Saturday, October 16, 2010

How Change Happens

Change is dared by few, willed by more, and (eventually) tolerated by all.

The end of the conference...

...but the beginning of action steps.

We've heard about the gender gaps, we've seen the research, we know the business case, we've learned what other countries have done to close gender gaps. Now it is up to everyone to make sure that other people know about these gaps--and that we take concrete steps to close them.

What will you do?

Thank you so much to conference chairs Iris Bohnet, Laura Liswood and Saadia Zahidi. Thank you to the Women and Public Policy Program at HKS and to the Council of Women World Leaders staffs. It was a privilege to be a part of the program and to share my thoughts over the past two days. I hope that it was helpful--and more importantly, I hope that you feel galvanized to action.

The First Phase in Diversity is Counting.

And there are 141 countries in which there is no data to date, according to Irene Natividad, Chair of the Corporate Women Directors International and President of the Global Summit of Women.

To use her words, "that is pathetic."

The other steps?

Quotas. Corporate Governance Codes/Stock Exchange/Securities Exchange Commission Initiatives. Making the business case. Advocacy (especially from institutional investors).

And women ought to be in--and taking part in--all of those entities.

Quotas: In Norway, highly disliked (then).

Quotas: (Still) disliked.

But when Norway hit its 40% quota target for women on corporate boards in 2008, according to Elin Hurvenes, founder of the Professional Boards Forum, everybody liked the results.

Bottom line. Action. Results. Isn't this what companies care about?

"Breaking the Glass Ceiling from the Top"

I will state my bias right up front: I worked with Catalyst over the summer and I absolutely consider myself a Catalysta. And so should you.

Ilene Lang, the president and CEO of Catalyst, just shared a small sliver of the research Catalyst is doing that is changing the makeup of organizations and board leadership. And as she says--even though the values-based argument and a person's sense of fair play may be the most important motivating reason for addressing gender gaps-- financial and "bottom line" measures are a good way to help sweep others along.

So here's the bottom line: it just makes good business sense (and that's in a dollars sense of the word). According to Catalyst research, Fortune 500 companies with higher percentages of women on their boards see equity returns 53 percent higher than those companies with the fewest number of women on their boards, as well as 42 percent higher return on sales and 66 percent higher return on investment.

Granted, this is a correlation, not a causation. But given the other compelling reasons--not to mention our current economy--what part of 15.2% F500 board seats held by women makes any sense (or cents) at all?

Dads and Their Daughters.

"Until it hits close to home, and you're coming after me and mine, it's not real."

David Ross, associate professor at Columbia Business School just brought a giant ray of sunshine to the debate we're having today. His (preliminary) research in Denmark has found that if a male CEO has a son, there is no change in the salaries of those around him. Yet, if a male CEO has a daughter, there is an instantaneous rise in the salaries of the female managers around him. His conclusion: if all it takes is that moment of realization, when you realize you want to make the world a more equal place because you now have a living investment in the future, this is a battle we can win.

Love it, and the conference loved it as well.

However...this means that the attitudes towards women are that much more important. This means that the gendercide going on in countries like India and China is that much more horrifying. It raises even more questions about how to tackle gender gaps on a global scale. And in no way does it mean that we can just wait for others to have that "light bulb" moment, that our work is done, or that we--men and women alike--still do not have the responsibility to close the gender gaps in our own lives.

"Filling the pipeline is not enough."

Most likely, the women and men sitting in the conference room right now all know this already, but it bears repeating. Thanks, Barbara Annis, for reminding us.

Organizations, are you paying attention?

Math is Fun.

Scott Page, professor at the University of Michigan and a self-described mathematical wonk, just used complex mathematical theories to explain why diversity equals greater efficiency and productivity (and are those not the reasons for which businesses exist??). And you do not need to be a math wonk to understand the basic ideas.

His conclusions ("levers"), from metaphor to mathematics, on why diversity is so relevant (and so important):

1. Prediction: different people have different models and patterns through which we see the world (the official term "Pile Sort"). The greater the diversity, the lower the error.

This boils down to: crowd error=average error-diversity (I promise his math was much fancier than mine, but the basic idea still holds).

2. Production: If you assume that production depends on types of workers, that each has positive but diminishing returns, and there no synergies, on average the more types of workers the more productivity you'll see.

The basic idea: if you don’t know the problem, you should at least know to be diverse.

3. Robustness: An update on Darwin's survival of the fittest--Fisher’s theorem, which says that the more variation in the current population, the higher the fitness in the next population.

The basic idea: this applies to people...and to companies.

4. Innovation: Experimental tests have shown that when a myriad of different (smart) agents with similar backgrounds are put to a task and compared to a randomly selected group of agents (not previously tested for intelligence) with diverse perspectives and heuristics, the diverse group almost always outperforms the group of the best by a substantial margin.

The basic idea: Different people, different (and better) results.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ask What You Can Do

We heard a lot today about the research, the reasons behind, the power dynamics, and the realities of gender gaps in business, in politics, in wealth and across countries. I want to bring us back to Marie Wilson’s point: what are we going to do about it?

We have another day, to be sure. And tomorrow’s panels promise to reveal even more—we may not all aspire to political positions, know much about development, or even have control over financial decision making (although Davia Temin may have us thinking differently about how important this is) but we will all at one point or another, be a part of an organization and a team. Tomorrow’s panels and panelists speak directly to this aspect of our lives.

I want the conference to go on beyond tomorrow, though.

While speaking about this with Julia Dulan of Southern Company and Allison Muehlenbeck, a fellow MPP student, we decided to propose the following idea to the participants of this conference and to readers of this blog…

A pledge to take concrete, specific action within a specified time frame after the conference closes tomorrow. As the variety of panel themes shows, we come from many different industries, so this concrete action will likely take many different forms. However, we need to capitalize on the potential multiplier effect that comes with having an exceptional, smart, motivated group of people use the gendered data and stories discussed here today to turn friends into activists and associates into allies.

Maybe it’s hokey. But it’s one way to move beyond talk. And as someone who worked in the DC advocacy community prior to coming to graduate school, I know you can’t miss the opportunity to make the ask. If every single person in this room commits to take at least one concrete step that works to address one of the gender gaps we talked about today, we move the agenda forward.

I pledge, before October ends, to convene a similar group of young women, from across the graduate schools in the Boston area, to get together and discuss what action steps we will take on each of our own campuses. I see a need for more young(ish) women to take ownership of closing the global gender gap—and I see a lack of collaboration between sectors starting even at these early stages in our careers. I want to do something concrete about it.

In the spirit of John F. Kennedy and the school he inspired: what can you do?

Please feel free to share below!

Davia Temin Has Convinced Me...

I need to learn more about finances. Personal and otherwise.

For anyone who just missed the name of the free financial "bootcamp" Davia Temin just mentioned, you can find it at You can create an action plan on your personal finances, create a budget based on your income, learn more about investing or dissect your retirement plan.

It looks like I have some work cut out for me over the winter break.

Prime Minister Campbell: I wish you were still at Harvard.

"It’s not men against women, it’s men and women who get it versus men and women who don’t get it."

Quotaahs in the U.S.

Marie Wilson, founder and President of the White House Project, just announced a radical idea: maybe we need to stop conferring at conferences and do more.

Her point: we know why women matter. We have the research to back up why it's a good idea for more women to be represented in corporate and public life. She has personally seen it happen--from an ER nurse in Michigan who passed the first health care plan for the state (before our federal government) to a woman who informed her Colorado community about water-care for houses, which was followed by a 65% drop in the rate of foreclosures. Yet, although conferences like the ones today have been occurring with relatively steady frequency (Ms. Wilson mentioned one from the 1990s and one from 2003)--the U.S. is actually dropping globally in its rate of political representation of women, from 49th in the world, to 58 to 73 today.

What are the prescriptions for change that will truly push us forward? Training, storytelling, old-fashioned organizing, changing voting patterns, and of course, adding money.

And maybe...quotaahs.

**A quick note about numbers: I'm blogging as I listen, so I apologize for any discrepancies.

"There is no glass ceiling in the world…it’s just a thick layer of men."

Laura Liswood, Secretary General at the Council of Women World Leaders, kicked off the conference this morning, eliciting laughs from the audience with the above statements. This conference, in her view, is a call to action--and action has already begun.

During the breakfast this morning, as I sat with some of the senior women from some of the leading financial and banking institutions from around the world, discussions about the gender gap in the business world were already in full swing.

On the surface, women have a lot to be optimistic about right now. A slew of articles, including Hanna Rosin's "The End of Men" article in the Atlantic this past summer, the Washington Post's article on women making six-figure salaries and the Economist's first issue of the year, proclaiming "We did it!" paints a picture in which women are actually doing much better than ever before--that we are doing well, in fact, in comparison to men.

Unfortunately, this is not really the case, as the facts show. Only 2% of Board chairmanships are held by women (in the U.S.). Women in the U.S. comprise approximately 15% of corporate boards. Full time women managers still make 81 cents on the dollar as compared to their male counterparts. And as Saadia Zahidi just pointed out in her sneak peak at the 2010 Global Gender Gap Report, at the rate at which we're going, we will reach the year 4000 before we reach gender parity as indicated by the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index (measuring political empowerment, health and survival, educational attainment and economic participation).

I'm pretty sure we cannot wait 1990 years.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Introducing the Student Blogger at the Conference

My name is Varina Winder and I am a second year student in the Masters in Public Policy program here at Harvard's Kennedy School. I am also the co-chair for the Women and Gender Caucus at HKS, an auditor in Iris Bohnet's Closing the Global Gender Gap class, and a summer 2010 recipient of the Roy Family Fellowship. I spent the Fellowship with Catalyst, writing a white paper on creating Employee Resource Groups for women talent in Latin American businesses (the blog for which can be found here).

I was absolutely thrilled to receive an invitation from the Women and Public Policy Program (or WAPPP, as it is affectionately known)--both to the Business Case Conference itself and to sharing my thoughts on the conference's progression via this blog. In the interest of full disclosure, I am very much interested in the nexus of gender, business, policy and politics and I bring a heavy bias with me to the conference.

I absolutely believe that there is not only a moral and ethical case for bringing gender and diversity to organizations, politics and societal discussions, but that there is also a business case. Thus, the conference, to me, will serve as a way to provide additional evidence for my convictions and to hear the thoughts of people from a variety of backgrounds--from Goldman Sachs to the World Economic Forum to academia to the White House Project. I am also excited to see my summer boss, Ilene Lang, and to meet some of my biggest role models (including, hopefully, Laura Liswood, the Secretary General for the Council of Women World Leaders and one of the Conference Chairs).

I will be posting my thoughts and reactions to the panel discussions and overall conference over the next two days. Thanks for staying tuned!

Welcome to the Business Case Conference blog!

This Friday and Saturday October 15-16, 2010, the Women and Public Policy Program is hosting “Closing the Gender Gap: The Business Case for Organizations, Politics and Society” in collaboration with the Council of Women World Leaders and our knowledge partner, the World Economic Forum.

Beginning with a macro-perspective on development, we will focus on the relationship between a country’s gender gap and its economic performance. This will be followed by a discussion of the impact of gender diversity on political outcomes and include the reflections of women leaders who have served in political office.

After examining gender gaps at the societal and political levels, we will address individual, team and organizational perspectives, analyzing how a person’s gender affects financial decision making, the relevance of diversity in teams and the relationship between the gender balance in corporations (management and boards) and company performance.

The two day conference will address:
  • the relationship between a country’s gender gap and its economic performance
  • the impact of gender diversity on political outcomes
  • how a person’s gender affects financial decision making
  • the relevance of diversity in teams 
  • the relationship between the gender balance in corporations (management and boards) and company performance

 We'll be blogging throughout the conference, so stay tuned for updates!