Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Glass Ceiling

It's hard to say why there aren't more women at the top of the ladder Mark Anderson, The Ottawa Citizen Published: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 Last week's column on women in business -- or the lack thereof -- garnered some interesting reader feedback, most notably a letter from an Ottawa researcher who claims women simply aren't smart enough to out-compete men for top executive positions. Among the "evidence" he uses to support this assertion, the letter-writer notes that 95 per cent of Nobel prize winners are male, and men outnumber women two-to-one on Mensa rolls. Needless to say, only the rashest of fools would agree to weigh in on this particular debate. So here goes. Are men smarter than women? Who knows? And in the context of corporate ladder-climbing, who cares? Because in most, if not all, businesses the smartest people in the room tend to be nowhere near the executive suite. Case in point: For years, the smartest person in a newsroom where I worked was not the editor-in-chief or even one of the section editors, but a lowly columnist. The guy, who I won't name, was a flat-out genius, able (and all-too-willing) to deliver hour-long, extraordinarily erudite monologues on virtually any subject. His evident brilliance aside, no one, himself included, perceived him as "management material" because, well, he just wasn't. Likewise, the IT geek with the PhD in electrical engineering, the accounting nebbish who can recite pi to 23 decimals, the archivist with the photographic memory, the custodian who plays chess at a grand master level. All might out-score the boss on standard IQ tests; none might be suited to the rigours of running a company or department. As long ago as the Renaissance and as recently as the Industrial Revolution it was posited that the world would be run either by intellectuals or scientists, neither prediction ultimately panning out. Indeed, surveying the current political scene, you could even argue there's an inverse relationship between brain-power and leadership: Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion are by all accounts brilliant individuals and less-than-brilliant leaders. Paul Martin is a smart guy who failed spectacularly in the role of national leader. Ditto Kim Campbell. South of the border, Ronald Reagan was a revered leader few would confuse with an intellectual giant -- the Great Communicator rather than the Great Cogitator. So if raw intelligence isn't keeping women from top corporate jobs, what is? Could it be something as simple as testosterone? A recent study out of Britain found that the performance of financial traders varies with the amount of testosterone in their bloodstream. The higher the testosterone level, the more money they make on the trading floor, likely because they're more aggressive and daring in pursuit of their goals. Likewise, controlled aggression, risk-taking and the ability to make hard, fast, unilateral decisions are hallmarks of leadership, without which the corporate ship tends to drift and list, ultimately becoming prey to more ruthless competitors. Do women have this cut-throat combativeness encoded in their DNA, coursing through their veins? Some do. I wouldn't want to meet PepsiCo boss Indra Nooyi in a dark alley, much less Alcatel-Lucent CEO Patricia Russo or tobacco maven Susan Ivey, chairman, president and CEO of Reynolds American. Rest of article.

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