Tag Archives: Forbes Power Women

A great divide: planned parenthood and corporate planning

Corporate plans in place for a terrorist attack or natural disaster, but not maternity leave

Stereotypical thinking
I have just taken a flight across Europe. For 2 hours and 20 minutes straight, a new-born baby screamed without taking a breath the entire trip. The parent (male) and steward (male) did their level best to soothe the poor mite – but to no avail. It was a totally natural scene and possibly apart from being thankful it wasn’t their child, no one on that aeroplane gave the matter a second thought and especially not the gender of the 2 care givers

Perpetuating stereotypes
Which made me think of the Forbes Power Women List which came out last week. I’m not a fan and generally believe it leans towards bull rather than buzz, although I will admit this year’s list is an improvement on 2010, despite Christine Lagarde only coming in at #9. I also think perhaps somewhat contentiously that it promotes stereotypical thinking, just as much and perhaps more so, as it tries to debunk it.

A vital statistic that stood out for me in this year’s promotional roll call, in that slightly breathless, condescending, incredulous, ” didn’t they do well” tone, is that 88% of the women on the list have children. They are mothers. What’s particularly interesting about this information, is that it is even mentioned. I assume most of the Forbes powerful men list are fathers. Does anyone ever comment about that? Exactly!

Planned parenthood
One of the greatest historical changes to impact the lives of couples and women in particular in recent times (perhaps ever) in the developed world, is the wide availability of sophisticated birth control and contraception.The Economist (December 31, 1999) called oral contraceptives ” the greatest science and technology advance in the twentieth century

This has given both women and men (let’s not forget these are not immaculate conceptions) in developed economies, the opportunity to plan with the military precision of a space mission, not just the number of children they have, but also the timing of each pregnancy. Diets are adjusted, alcohol intake modified, exercise increased, temperatures taken, ovulation cycles monitored, sperm counts checked, baby rooms prepared, ante natal classes attended, showers held, mother and baby classes subscribed to. Books are bought, family are alerted, dad-to-be helps with all the heavy breathing, romper suits arrive by the dozen. Buggies, bouncers and baby chairs are ordered. Names are chosen, christenings or similar naming ceremonies are planned. Plan Bs hover in the background , with frozen eggs and sperm on hand just in case mother nature doesn’t oblige.

Strategic planning
So it would seem, notwithstanding the odd surprise, that having a baby has to be one of the most orderly and thought out processes that many men and women undertake in their lives. So I ask myself (and you too!) why does the planning seem to stop there? If employees are planning their families, why can organisations not plan to the same degree? Instead the careers of women in their 30s becomes a major elephant in the sitting room, that people hope will amble away on its own. And women do – in their droves.

Female workforce
Janine is a Client Services Director for a well-known financial services company based near Brighton, UK. She manages a team of 120, of which 90 are women. 80% of that number are between the ages 18 and 40. “ If all my team became pregnant at the same time, I’d have a problem!” she told me smiling. “As their manager I’m not allowed to ask my employees what their plans or intentions are with regard to having a family. Their supervisors are close to their staff in an informal way and have ideas about who we would move where and to cover which gaps and skill sets. But there is no official succession planning policy to cover maternity leave, although we do have an emergency plan in the event of a terrorist attack or other natural disaster! ”

Terrorist threat
Now I’m sure there could well be any number of subversive, underground, terrorist cells plotting to target financial organisations near Brighton, but I wonder how these threats, including a meteorological catastrophe, would stack up against the likelihood of any of those female staff becoming pregnant. There is a plan to cope with both of the former, but not the latter. Does that strike anyone as a little incongruous? I also find it frustrating than women are not expected to plan beyond the start of their maternity leave and although having a baby is discombobulating on many levels, it doesn’t close down brain functionality completely. They are having a baby, not a lobotomy.

The father factor
A Fatherhood Study carried out by Boston College tells us “ According to a study by the National Study of the Changing Workforce, for the first time since 1992, young women and young men do not differ in terms of their desire for jobs with greater responsibility (Galinsky, Aumann, & Bond, 2008). As a result, young women may be less prone to be the “accommodating spouse” in two-career couples, placing their career aspirations second to that of their male spouses”.

In fact the study also suggests that men also have different expectations. “Their wives are likely to be at least as well if not better educated, just as ambitious as they are, and make more money than they do. More importantly, these men feel that being a father is not about being a hands-off economic provider

Cultural changes
It would seem that although the expectations of both men and women are changing, organisations are not adapting fast enough to the cultural shifts in the societies around them. Economies need to counteract a declining birth rate and stimulate economic growth. The economy of the euro zone for example has been predicted to grow 16 per cent if women were in formal employment as much as men. Both men and women are looking for better work/life balance, not just women, and the business model for corporate culture, which creates a gender divide needs to be re-examined rather than emulated.

Lists such as the Forbes list with messages which portray women with successful careers as mothers are actually perpetuating stereotypical thinking rather than knocking it on the head.

Men get married and are fathers too.

Forbes Global Power Women: Buzz or Bull?

Going global? I don’t think so
For the uninitiated , The Forbes list, a compilation of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women was published last month with a gallery of a 100 “power women”. Like many I have issues with it, although I don’t want to detract from any woman, anywhere, having any degree of success. All of these nominated ladies are clearly talented with signficant achievements in their fields, but to claim that this makes them powerful in a global context seems a huge stretch and at times simply nonsense.

Michele Obama comes in at # 1. Irene B. Rosenfeld is second as Chairman and CEO of Kraft (Revenue $40 billion, employees 97000). But Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, the country ranked 3rd or 5th in the world in terms of GDP ( depending on which stats you use) and a population of 82 million people, lags behind at #4, a drop of 3 places from 2009. This is a nonsense bit – or at least one of them.

US bias
Even a quick count indicated that 70% of the nominees are American. There are also no less than 4 US show biz personalities in the top 10. About a quarter are celebrities, some major and some pretty minor. One of the reasons I suspect this has happened is because Forbes confuses the notion of power with influence, but perhaps we’re all confused anyway. The term power has become so overworked and overused in current vernacular which doesn’t help. We have power hose, power hitter, power nap and now we have ” power women.” The line between power and influence has always been fine, however, one thing I believe is that power is perceived to be direct and influence as indirect.

Global Gender Gap Report
The World Economic Forum report on gender equality, examining 4 main areas: education, economy, health and politics. came out within days of the Forbes report. The United States moved into the top 20 this year for the first time (up from #31). This progress mainly comes from the number of women appointed to the Obama administration. Many of those are on the Forbes list, but ranked lower than some celebs! I’m not sure they should be acknowledged in front of Scandinavian women leaders who succeeded in reaching between 80% and 83% equality in the four areas under analysis for their countries.

Michele Obama
I’m a huge fan of Michele Obama. She’s bright, intelligent and she hugs. However, does being the wife of the world’s most powerful man, make her the world’s most powerful woman? I don’t think so. She earned this position because she is the wife of Barak. Does it make her a very influential woman within a certain sphere? Yes of course it does. This will also apply to Melinda Gates #27 ( wife of Bill richest man in the world). Do they have more power than say Elizabeth II (#42)? I think even non Brits would dispute that.

Buzz factor
Seemingly the list was compiled around a “buzz factor “, moving away from wealth and corporate achievements as the main male focused KPIs for inclusion on this list, as Moira Forbes, the vice president and publisher of Forbes Woman elaborates ” The women on our list, through their respective realms of power and influence, are shaping many of the agenda-setting conversations of our day,” This is where it goes horribly wrong in a global context

So why not call it ” Women who generate buzz primarily in the USA”?

What is ” buzz” anyway?
There are many women who generate buzz as anyone who picks up a tabloid in any language, in any country in the world would know. This doesn’t necessarily make them influential and especially doesn’t make them powerful. Will the traction of these US celebrities and many of the politicians be the same in Brussels, Berlin or Bangalore? I don’t think so. I’m not sure Ellen Degeneres’ influence would extend to Essex let alone Egypt. Christine Lagarde, Finance Minister of France, #43, comes in behind Chelsea Handler seemingly a talk show host #33. Who do you think generates the most buzz in France? We might talk about Martha Stewart ( #97 Lifestyle guru) but possibly more about her jail time. Some lifestyle!

So how do you measure, qualitatively assess and define this concept “buzz” anyway? Column inches? YouTube or TV mentions, paparazzi pics? Pay check? Direct reports or population counts? Do Beyoncé and Lady Gaga generate more significant agenda setting conversations than Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf President of Liberia, coming in at #78. Possibly not in Africa or Julia Gillard Prime Minister of Australia #58. I doubt it. We may not sit around discussing Angela Merkel’s outfit or diet at the last G20 summit, but does she have more global clout than Michele Obama or Oprah Winfrey? I think so.

Negative Perceptions
So where does that leave the average woman skimming through this list as one does, possibly no further than the top 10 entries? The choice of Michele Obama as #1,re-enforces the age-old stereotype that a woman’s power and influence is directly related to the position of her husband. It encourages us yet again, to buy into the culture of celebrity, in this case with a strong US bias, which for most women is light years away from their daily lives, even to the point of being misleading. I also wonder if it seems to attach lower value to political and other achievements than the media and fashion. This is not to deny the influence of some of those listed women, but to show the limitations of this type of list.

Most women I have discussed this concept with have suggested that the most powerful women in their lives have been local: women they have worked with or have had some impact on them in a direct sometimes even fleeting way, professionally, socially or some other personal relationship. There’s no way to put that in a list.

However, Beyoncé does come up on the spell check. Perhaps that’s the new global metric of having power.

What do you think?