Correspondent's Choice

Carol Frohlinger

Co-founded Negotiating Women
Key note speaker at the Forum JUMP “Can Women rescue the Economy?”
23 April – Bozar – Brussels

Carol Frohlinger is a co-author of « Her Place at the Table »: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiating Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success (Jossey-Bass/John Wiley, September 2004). She also co-founded Negotiating Women, Inc, which provides practical skills training women can use immediately to be more successful at work.

· Do you think that the fact that financial institutions are male-dominated lead to risky behaviour and strategies? Do you believe the current crisis might have been avoided if there had been more gender equality at the top of financial institutions?

Women tend to take a broad view when making decisions that will expose themselves and their organizations to risk. My experience has been that women seek more information and take the time to build more support before venturing into risky terrain, perhaps because they are aware that the outcomes of their decisions will be watched very closely.

I believe that the fact that women are under-represented at the top of financial institutions contributed to the crisis. Why? Because it is clear that when there is diversity of thought at the top of any organization, better outcomes result.

Too much testosterone or too much estrogen leads to “group think” and, as we have seen, a failure to properly assess and manage risk. Financial institutions need more than a few good men and a few good women to lead the turnaround.

· Do you think there is unconscious sexism going on, as if it was more acceptable to dismiss a woman than a man?

That’s an interesting question. Stereotypes are alive and well even in 2009, and, it is important to note, both men and women believe them.

In our book, Her Place at the Table: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiating Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success (Jossey-Bass/John Wiley, 2004), we describe one of these as “The Double Bind”. When women are assertive, they can be perceived as aggressive instead ? or even worse, a word that doesn’t begin with “a” but rather with “b”! On the other hand, if a woman is collaborative, she can be perceived as too soft to get the job done.

This plays out with regard to dismissals in that since the operative model is “male”, women may be dismissed more easily because they may not “fit” the culture. And we all know that success in business is as much about fitting in as it is about the substantive work one produces.

· Has the media coverage of our situation been biased and male-dominated vision?

I don’t think so. In fact, I think that the crisis has many journalists asking questions that didn’t seem to come up before. Now that we need smarter and better solutions, the media seems to be more innovative in reporting how women contribute to the economy.

· Are women really more ethical and responsible than men? Are businesses run by women better equipped to survive the crisis?

That depends on the woman. I don’t think that ethics and responsibility are correlated to gender.

Many of the factors that determine survival for businesses run by women are the same as for businesses with men at the helm. What industry is the company in? Does it have a viable strategy? How well capitalized is it? How badly have its customers been affected? How effective has it been in reigning in costs and creating efficiencies?

When it comes to leadership, however, women executives add a great deal of value because to be in the corner office, you can be sure they are good, very good. They’ve likely been tested in ways their male colleagues have not and have managed to pass the tests with flying colors.

· Do you think women should benefit from this recession by proposing new practices in management and underline their own characteristics?

With crisis, there is also opportunity. In collaboration with men, women should make their voices heard about what we all need to do differently in the future.

Catalyst’s Advancing Women Leaders: The Connection Between Women Board Directors and Women Corporate Officers, July 2008

“Global Financial Crisis: Are Women the Antidote?” published in October 2008 by CERAM, the French Business School

Cristian L Dezs?’s article, The Power Of Women: Women’s Impact On Corporate Performance reported

describing research he did with David Gaddis Roth

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