If The Donald were The Dana: what the world might be like if women ran it
I read a Harvard Business Review article a few months ago about “the future CEO,” whom the magazine hypothesized would embody many qualities typically associated with women, such as good listening skills, multitasking, and empathy. Somehow, I’ve managed to grow up in a personal world where women do run the show, despite the completely unrepresentative nature of my experience out in the “real world.” My mom not only runs her consulting company, but she also founded it; I worked at Teach For America, a truly transformational organization, which was founded by Wendy Kopp (who has four kids, by the way!); and I’m positive that one of my best girl friends will be the US Ambassador to India someday.
So, when I read that that the brains at Haaaaaahvahd thought that the people running our country now and moving forward, whether male or female, should take a note from we ladies, and I then stumbled upon Sheryl Sandberg’s (Facebook COO) charge to graduating Barnard women to “run the world,” I started to imagine what the world might actually look like if we had more Dana Trumps around than The Donalds. This post is a rough collection of my imaginings and the musings and predictions of women whom I know and whose opinions I greatly value (I’ll use “LG,” in particular, to credit my friend, Lindsey Grossman, who leads teams at a major communications consultancy, where she provided some word-for-word gems!).
I brought up this concept to a successful female friend who graduated from business school with straight As and is now on the founding team of a startup, and she told me that her boss (a woman) had actually said in passing that she hated other women CEOs, since they were bitchy and unsupportive. To be totally frank, the first thing that came to mind: ugh, if most CEOs and startup founders and government leaders were women, we’d just be one big PMS-y, bitchy, catty, backstabbing world and we’d just screw it up. Nope, I’m not kidding. After I got rid of the pit in my stomach from guilt about thinking that, I tore apart that thinking and sought out evidence to the contrary.
When the environmental conditions are right, i.e., heavily female networks, women can be amazingly supportive of each other and promote each other in really positive ways. If more women ran things, I bet there would also be more organizations, informal networks, and mentors focused on ensuring women in middle management or early in their careers have the skills and confidence to enter the highest levels of leadership: C-suite, the Senate, board rooms, pitch rooms (LG). Just look at Sharp Skirts, a knowledge network focused on helping women build smart businesses. Carla, its founder, generously responded to me with excitement when I pinged her to share my idea for this blog, and I love her attitude about this topic, as evidenced in the Sharp Skirts mantra: “No Pink. No Platitudes. Just Success for Smart Women.”
I’m talking about true diversity of opinion and more ideas. Think about what happens to a team any time someone brings in a new, creative point of view to the brainstorming session. We’ve all seen it. New perspectives allow businesses and governments to re-think the old ways and things that keep us up at night (LG). With mostly men at the table, although there may be many differences among them, there’s one, grand, shared privilege: being part of the majority when it comes to leadership, and that informs men’s decision-making and confidence.
More ideas would be explored, tested, and implemented if women had more of a leadership presence. Statistics show that women often lack the same levels of confidence that men have to go out and make something happen, but with more women in visible leadership roles, other women with an idea, with something to say, will pour all their passion into a dream, take a risk, and diversify the pool (LG).
When you see the word, “expert,” whom do you picture? When you go to a conference or watch a panel discussion on TV, who are the thought leaders? Right now, I imagine many of you are thinking of lots of white dudes – I’ve got no problem with interesting, innovative, smart men, but when women can’t relate to the people our society reveres as experts and leaders, that’s a situation that needs solving. With fewer role models to aspire to emulate than young men, I feel like there’s a potential ceiling on how far I can go OR like it’ll just be really damn hard to become the leader I want to be because it hasn’t been done enough before.
Men, Check Your Ego at the Door (sorry, Freud!)
Women tend to run smaller business, which allows them to better negotiate their personal lives and generating income. These companies are very different than the types typically dominated by male leadership. Women also tend to receive a lot of financing from smaller sources (i.e., friends and family, bank loans) than they do from larger scale investment opportunities (i.e., venture capital). When it comes to investing their own money, women typically like to help grow businesses, whereas men like to go after more explosive portfolios. For instance, a man might be more likely to invest in a portfolio of 10 companies in which 9 could fail and 1 might (might!) be the next Facebook. Women might tend to invest in a portfolio where no single company will get an insane ROI, but in which each will be moderately successful and profitable.
While there’s certainly an argument here for being risky and going with your gut, it’s clear to me, at least, that there’s a lot more ego involved in men’s investment decisions and leadership styles. Women tend to have really different goals in business than men, which promotes some of the stereotypes out there that are perceived as negative, but I think there’s so much value in humility and balance, since they allow us to recognize our faults…and not be afraid to ask for help and to improve.
Research shows that women feel they need to be 100% prepared to do something, i.e., starting a company, while men only need to be about 20% sure to dive right in. A friend who works with female entrepreneurs told me that there’s a lot of timidity in the process for women, BUT, when they find networks of other people (especially women) who are doing similar things and can provide advice (such as, “no, you’re not crazy!”), they fight the desire to be overprepared and just DO it. This tells me that women’s lack of ego protects us from making reckless decisions, but we can still rock it when we feel confident.
What needs to happen now:
While women can sometimes be each other’s worst enemies (I mean, who do you think invented the term “frenemy”?) and there are studies about negative behaviors that women currently exhibit in a heavily male workplace, this behavior is all a choice. Whether you’ve gotta call on your best friend or you have an actual board of directors who exists to ensure you’re holding yourself accountable to your principles, women, just keep doing what any good leader would do: work hard and work TOGETHER. We need to continue being thoughtful, but also take what feel like great risks and leaps in a world where we have few CEO role models – let’s go with our gut, which tells us that we, too, can be up there in the C-Suite.
The OpEd Project revealed the fact that when a group of men and women is asked “what are you an expert in?,” men raise their hands with examples significantly more than women, but when the same group is asked, “what are you a resource in?,” everyone has something to share. I want to grow up (yes, I’m still doing that!) in a world where women leaders make a conscious effort to share their insights, the lessons of their journeys, their skills and resources. And I’m not even talking about limiting this knowledge-sharing to women. A friend and I have begun to envision and dream and drool over a professional women’s network that will become the professional development hub for EVERY person who aspires to be successful. From Hillary Clinton to the CEO of Xerox to the founder of Flickr to the COO of Facebook (all fabulously intelligent, forward-thinking, successful women!), we can ALL learn a thing or two.
I think we’re on the right track, I do. I have so many strong female role models in my life, and I’m not alone. But will women simply strive to level the playing field, or will we bring a revolution to the way business and governments are run because of the unique skills and teamwork we offer? Will we support each other in the process or tear each other apart? I don’t pretend to have the solution, but I’m saying “screw it, I’m giving it a shot” and seeing what happens…and that’s what all women need to do, because I want my daughters to laugh when they read this outdated, unbelievable blog post from an antiquated time.
What do YOU think the world would look like if women ran it? What will YOU do to empower yourself or the women in your life (men, I’m talking to you, too!)?
Special thanks to Lindsey Grossman and Lauren Abele, who put precious time and mental energy into sharing their insights with me.