Ladies First?

My publisher, Sourcebooks, is the largest publishing house in the US owned by a woman. Dominique Raccah is our owner/publisher, and she tweeted a link to a NY Times article this week that I have been pondering at length. The article, “Twitter, Women and Power,” starts off pointing out that though Twitter is used more by women than men, the entire board of the soon to be publicly traded Twitter is… guys.

crayonsThe article’s author, Nicholas D. Kristof, has gathered some interesting data:

According to one study, companies with the most women board directors earned a 26 percent higher return on invested capital than the companies with the least women.

In another study, international companies with more women on their corporate boards far outperformed the average company in return on equity and other measures–and their operating profit was 56 percent higher.

And yet… Yet of Fortune 500 companies, only about 18 percent of board members are female.

leopard two dif eyesKristof is careful to point out that what might be at work here is not a latent genius for business among women, but rather, an indication that companies that are forward thinking and sensitive to issues of equality are generally going to be better run and healthier participants in the marketplace.

His theory is that diversity–of gender, age, ethnicity, philosophy, religion, everything–will, on average result in better decisions than a bunch of like-thinking people who seldom challenge each others’ cherished ideals, and there’s plenty of data to support that notion.

women's caucusBut it’s also possible women bring something vital to management thinking, and are the cause, not the symptom of better corporate results. We could go round and round on that one… but it’s not lost on me that when the men in Congress were busy thumping their divisive tubs, the women’s caucus was continuing its tradition of bi-partisan potluck dinners, and coming up with the first meaningful proposals for ending the gridlock.

I hope Mr. Kristof is right, that an organization that fosters a culture of cooperation, respect and tolerance is one that also shows higher profits, but I also think women–who are biologically disadvantaged by a kill-or-be-killed approach to life–have a well honed edge when it comes to solving problems cooperatively.

zebraThe romance novel industry suffered no recession, and I attribute that in part to the fact that romance authors look after each other, romance readers look after their authors, and we–readers and authors–all look after each other. If I can get another aspiring writer published, that’s a wonderful thing, and most romance authors would say the same thing.

What’s the best run organization you’ve seen in action, and what made it a pleasure to be associated with? For me, it would be the Eastern Mennonite University’s Conflict Transformation Master’s Program. I loved studying there because I was among a rare and inspired, happy group of people who put their lives on the line for respect, tolerance, compassion and cooperation.

To one commenter, I’ll send a $25 Amazon gift card, because they surely do seem to be popular!


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27 comments on “Ladies First?

  1. 14 years ago, we moved into a new neighborhood that had a brand new golf course. My thinking was when my son and son-in-law came to visit, it was incentive to play at home and not be out every day hunting another course. I did not see the value of walking around chasing a little white ball. One day soon after we moved in, this nice woman introduced her self and wanted to know if I played and would join the ladies golf association. Now to shorten this up she talked me into trying. I found a group of women who were interested in getting every woman possible out on our course, learning, playing and making an impact. Apparently that does not happen at every club. We are good influence at our club, and the heart is our women who push, help, play and our annual “Koman” tournament has amassed an amazing amount of money for the cause. We care for each other and circle wide with it. It’s been a blessing and I am thankful for that Nice Woman who started this, every day.

    • Women have been doing this–quilting bees, sewing circles, canning parties–as long as there have been women. I can’t really say I’ve seen men cooperate on the same scale or frequency, and certainly not in charitable endeavors.

      • Boy Scouts or the Knights of Columbus are the closest I’ve seen for the guys. BSA can be a fantastic community for both the kids and the parents.

  2. Wow. I don’t even know what to say after reading that post.
    I guess its so hard to know. There are so many viable arguments for every way.
    But women do have a very different way of looking at things then men. So it only stands to reason that any group in power should be made up for both men and women. Too much of one thing is never good.
    Interesting read, Grace.

    • Lisa, there’s a book out now–Groups, maybe?–that cites a ton of data supporting the idea that experts rarely make decisions that are as accurate, wise, or well accepted as a group does. The jury system is one place this thinking survives, the voting booth another, but the book takes it a LOT further. I need to read it, because I’m also aware that a lynch mob is a group, a gang is a group, a shunning church is a group… but I have wonder, are those toxic groups predominantly female, and is the result of the data not that groups make good decisions, but that decisions involving women are higher quality?

  3. For me, seeing “women support women” is essential. I have been in the business world (accounting) & once read how the biggest block to successful women can be other women. For example, when surveyed about choosing an accountant, lawyer, doctor, realtor, etc. a high percentage of women will still choose a male over a female. When our daughter was born (23 yrs ago)–I selected a woman pediatrician for her (to let her know that women can do anything they want to do)–she has kept with women doctors over the years, whenever possible. I recently had extensive oral surgery & chose a woman (only one in our area & came highly recommended)–since then I have recommended her to a number of others. Women need a chance to show that they can do what they were trained to do, but they need the opportunity to “show their stuff”. Ev Bedard

    • Good point, Ev (and my docs are all women). This is part of what I find so fascinating about RWA. Yes, we have our pikers, who leave sabotaging reviews on other people’s books, and are pure poison in a critique group, but for the most part, I’m published because other authors boosted me along the path. Julia Quinn once said, “You will never hurt your career by helping another author,” and EVERY person in the room applauded.
      I’m not sure I’ve seen that dynamic anywhere else.

      • That’s it exactly I believe people think they will be replaced with the up and coming bright new faces..I believe that’s why it was said that nurses eat their young. No one wants to be replaced by some fresh young face right out of school who doesn’t have the experience the older nurse does..but the older nurse doesn’t have the fresh ideas the younger nurse has either. Now if they would only work together…smile..there’s your mentorship program!!

  4. My dentist, Denise Acierno & my hygienist, Jayne Richardson, are part of an all-women dental office. They are smart, knowledgeable, kind, & generous. I currently live in PA but still visit MI (my home state) to care for my teeth. It’s only 5 hours away, so it gives me a chance to visit family & friends, too.

    • I don’t necessarily think women make better health care professionals, but for sure, I’m more comfortable relying on a woman for those services.

      If the most knowledgeable professional available about a particular ailment was male, yes, I’d go see him…

  5. very interesting article, I agree with the diversity. I feel in decision making women are more likely to discuss and collaborate while men tend to think more that “my way” is the only way and are not willing to negotiate.

    • Somebody did a study of the prisons in Uruguy, where women can bring their small children into jail with them (this was also a common practice in early modern England). While the men’s prison was rife with violence, corruption, and a constant threat of prison riots, the women developed a code for communicating among themselves even before the guards, so a woman being harassed could gather protection without saying a word. They organized a form of internal government, they negotiated for better conditions.

      A lot goes into these difference–the prison officials viewed women and children differently from men, of course, and the presence of the children surely made a difference–but the women still followed through on initiatives rooted in caring for others,despite the environment.

      While the men turned to violence and despair.

  6. Women coming into their own it’s wonderful to hear. I don’t think enough women have broken into the “good ole boy” network yet to make it into the companies they need to end up in Fortune 500 list but their time is coming!!
    Great that romance writing suffers no recession. Could it be that women always need an escape from reality?? no matter the times? What a mentorship you are suggesting. Someone will be very lucky to have you as a mentor. It was never like that in nursing. Nurses for some reason are always said to eat their young. I never understood it but they even say it to this day…some 35 years later.
    Best wishes to you!

    • Oakley, my mom was a nurse, and there’s something about the way she describes her experience of the profession that’s scary. It’s like it attracted (in her day), people who wanted to challenge their ability to deal daily with tragedy without caring. The more horrendous the case, the more eager they were to show that it didn’t get to them.
      I cannot imagine what’s at work there, but it’s a tough, tough profession, and the way we go about it–long hours, no benefits, tons of responsibility but not much authority–has to be stressful.

      I wonder if adding men to the nursing profession in significant numbers will make it better?

      • I personally have been lucky enough to never observe what your mom has seen. There were males in both my LPN class and my RN graduating class. We found the teachers favored them…they were given slack where we weren’t. Most of us took it with a grain of salt but it was irritating. They were teased about it. Actually they needed to be taught some of the empathetic skills, touch, calm soothing voice, etc that little boys aren’t necessarily taught as little boys. Does that sound sexist or what?? They made fine nurses but some how were a bit more awkward at it until it became second nature. I find them to be no different in temperament than any nurse. Maybe that’s because the same kind of person male or female wants to be a nurse.

  7. We’ve had conversation circles on race in our southern city, and these diverse circles are making a difference (slowly) and keeping communication open. Group facilitators have differed by gender, by race, by age and by religion. Keeps the conversations going.

    Another ‘women only’ event that is atypical is Womanship ( ) a sailing experience led by women, where “nobody yells” is the motto. My sister, an experienced sailor but always under a male captain, had an amazing learning experience with them.

  8. I am not sure that I feel that women can do things better but they can certainly do them as equally well. Diversity in anything is always important for growth.

  9. Sadly, I’m not an ‘organization’ woman, but it has been my experience that when women gather for knitting, reading, church bazaar planning, or whatever, there is a feeling of belonging and sharing that warms the heart. Women are good negotiators and know all about give and take in relationships. I also believe they are more apt to plan for the future generation.

    • I’m not much of a joiner of any kind of organization, regardless of it’s gender make up. I agree though, that women seems to gravitate naturally toward cooperation. Maybe our egos are built to derive self-respect from how much we contribute, rather than how much we’re recognized for contribution?

  10. I work for the City I live in and I feel that it is very well run. My city is not in debt, has a balanced budget, and was recently on a list of cities that are not only making it, but thriving in these economic times. I like that the workforce is very diverse as well, lots of women and various ethnic backgrounds in leadership positions. This is my first experience in the public sector, but judging from the news where some cities have declared bankruptcy, I think it’s great to be in a city that is thriving. I think it’s very important to have women represented, their outlook and way of working is always an asset to any organization. I’ve worked for companies in the past that were dominated by men, and I felt very underrepresented when it came to anything important.

    • I worked for Halliburton a long time ago, and knew the fit wasn’t ideal when the nice–made up to the teeth–HR lady asked, “You do have a little black dress you can keep here at work, don’t you? The management receptions start at 5, and it’s not like you’ll have time to go home and change…”

      Huh? If the guys could schlep along in their business attire…?

  11. I’ve been in three women’s organizations. One was the Girl Scouts and the other was a women’s organization that did a lot of charity work and another was when I candystriped as a teenager. I’ve also been involved with our American Legion that is mostly run by men. I first three ran smoothly and with a lot of caring people. I am sad to say that I’ve never heard such bickering and backstapping in the later – they do accomplish a lot but I swear it’s the women volunteer’s that accomplish the most.

    • I’m pretty sure the Legion and I would part company in a hurry. I do have to say that a riding organization I was associated with wasn’t such healthy environment. One person dominated it for years, and nobody would cross her, to the detriment of the organization’s purpose. I served out my term there, and left, a need for fresh voices at the management table being one of my pet peeves about the group.

      When a group relies too much on a single person–even a selfless, hardworking, brilliant person–the organization is weakened over time.

  12. You are so absolutely correct, Grace! Thanks for sharing this info and your insights. I served on the boards for three different not-for-profits in the ’80s and ’90s while running a chain bookstore and to quote Tina Fey, “Bitches get sh*t done.” In another job in state government I had, I taught a diversity class to our predominantly female workforce. While most thought I was preaching to the choir, I did my best to get them to understand that each of them could make a difference and contribute to the success of their office. We need to continue to train and encourage our daughters, nieces and all women we come in contact with to get the knowledge necessary to be taken seriously, don’t we? Someday, strong female characters in fiction and in real life won’t be the exception. Instead of hearing, “I’m not good at math,” we’ll hear, “Show me what I need to do.” Climbing down off my box of the first three years of MS. Magazine my mom got for me.

    • Julee J, here there be dragons! I agree with you and Tina Fey, but I’m not sure about that “strong female characters” are the exception in fiction or real life.

      I operate under a definition of strength that accepts that raising children and building communities are the most important work on the planet, that a committed loving relationship can parcel out the work in a million different equally acceptable combinations (including Mom staying home with the kids), and that choosing to commit to one partner can be the greatest act of courage and self-investment in an entire life time.

      And now, I’m perilously close to a rant, so I’ll go have another Ghiradelli dark chocolate square and simmer down.