Female Killer Whales Can Teach Executive Boards a Lot About Leadership

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.

Photo: Rawpixel/Shutterstock.com

Should you defend the free speech rights of neo-Nazis?

Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen discusses whether our society should always defend free speech rights, even for groups who would oppose such rights.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Former ACLU president Nadine Strossen understands that protecting free speech rights isn't always a straightforward proposition.
  • In this video, Strossen describes the reasoning behind why the ACLU defended the free speech rights of neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, 1977.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less

Moon mission 2.0: What humanity will learn by going back to the Moon

Going back to the moon will give us fresh insights about the creation of our solar system.

Videos
  • July 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing — Apollo 11.
  • Today, we have a strong scientific case for returning to the moon: the original rock samples that we took from the moon revolutionized our view of how Earth and the solar system formed. We could now glean even more insights with fresh, nonchemically-altered samples.
  • NASA plans to send humans to a crater in the South Pole of the moon because it's safer there, and would allow for better communications with people back on Earth.

Top vets urge dog lovers to stop buying pugs and bulldogs

Pugs and bulldogs are incredibly trendy, but experts have massive animal welfare concerns about these genetically manipulated breeds. 

Photo by terriermandotcom.blogspot.com
popular
  • Pugs, Frenchies, boxers, shih-tzus and other flat-faced dog breeds have been trending for at least the last decade.
  • Higher visibility (usually in a celebrity's handbag), an increase in city living (smaller dogs for smaller homes), and possibly even the fine acting of Frank the Pug in 1997's Men in Black may be the cause.
  • These small, specialty pure breeds are seen as the pinnacle of cuteness – they have friendly personalities, endearing odd looks, and are perfect for Stranger Things video montages.
Keep reading Show less

U.S. Air Force warns UFO enthusiasts against storming Area 51

Jokesters and serious Area 51 raiders would be met with military force.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Facebook joke event to "raid Area 51" has already gained 1,000,000 "going" attendees.
  • The U.S. Air Force has issued an official warning to potential "raiders."
  • If anyone actually tries to storm an American military base, the use of deadly force is authorized.
Keep reading Show less