Monday, July 6, 2009

Honest Talk about Women and Money

Lucy Kellaway has an interesting piece in Financial Times. What follows is an excerpt from "Women in the Boardroom". Lucy's honesty is so refreshing.

In the past two weeks, this link [between women and money] has been thrust down my throat twice. First, at a dinner in London last week for senior working women this link was simply stated as a fact. And then, more forcefully, it was stated in a new book called Womenomics* written by two US television presenters.

The book’s central tenet is something called the “asset-to-oestrogen” ratio – the idea that companies with more senior women are more profitable. This ratio makes me feel queasy for three reasons. First, it is yucky. Second, it is ageist as women who have come out of the menopause don’t have so much oestrogen any more. Third, and most powerfully, it is total twaddle.

“Do the math,” the authors urge. Alas, I can’t to do the math – or the maths, as we call it in Britain – as I’m not a statistician. But I’ve consulted people who can and they say it is far from clear that companies with lots of senior women outperform. To prove this, you would need a huge sample – which at the moment does not exist. You would need to adjust for sector and for a thousand other things that influence profitability. And even if you could establish such a link, the case would still not be made as it might well be that the sort of companies that promote women may also be the sort that treat all employees nicely. Or the sort that are more innovative, and these things might have a greater effect on profitability than oestrogen.

This doesn’t mean I’m not in favour of having women in senior positions – women make up half the population and it seems a shame to have them so unrepresented at the top of companies.
Another thing I’m even more strongly in favour of, though, is talking about these things honestly. The senior women at the dinner the other night were all true believers and, therefore, not open to discussion. When I dared to suggest that being female had been massively to my advantage (I wouldn’t be on the board in a million years if I was a man), they looked as if they had sucked on a lemon.

Read it all here.

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