Sometimes I wonder why I’m not rich. I have worked so hard, studied so much… When I was in graduate business school, I thought I would be rich by now. Here’s what I have learned about being a woman in business.
1. Men are not the problem.
2. Women are the problem more often than you would think. I have been back-stabbed and undermined by women far more than by men. When it comes to women getting ahead in business, the gender that is the greater stumbling block is other women. “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down,” seems to be a pervasive and self-destructive attitude in women’s culture. The only woman I personally know who got rich did it in the heavy construction business.
3. Sheryl Sandberg is right. Effective and Nice are mutually exclusive for women. The word bitch should be reserved for female dogs, who are the most powerful individuals in the dog-breeding world.
4. There might be a Glass Ceiling and it might be biology-based.The Y chromosome is on the left in this image. Men have one of these, and one X chromosome, the big one on the right. Women have two X chromosomes. What is on all that extra DNA that women have that men don’t?
Why are there so few women CEOs? Is there something on that extra DNA that interferes with women becoming Chief Executive Officers?
Mary Barra is a rare example of a female CEO. She has worked for GM since 1980. She got a bachelor’s in electrical engineering on her own, but GM sent her to Stanford Graduate School of Business because she had so much talent. When GM went bankrupt, the government sent in a “rescue executive” to get it back on track and to find the best talent to lead the company back to solvency. He picked Mary Barra for CEO because she was “a car guy.”
Within weeks, she discovered that faulty ignition switches were implicated in several deaths, and she publicly announced a recall, to the dismay of many. This move took a lot of courage because it would cost the company a tremendous amount of money and be a serious public relations blow.
But if she failed to recall the dangerous products there would be more deaths, unnecessary deaths. She eventually discovered that the cover-up extended to more models, so she issued more recalls. Interestingly, company revenue increased, and eventually, GM’s approval rating surged as her ethical way of dealing with the problem emerged in government hearings. Is biology an element here?
For a long time, women were excluded from combat. Why? “Because they take all the fun out of it,” my friend Todd Armstrong once told me. Women are not likely to participate in wartime rape or mayhem (the crime of maliciously injuring or maiming someone, originally so as to render the victim defenseless).
The Glass Ceiling may be real because there are things that most women won’t do. It is possible that most women would not let customers continue to die to protect the company’s reputation. She had the courage to reveal a years-long cover-up, and to take a huge financial hit, in order to stop the needless deaths.
The male CEOs at the time of the cover-up did not choose this path. They stonewalled the inquiries and litigated them away.
So, I am not rich because hard work and being smart, while necessary for success, are not sufficient. An effective team is always more productive and innovative than a single person, and I am still working on that. Success also requires building a strong support system and good connections. It might demand being more ruthless than I am willing. And maybe a few more things I don’t know about.
So, I didn’t get rich, but I have enough.