social class, gender and race. Like Ann Sherry at Westpac the authors of this book also believe that “the businesses that will succeed in the 21st century will be those that embrace the diversity of their workforce, that can compete in a global, competitive landscape and can differentiate their products and services for a more discriminating customer base.” Leaders of the future, men and women, will need a global perspective, managing this level of complexity will require a broader view.

There is another view as to why so few women are at the top, this view is shared by women and men alike, and that is that they simply don’t care to be. While there are many who will say that women don’t work as hard as men and it is true that the aggregate, statistics show, women work less. They also don’t compete as hard as most men (I guess Professor Green was right). I prefer to align with Charles A. O’Reilly III, professor of behaviour at Stanford Graduate School of Business, who has done studies to isolate the qualities that lead to a corner office. His conclusion: Success in a corporation is less a function of gender discrimination than of how hard a person chooses to compete and the folks that tend to compete the hardest are the stereotypical manly men.

In The Myth of Male Power author Warren Farrell says that “When a woman gets near the top, she starts asking herself the most intelligent questions” He goes on to say that the fact that women don’t make it to the top is a measure of their power and not their powerlessness. “They’ve learned they can get respect and love in a variety of different ways – from being a good parent, from being a top executive, or combination of both” Free from the ego that drives many males, women are more likely to consider the trade offs and opt for the saner path. According to Mary Lou Quinlan who stepped down as CEO of advertising agency N. W. Ayer says “ The reason a lot of women aren’t shooting for the corner office is that they’ve seen it up close, and its not a pretty scene … It’s about talent, dedication, experience or the ability to take heat. “

So I guess my mother was right when she would say “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”


“Where Are the Women?”
Fast Company
By Linda Tischler
February 2004

“Women’s Role Receives Greater Recognition”
By Damien Lynch
The Australian Financial Review
January 16, 2007

“Who Rises to Power in American Business?”
By Sean Silverthorne
Harvard Business School
Working Knowledge
January 8, 2007

“Faust Track: Harvard Shows the Way”
By Catherine Fox
The Australian Financial Review
January 2007

“Women Strike the Mother Lode”
By Tim Treadgold
Australian Financial Review – BRW magazine
January 11 – 17 2007

“Stayers Make Their Working Life Work for Them”
By Catherine Fox
The Australian Financial Review
February 13, 2007

Wikipedia and Google for stats on countries and bio of Judith Chafee


3 thoughts on “Chicks Rule – March 9, 2007”

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