Trending forward: Holding our world

Image credit: lelik759 / 123RF Stock Photo

International Women’s Day, March 7, celebrated around the world. Women hold the world together.


When I first sought out career advice from a male senior executive as I was changing to my next assignment about twenty years ago, he told me “Change the way you dress. Do not wear any more dresses. Get a few dark-colored suits, a bow and tailored dress shirts.” I did and kept my dresses. It was fun to now see Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO, in Vogue and Fortune magazine’s cover in about a month from each other.

This month we celebrate Women History Month. We acknowledge women in the past and ponder how to build a new future. In the United States we are making strides for women as leaders. In ten years, from 73 women in the Congress, now we have 99, or 18.5% of the 535 seats in the 113rd U.S. Congress. Twelve women hold CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies, including the first Latina, Mary Barra at GM, who has a huge challenge on her hands. Companies and entities are paying attention to the pipeline, since the ‘no good candidates’ excuse is no longer acceptable. Women-owned businesses are growing at double the rate of all firms 42.3% vs. 23.3%, and the percentage of women and other diverse groups enrolled in college is accelerating. Women are learning to ‘lean-in’ and the conversation is now a mainstream topic between and among men and women. I thank Sheryl Sandberg for igniting constructive self-evaluation, observation and dialogue.

Although great progress is clear, the pace of progress is not stellar. For example, at the current rate it would take about 100 years to get to 50% of women representation in Congress. And the number of current female Fortune 500 CEOs actually went down from last year 15. In the United States, women account for 16.9% of board seats at Fortune 500 companies. Among developed countries, the numbers are better: Norway – 36%; Finland – 26.8%; Australia – 17.83% and England – 20%. In each of these either mandates helped or, interestingly, men groups have pushed for more women representation on boards. Several studies suggest that diversity on boards contributes to higher functional performance. I am sure as more women become investors, studies will show that diversity also improves stock performance.

What can we do to accelerate it? I have homework for all sides of the issue:

- Facilitate right type of experience: Women should have opportunity to do the ‘tough’ jobs in operations, finance and profit and loss management that will prepare them for higher positions. On-the-job learning is an alternative and women should be comfortable with high-risk, high-reward positions.
- Involve men: Nobody is advocating giving opportunities to women for the sake of diversity. Learning from the best men and women around is critical. Similarly, diversity of thought and access to resources is best accomplished by involving men.
- Be easier and tougher: As women we have to become ‘easier’ on ourselves and learn from ‘can do’ attitudes because ‘I am worthy’, even if ‘never done this before’. Women need to become tougher and not take ourselves too seriously (as my husband reminds me).
- Measurement change: Mirrored images set criteria for advancement. When the image is different, measurements need adaptation (not condescension).
- Priorities first: family and children. A family, in whichever terms one defines it, is society’s foundation. Children cannot raise themselves and cool adolescents need parenting. Society in general needs to strengthen families as their definition evolves.

I am very optimistic that we are on the right track as countries like the U.S, although not perfect, strive to support women as leaders. Women innate traits such as good communications, sharing and caring for others could become the model for next generations. The responsibility is even bigger as we figure out how to help in countries where women are less respected or plainly abused. Women for centuries have held families together. Today, women must hold the world together.

I do have one worry mentioned in the book by Alison Wolf, The XX Factor: How the Rise of Working Women Has Created a Far Less Equal World. I worry that women’s ascension to leadership positions could exacerbate the gap between women (old-young; North-South, fat-skinny, educated-less formally educated) and other diverse segments of the population, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Veterans and Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender. Fortunately, I have never seen this other than in teen movies. And I hope I never do.

Let’s celebrate Women’s History Month. Let’s hold the future of our world in our hands.

Three Big Ones

February is such a busy ‘Shorty’ month. We finished the Grammys and are going to the Oscars. We finished Super Bowl went right into the Winter Olympics and now into March Madness. We stayed home this winter trying to escape the cold. We might remember Martin Luther King’s day because it is a holiday.

We do not have time to reflect on the meaning of the African-American Heritage month.

I picked a few of the most memorable quotes from three contemporary leaders of African heritage: Martin Luther King – U.S., Nelson Mandela – South Africa and Gwendolyn Brooks – U.S.

Martin Luther-King

Martin-Luther-King-Jr-9365086-2-402 from biography.com

His speech, “I have a dream” is a moral tenant for many in the world today.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
― A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
― I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

Nelson Mandela:

Nelson-Mandela-9397017-1-402 from biography.com

After his death in 2012, the world is starting to read his words and uncanny wisdom.

“I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man.”

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

“In and of itself, that assured that I would survive, for any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose because I will not part with it at any price or under any pressure”.

“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead so that when the long walk is over a man must be able to look back and say “I would have not changed a single footstep”.

Sources: Brainy Quote, WSJ.

Gwendolyn-Brooks-9227599-1-402 PHoto from biography.com

Dedicated her life to poetry and to encourage children to pursue education.

Gwendolyn Brooks:

“When you use the term minority or minorities
in reference to people, you’re telling them that
they’re less than somebody else.”

“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

“Live not for Battles Won.
Live not for The-End-of-the-Song.
Live in the along.”
― Gwendolyn Brooks, Report from Part One

”First fight. Then fiddle.”
― Gwendolyn Brooks (b. 1917), U.S. poet. “The Children of the Poor,” 4.

Each of these GRANDES shares more than the color of their skin or their struggles to improve the lives of all regardless of ethnicity. They share decades of experience and wisdom gained through overcoming hardship while uplifting others. They share the ability to tell stories, to encapsulate transcendental life philosophies capable of changing lives and nations. They share African heritage.

And for that, we thank them.