I Don't Want a Seat at the Table. I Want to Change the Table.

As we take seats at that table we have different perspectives.

I think that there’s a critical mass forming of more women who are in the executive ranks here and around the world and more women who are going onto boards.  Having said that, I would also say that because of mergers and acquisitions, the number of boards has shrunk, the number of women on boards is still insignificant compared to men, the percentages are still low. 

And I think that women have to prove a lot more, not only through the course of their career but in terms of their ability for executives on boards and CEOs who might appoint them to be comfortable with them.  Let me just say what I’m thinking here.  Once you get to a certain level in your career you have proven your competence.  You don’t have to prove your competence any more.  That’s done.  You can do it.  Past that level, the dialogue shifts.  The psychological dialogue shifts to not one of competence, but one of comfort.  

How comfortable am I that this person is going to back me up?  How comfortable am I that this person is not going to put a monkey wrench in the things I want to do?  How comfortable am I that this person and I can have a conversation where I’m not going to say anything that’s politically incorrect, that I’m not going to say anything that’s going to offend that person?  How comfortable am I that this person can really take what I want to accomplish and run with it without being an obstacle to me?  Comfort level becomes key. 

And so there are so many women around whom competence is no longer the discussion.  And what is hard for us to do now is learn the politics, learn the kinds of things that have to be done in order to set people at ease around that table of decision.  

The second thing that I would say is that it’s one thing to want to have a seat at the table, which is opening up more and more.  It’s another thing to be able to change the table.  And that’s where some of the discomfort begins to arise because as we take seats at that table we have different perspectives.  I’ll say something that I probably would get shot for, but I’m going to talk in stereotypes, and nobody likes when you talk in stereotypes, but I’m going to make this case.  We know from brain imaging in science that the male brain and the female brain are physiologically distinct from each other in many ways that we’re not going to discuss now.  So we have different computers and different things matter to us for different reasons.  

So if I take what we’ve learned and I project it onto the world stage, I would say that in general, in general, men see the world as a three-legged stool.  The seat is the economy and the three legs are transportation infrastructure, communication systems and capital formation.  And the belief is that if you strengthen those three legs enough you will strengthen the seat of the stool, the economy, so much that more and more people can pile on higher and higher and higher.  The female view of the world tends to also be a three-legged stool, but the seat is not the economy, it’s the society.  And the three legs are health, education, and ecological integrity.  And the belief is that if you strengthen those three legs enough, you grow the seat wider and wider and wider, so that more people can pile on side by side.

Now those are two very different world views.  The key to the success of any society, of any corporation, or any municipality, of any undertaking, is to ensure that there is a sixth-legged chaise lounge, because you can’t have any one of those six legs shortened without the whole thing collapsing.  What’s the good of all the healthcare in the world if there’s no way to deliver it?  Same thing with education.  What’s the good of all the education if you can’t get it to where it needs to go?  On the other hand, what is the good of all the investments with high returns if you’re not educating your next generation of young people to build on that capital as opposed to take it down over the course of their lifetime?

So our challenge is not to denigrate the thinking styles, the processing of one or the other, but to make sure that we represent both.  And they tend to be represented, tend to, by having women and men in these conversations.  There are men who do think along the more feminine side.  There are women who think along the more masculine side.  But in general, what diversity is about is thinking patterns, and what thinking patterns are about are where people are coming from.  And where people come from tend to be sometimes defined by their gender, their age, their race, their ethnicity, and so—their age—so when we think about that, we think about diversity, diversity of thought is a very good thing.

And in this case, we’re looking at half the population of the world and another half of the population of the world and saying let’s put that together.  Because the way that we process when separated leaves tremendous instability, but when combined you build on a powerful foundation.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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