Will More Women Leaders Change Our World For the Better?
Imagine a system that was designed jointly by men and women. What would that be like?
An article published in The Observer by Tim Adams titled: Tesoterone and High Finance Do Not Mix: So Bring On the Women addresses just that question. It is an interesting and timely read with reader comments and reactions that are equally interesting. Much of the article focuses on the effect of hormones on male decision making in high risk situations. To be brief, he quoted the following three studies in the article. Draw your own conclusions:
“The first definitive study in this area appeared in 2001 in a celebrated paper that broke down the investment decisions made with a brokerage firm by 35,000 households in America. The study, called, inevitably, ‘Boys will be Boys’ found that while men were confident in making multiple changes to investments, their annual returns were, on average, a full percentage point below those of women who invested the family finances, and nearly half as much again inferior to single women.”
“A more recent study of 2.7 million personal investors found that during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, men were much more likely than women to sell any shares they owned at stock market lows. Male investors, as a group, appeared to be overconfident, the author of this study suggested.
‘There’s been a lot of academic research suggesting that men think they know what they’re doing, even when they really don’t know what they’re doing.’
A fact that will come as a surprise to few of us. Men, it seemed, typically believed they could make sense of every piece of short-term financial news. Women, never embarrassed to ask directions, were on the whole far more likely to acknowledge when they didn’t know something. As a consequence, women shifted their positions far less frequently, and made significantly more money as a result.”
“Only 5.5% of executive directors in FTSE 100 companies are women (yet evidence shows that companies with women leaders have a 35% higher return on equity, and companies with more than three women on their corporate board have an 80% higher return on equity).”
In addition to the points made above, other key points I drew from the article:
- In order to create culture change, there needs to be at least 30% representation by women
- Without a minimum of 30% representation, women will try to be surrogate men
- Above it (30%), the subtle differences produced by gender might begin to influence the way decisions are made
- Humans are the only animals that can delay gratification, a function of the prefrontal cortex
- However, the prefrontal cortex only matures after the age of 30, and later in men than women. Before that, we are more likely to seek immediate gratification
- There needs to be greater representation in Investment Banking (both in leadership position and traders) by mature male brains (my words) in addition to women
- More research needs to be done in this area (neuroeconomics)
“Jo Herbert told me at his lab in Cambridge: ‘What is clear is that there are neurological differences between the sexes. Women, in very general terms, are less competitive, and less concerned with the status of being successful. If you want to make women more present, you have to remember two things: the world they are coming into is a man-made world. The financial world. So, either they become surrogate men… or you change the world.’ “
Personally, I prefer we change the world. Attempting to return to the status quo has been the response to the 2008 crisis–and all evidence suggests it’s not working.
Jo Herbert points to a question that has been vexing me for a long time and comes from something I learned in the early years of my career: every system is perfectly designed to achieve the results it gets.
Ergo, if our systems (financial, economic, political, organizations, etc.) are designed by men, is it any wonder that woman are still trying to say, be, act in ways that a man can hear and respect–in other words, we are trying to adjust our style and approach to fit in to a system that was never designed by us, for us or with our contribution? Is it any wonder women act like surrogate men? We either borg, we get spit out of the system or choose to leave to save our souls.
And you? Can you you imagine a system that was designed jointly by men and women. What would that look like?