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WOMEN IN THE BOARDROOM -- THE TRUTH


We are going to jump into a bit of a controversial topic: Women in the Board Room - the Truth. We have written previously about the need for diversity and how large corporations are making the turn to be more diverse and inclusive - and they are doing it out of necessity, out of their need for strategic survival and competitive advantage. This has impacted women in a positive way, but we are still stuck with the age-old question: is it really different for women in the boardroom? Now, obviously I am talking to you about this from what I have observed as a man, so I can say with some certainty that locker room talk does occur.

I can tell you for a fact that there are men who do not believe women can do certain jobs. There are some men that really and truly believe women should not be in the workplace. Some believe women should not actually be preachers or pastors in the pulpit, so a number of issues that women have come across are very real. Let's make sure we level set on this reality for any marginalized and / or minority group. The life experiences that you have had, more than likely, are indeed things that happened to you as well as other people. They are real and they are clearly more than figments of your imagination.

We are in a crazy time right now where we talk about the male/female dynamic in the age of “me too”; where it has been reported that men are now sometimes afraid to meet with women alone because there is concern of an accusation of bad conduct, or some type of sexual impropriety. In some cases, clearly it is real, and in other cases it is manufactured. This has brought about considerable angst in the workplace now, especially as you get to more and more senior levels where people have more to lose - just based on mere allegation (real or not).

Let's not sleep. The “me too” movement is clearly about women, but there have been men as well that have experienced sexual molestation. Look at the gay, lesbian movement and whatnot, and you know this really is broader than just one single gender. It is the notion of somebody with power believing that they can abuse it and take advantage of someone else for their own personal benefit.

I want to make sure we are very clear that these things are indeed real. Are men intimidated by strong, powerful women? Yes, some men are intimidated by strong, powerful women. Some men do not really like aggressive women, but what I would tell you is that those aren't things you control. They really aren't. I tend to tell my daughter the same thing that I tell my son. I do not say “ Hey, you know, because you're a woman, you need to do this, that, and the other”, and tell my son “because you are a man, you need to know….”.

Recently during an interview, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an observation about the importance of preparation, which I think is probably the bigger issue when you really think about it. Her name had been thrown around for being the potential commissioner of the US National Football League (NFL). There is a question as to whether or not a woman can coach a professional football team in the U S, because a woman has never coached a professional team. Ms. Rice is one of those people (she's now a provost at Stanford university) whose resume and credentials clearly speak to authority, and an ability to perform and deliver and operate at the highest levels. It is interesting that she was being considered to possibly make a move out of politics and academia into professional sports, and she had a very fascinating response to this whole thing.

Ms. Rice said she was honored to be thought of as a potential coach of a professional team. She said, however, that she had to decline - not because she didn't think a woman could do the job – that wasn’t it. She said that if the woman knows sports, plays, offenses, defenses, strategy, etc., then the fact that she’s a woman should not enter into the equation. Ms. Rice has been on the selection committee to pick the top four university teams to go into the college football playoffs. She was on the original CFP committee that started up about four or five years ago. She actually helps to pick coaches for the various Stanford teams. Any coach who has interviewed her will tell you that she knows her sports more than anyone else with whom they've spoken, so this really and truly is not an issue of her skillset or capability or knowledge. Let's just put that aside.

Ms. Rice’s observation around all of this was that she had to respectfully decline because she didn't think that it would be fair for her to just step in at the highest level in the sport without having gone through the system. She felt that this would end up being nothing more than an experiment, which could make it worse for any woman after her if she didn't “knock it out of the park”. She wasn't saying she didn't have confidence that she could do a great job. She was saying it makes more sense - especially if you are trying to create fantastic opportunities for women - that they work their way up through the ranks just like men. Then when they get to the point where they qualify for a high-ranking position, they will have the full support of everybody in the system, which is a requirement for success. A network of support has to be built in order to get people to buy into what you're trying to accomplish and therefore achieve the results that you want. She didn't get into a conversation around whether women - relative to men - are more emotional, or whether women needed to be more aggressive.

What Ms. Rice said was that she believes that you need to work through the system to get the buy in, to have the resume, the success records and the skillsets that you need to compete at that level. We have seen that we have women referees in the National Football League, so now it would be great to start seeing women on the coaching staffs. That way there would be enough in the pipeline so that when head coaching positions open up, qualified women candidates would be available.

This was really not a conversation about whether women can do the job; will men be threatened, etc. It was about what's the process and what's the procedure that creates the greatest opportunity for a group that has been underserved. We are not really having a conversation about whether women are qualified to be in the board room. Women clearly are qualified to be in the boardroom. The issue has always been what is the preparation that makes anybody - male or female - boardroom worthy.

So, rather than getting distracted by all the other issues out there: - racism, sexism, tribalism, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc. –  we should focus on what we can do, what's within our control. I love the way Stephen Covey talked about this in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. He says there is your circle of influence, and there is your circle of concern. Most people spend way too much time trying to operate in their circle of concern. He said he has found that in order for him to be his best, he tries to operate within his circle of influence. These are things which he can actually influence, and that's a much smaller subset than those things that are in his circle of concern. Staying in his circle of influence allows him to be productive. 

There are three simple things that we can do to follow his advice:

Number one - with regard to women in the board room - just be yourself. It took me a long time to get comfortable with being myself. Somebody always wants to make you believe that there is a certain personality type that's going to be successful. We are at a point now where that's just no longer true. The issue is, can you find a customer that really appreciates and understands what it is that you specifically are bringing to the table? There are going to be some customers that just are not good customers. It doesn't matter what you do. It could be your personality; it could be your clothing; it could be the car you drive; it could be where you went to school. It could be a whole host of things that have absolutely nothing to do with your company’s core capabilities and strengths. In spite of these possible obstacles - first and foremost - just be yourself. Period.

Number two is be the best. I talked about being a subject matter expert in a previous blog. If you're competing at the top of the business-to-business (B2B) game, you need to be the most knowledgeable in your field, which catapults you to the best. Your go-to-market strategy should be to be at the top of your game. That is a competitive differentiator for you in the marketplace. You need to be the best at whatever it is you do. Now being the best in one business is not defined the same as being the best in another business, so you have to figure out what it means to be the best in your market.

Number three is deliver, deliver, deliver. Large corporations are about results. Trying harder doesn't really mean a lot if it doesn't come with results, so you have to always be looking at showing your customer value.

Let's recap the three stipulations: Be Yourself; Be the Best; and Deliver, Deliver, Deliver Results. Not only are those things going to get you in the board room, but they are going to get you the deal each and every time you're in the boardroom. It will not matter that you're a woman.

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