Female Killer Whales Can Teach Executive Boards a Lot About Leadership
Kathleen Kelley Reardon is Professor Emerita of Management at University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
She earned her Ph.D. summa cum laude and with distinction at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst after receiving her BA degree with honors from University of Connecticut at Storrs. Kathleen is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi and Mortar Board.
Her primary areas of scholarly interest have been leadership communication, persuasion, politics in the workplace, negotiation and interpersonal communication. Public Opinion Quarterly described her first book, Persuasion in Practice, as a landmark contribution to the field.
Kathleen has taught negotiation, leadership and politics in the MBA, Executive MBA, and International MBA. For 15 years, she served on the USC Preventive Medicine faculty, developing interventions aimed at changing health habits among high-risk populations. She also served as associate director with Warren Bennis of the USC Leadership Institute.
She has authored 10 books and numerous articles, including three for The Harvard Business Review. Her 2001 book The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle (Currency, Doubleday) became an Amazon.com nonfiction and business best seller. It was followed by The Skilled Negotiator (Jossey-Bass, 2004), It’s All Politics: Winning in a World Where Hard Work and Talent Aren’t Enough (Currency, Doubleday, 2005), Childhood Denied: Ending the Nightmare of Child Abuse and Neglect (Sage, 2008), and Comebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master Confrontation (Harper Business, 2010).
Her first novel, Shadow Campus, is an inside look at the politics of academia, a mystery-thriller and a love story. Forbes described it as a “masterful debut.” The sequel is underway for publication in 2015.
Kathleen was awarded the 2013 Humanitarian Award by the University of Connecticut Alumni Association based on her contributions to underserved groups, especially in originating and working to develop college prep academies for foster teens (www.firststar.org).
Kathleen is a signature blogger at Huffington Post (since 2005) and also blogs at her website (www.kathleenkelleyreardon.com).
Under a new law passed last week, a number of Germany's largest companies must award at least 30 percent of board seats to women by January of 2016. Germany has joined Norway, France, Spain, Iceland, Italy, and Belgium in quota systems. Another 3,500 companies must come up with a quota plan by next September, with binding targets, showing how they will add women to their management levels and boards.
The new legislation will be applied as vacancies occur. If companies are unable to fill the required proportion of supervisory board seats with women candidates, they will be legally obliged to leave the seat empty.
There are pros and cons to such quotas. And certainly there are ways around them, so they don’t solve everything. There is the risk of assuming that filling top spots also resolves problems that exist at other, less lofty levels, creating a false sense of gender equality. But an increasing number of countries are seeing advantages, especially when nothing else is working.
In her discussion of quotas, Forbes business writer Shellie Karabell draws a link between the German quota decision and recent research on killer whales. Our fellow mammals are far more accepting of female leadership. In the Pacific coastal waters of British Columbia, researchers examined the value of extensive life beyond menopause experienced by female killer whales — a characteristic shared by their human counterparts.
Mature female killer whales, the researchers learned, are more likely than adult males to be group leaders, especially during difficult years when salmon abundance is low. Far from being superfluous, these females know where to find the salmon. They are repositories of special wisdom acquired over the years, with enhanced social knowledge as well. If you want to eat, you follow them.
Apparently, there’s no panicked, silly “scrambling” among male killer whales over where to find enough experienced females, no “grooming” obstacle regarding claims that females haven’t been sufficiently mentored. No wringing of fins and flexing of hubris goes on about lowering the bar. They’re hungry. She knows where the salmon are. That’s critical. Case closed.
Researchers do not appear to have found female leader whales haunted by being “required” leaders. Maybe they even skipped the “token” period that supposedly made women insecure for decades. Somehow they lead undaunted despite smaller pectoral muscles and tail flukes.
Karabell notes, “Human females need laws to secure leadership roles for themselves that Mother Nature apparently has already designated.” The observant female killer whale accrues leadership advantages over time, as does the vigilant human female. One accedes naturally to leadership; the other often fights for every inch at higher levels of traditional organizations.
Whether you favor executive gender quotas or not, the frequently assumed difference deficit is disputed by research. The presence of women has improved boards. Besides, many errors occur when selecting men to high-level positions. There are no guarantees. If mistakes are made in bringing women onto boards, that would be no different than the track record for men.
We might take a lesson or two then from killer whale leadership — particularly regarding the nonsensicality of excuses for blocking women’s board membership. It’s not how much a leader looks like all the others that matters. In fact, that’s where the greater danger lies — ever learning from a different vantage point, fretting over “fit” when the true advantage is far from it.
Kathleen also blogs here.
Both schizophrenics and people with a common personality type share similar brain patterns.
- A new study shows that people with a common personality type share brain activity with patients diagnosed with schizophrenia.
- The study gives insight into how the brain activity associated with mental illnesses relates to brain activity in healthy individuals.
- This finding not only improves our understanding of how the brain works but may one day be applied to treatments.
It's a development that could one day lead to much better treatments for osteoporosis, joint damage, and bone fractures.
- Scientists have isolated skeletal stem cells in adult and fetal bones for the first time.
- These cells could one day help treat damaged bone and cartilage.
- The team was able to grow skeletal stem cells from cells found within liposuctioned fat.
Gut bacteria play an important role in how you feel and think and how well your body fights off disease. New research shows that exercise can give your gut bacteria a boost.
- Two studies from the University of Illinois show that gut bacteria can be changed by exercise alone.
- Our understanding of how gut bacteria impacts our overall health is an emerging field, and this research sheds light on the many different ways exercise affects your body.
- Exercising to improve your gut bacteria will prevent diseases and encourage brain health.
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