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Policy provokes me to think and write. I currently work in ivory towers inspiring people to engage in their world. I am a student of the human condition and my classroom is the world. I don't need credentials to have an opinion but I've got paper to prove I know a few things about public health, social welfare and economics. I'm coming out of the tower and taking the words to the people and hope you will send some words back at me.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The sexual politics of board quotas

Women and Access to Executive Boards


The Brits and the EU are contemplating and implementing quotas for board representation of women. A very lofty idea that will bring women into the rooms of power where crucial business decisions are made.

The issue at hand is that women need to have more access to power and also boards and companies need the diversity that women bring. But this presumes that power is male-defined and that only male definitions of power have validity. What is it about women's power that has no validity?


The Power of Being Female


Is the power to gestate a human being and feed them from their body for months not power? What about the power to raise children that then rule the world - both male and female. Women start more small businesses and is that less power than running GM? Is the power of running a home when the head of GM is at work not power? Is the power of being the majority of the world's consumers not power? Is it not power to maintain relationships of friendship and family and keep home life together not power?

So if we decide to take on male forms of power, does that not devaluate our own power? Is ambition only ambition if it means to take on the positions in which men dominate? Even a suit is male. What's wrong with a nice dress? If professional means a suit then we are continuing to perpetuate male standards of 'professional' power. And trying to find pictures of non-suit wearing corporate women on google.com was quite a challenge.

Of course I am not saying that wanting to be president or in the board room is not a valid goal for a woman. I sit on boards, some on which I've had power and others on which I haven't. I have found that having men 'legitimate' my power has gone a long way. At the same time there are women in power who validate that I am the equal of the men. Though I often notice that I'm the 'only' in the room I figure we're all in the room and everyone gets to say their mind. There are times that it takes me a while to notice that I am not only the only woman in the room but the only person of color as well. I don't know if that is significant but I'm always aware of the power that being a woman has over men. And I have no qualms in exercising it in the same way that men use their male power over women. Though women often feel that using their femininity is somehow not okay when men inherently use their masculinity. If we are going to be equal we will have to understand that our power - intellectual, sexual, or otherwise - is as legitimate as that of men.

We do not need to try and get their power but to learn to exercise the tremendous power that we have.

Family and the Business of Being Female


As Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook says, we have to be present and we have to speak up.  But sometimes we can't show up because we have kids and at the bottom of the career ladder it is hard to find childcare. So though the women at the top in line for the board room can afford a nanny, there are a lot of women who fall out along the way because they can't.

A London newspaper interviewed 6 top business women and didn't see the irony of 2 of these women having step-children (and none of their own) as if that didn't have anything to do with their success. The rest of the women had full-time help. That is not the reality of women on the way up. There may be a lot of us at the starting line but we drop out because family policies and cultural norms have us dropping out along the way.

The Pipeline to Corporate Power


And it is the pipeline that is the challenge to fix and not the quotas at the top. If the women are 30% of MBA programs and even less so in quant programs and yet in social work programs they are almost 90%, we must wonder if women are self-selecting careers that do not take them to the top of corporate america; quotas at the top wont fix that. If this 30% shrinks as women go up the ladder how can there be 30% of women on boards? The numbers dont add up.

Exercising Female Power


At the end of the day, women have come far enough to be able to control their own destiny. Perhaps we can get men to learn our ways of power and then we can respect the power that each of us have and not measure power only by male ways of being. We can respect each other's power - whether in the home or the boardroom - and not have women fight for space they seemingly dont want.

As a character said on Mad Men: "Dont be a man. Be a woman. It's powerful business when done correctly."

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