Who is best for CEO suite? Here's case for women at top

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Here's a hot debate topic: Resolved, that U.S. corporations wouldn't be in the mess they're in if women were in charge.

Women, I am arguing, are better listeners, more methodical in their decisions, less confrontational and less likely to go off in unproven directions. A friend of mine (male) contended some male executives project an aura of decisiveness so they won't have to deal with the boring and time-consuming details of their decisions.

Mary Lou Quinlan, in her new book, "Just Ask a Woman," talks about a woman's thought-process leading to a buying decision. "Before women call the shot on a decision, they rely on their personal board of directors, a cast of trusted advisors that women accumulate throughout their lives. ... When a woman seems reluctant to pull the trigger on a decision, you should know she probably is going through her mental Rolodex of experts for more information. It is intended not as an insult to your expertise but as a balancing, authenticating checkup for her gut feeling."

Imagine if corporations went through a similar checklist before plunging into an ill-considered acquisition or new product introduction.

In her book, Mary Lou quotes anthropologist Helen Fisher, who examined the "uniquely feminine skill" of women for noticing details. "While men are good at compartmentalizing their attention ... women more regularly think contextually, they take a more `holistic' view of the issue at hand. That is, they integrate more details of the world around them, details ranging from the nuances of body posture to the position of objects in a room." In other words, women are better than men at thinking on different levels at the same time.

And women don't see things as contests, as men often do. Male CEOs want to best the other guy for an acquisition, then lack the patience to make sure the new company is integrated smoothly before going to the next deal.

Women think less about the end goal than the process of getting there. "To feel certain, women ask a lot of questions and do a lot of listening before they can form a trusting relationship," Mary Lou writes. "Some of the questions are not even meant to get at a woman's needs. She has other people in her life who depend on her decisions, and she takes everyone else's needs into account."

Perhaps the most important attribute of women may be that they are practical, not theoretical. They want to know how this new product will help them and their families. It's the question CEOs, especially CEOs of high-tech companies, should ask before they pour hundreds of millions of dollars into products with multiple features that consumers may or may not want. But they bring them out because they've figured out how to put all those features into one gizmo.

The only time men make better company chieftains is when their single-minded concentration is needed to get a start-up venture off the ground. But how often does the guy who got the company started lead it once it becomes successful and requires a more give-and-take style of management?

That's my case for putting women in charge of corporate America. I know my wife, two daughters and three granddaughters would agree. But do I have any support from my own gender?

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