Entertaining comments on the IEA blog piece

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After the comments from ‘Female entrepreneur’, I honestly didn’t expect any further comments from militant feminists. So I was surprised – and delighted – to be notified of the following yesterday:

Submitted by Anonymous (man loving) female on Mon, 23/07/2012 – 11:52. 

I’m a headhunter – I work with FTSE 100 & 250 Chairmen and Chief Execs to hire Executive Directors and Non Executive Directors to boards and operating committees, and sometimes below that as well. I have worked in this field for years and have never heard of Mike Buchanan before stumbling across him on LinkedIn the other day. I didn’t bother reading much of his material; only because it quite quickly became a ranting, somewhat bitter echo of itself – saying the same things over and over about lack of causal evidence linking gender diversity and better company performance etc.  This is a common means of throwing out the baby with the bathwater; of discrediting and derailing the entire common sense agenda of having more diverse boards because of a lack of empirical evidence to back up one claim. True, this claim of achieved empiricism in linking better company performance with having more women on boards was premature and poorly made by those authoring the reports, and in citation by the government. And I also understand that a focus on gender in isolation isn’t ideal and can be quite annoying (diversity has a much broader definition – diversity means “capable of various forms”), but you have to start somewhere, you have to pull the issue apart and focus on more manageable strands unfortunately, as otherwise its a beast which is too big to wrestle with – hey ho, again, get over it. I wish it wasn’t this way, but it is. (What about the need for boards to represent the geographical diversity they serve, for example. I have been engaged to do just that for one financial services organisation.) So get over the slightly irritating focus on women (which most senior women I meet do find somewhat irritating), and get over the (again, irritating) error in linking their presence to proven performance benefits – there’s a much broader, more fundamental issue at play here which has support from nearly all business leaders – making sure those in power – in business or politics – adequately understand, reflect and respond to the socio-cultural changes our world has undergone and is undergoing. Otherwise they become irrelevant; they will fail to bring a range of views to bear to create healthy discourse and challenge in decision making, and our businesses and governments will fail. With women making 80% of purchasing decisions in households, and accounting for OVER 50% of all graduates in this country, how can we truly claim to have the broadest and therefore strongest leadership base with only 12.5% non-male board directors in the FTSE 350?  (% figure as per the time of writing Lord Davies report in February 2011).  Diversity is not about applying misplaced, pappy, neo-liberal notions of fairness to the boardroom. It’s sad and a bit worrying that some apparently intelligent men of today persist in confusing the current agenda with this (most women hate this notion too) and react in this kind of threatened and defensive way (judging by Mike’s ranting).  If this were so, the Chairmen and CEOs with whom I work would not tolerate government intervention of ANY kind. They would themselves rise up against it (thought I doubt they would choose images of bullish schoolgirls looking for a fight, or Halloween masks of female zombies for their book or report covers..,. I mean, what?!?!).  I have sent a few links to a few FTSE 100 Chairmen and they are horrified that such commentators dare to speak on their behalf: “People such as this take us [business leaders] for fools on this topic –  our jobs are to run sustainable businesses which are designed to capitalise on change rather than suffer from it. PLC company boards must evolve faster than they have done, to include more people who don’t look, sound and think the same – our world in which we operate has changed and so must we.” What’s more, intelligent leaders of today, whether male or female, will understand that our society in the West is in transition when it comes to gender under the premise “sex is biological; gender is cultural”. Gender identity concerns individuals’ perception of themselves as and identification with being female or male. A gender role is the set of societal expectations that dictates how an individual of a gender should behave, think, and feel. During the past century, perception of all three aspects of gender have changed, particularly that of gender roles. Both men and women and re-navigating our sense of what the gender roles mean collectively and indivually in 21st century, especially in relation to work. This learning process involves understanding how women are held back and hold themselves back in business because of the legacy left by millennia of patriarchy. This has implications for companies wanting to retain a more diverse talent base through to leadership levels. I myself was brought up by parents who thought their daughters should have more responsibility in the house and with the family than the sons, and I have developed feelings of guilt when choosing a career over a home-based life partly because of this type of treatment. But at school I was made aware of it, and at work I was told to challenge any unconscious or conscious judgement made of me in this sense. I have and I do succeed in doing this, but it does add an extra dimension to my working life that I imagine most men would be unaware of, unless told, or perhaps unless they see their daughters experience it. This is subtle stuff which is not a women’s issue but a societal one. As a CEO recently wrote to me:”Getting a  more balanced board does require a shift in mindset that the boys are less inclined to make because they don’t come face-to-face with why we need it. The shift involves acknowledging subtle cultural schemas with regard to gender roles, which have and do hold women back at work (many holding themselves back according to what they think is required of their roles), leading many to choose other paths when we need more of them to stay in business!”.  I read in one of Mikes rants that women make choices to stay or leave work, and that we should stop making allowances or advantaging’ them therefore – he’s right, but we must look at the broader cultural foundations we have built which encourage these choices, and figure out if and how we want things to be different. Seems like you guys need to accept that most of the world wants a different basis for making choices, even of those choices are the same…. The simple assumption that women “opt out” of the workforce promotes the belief that individuals are in control of their fates and are unconstrained by the environment. This is very, very silly.
I could have written a very lengthy response, but time was pressing, so I contented myself with the following:

Submitted by Mike Buchanan on Mon, 23/07/2012 – 15:48. 

Thank you for your contribution to this debate. A few thoughts:
1. You accuse me at several points of ‘ranting’. I invite you to point to even a single example of this. You’re using a shaming tactic, which only serves to harm your credibility.
2. We’ve already had one contributor (Female entrepreneur’) who lacked credibility from the outset by not revealing her identity. To be fair, she then proceeded to destroy any credibility she might have had by her comments. People who’ve read her comments are united in the belief that she cannot possibly be a prominent entrepreneur (most doubt she’s even an entrepreneur at all). So why not reveal your own identity? If you truly work with FTSE100 and FTSE250 Chief Executives and Chairmen, why would you want to hide your identity? Until you reveal it, excuse me for doubting that you work in the role you claim.
3. I invite you also to reveal the identity of the Chief Executive who wrote the letter you claim to have been sent. Do ask him / her first, obviously.
4. Running throughout your entire comment is a militant feminist thread. I refer readers to such lines as, ‘Women are held back… by millennia of patriarchy’. Can we assume, therefore, that the term ‘man loving’ in your blog name is ironic?
5. You seem to be denying that men and women willingly make different choices with regards to work. In fact, the evidence that they do so is very robust – Dr Catherine Hakim’s Preference Theory comes inevitably to mind – and I shall be presenting some of it at my presentation at the IEA. I invite you to attend the event and engage in a calm, rational debate on the topic of gender balance in the boardroom, for which your professional role clearly qualifies you. To the best of my knowledge, it will be the first example of such a debate anywhere in the world. It is, to put in mildly, long overdue.
6. I’m aware of only two studies showing a CAUSAL link between increased representation of women on boards and corporate financial performance, and both show a NEGATIVE link. Theyre the studies cited  in my IEA piece. If you’re aware of even one study showing a positive causal link, would you be so good as to share it with the world by referring to it on this blog? And if you cannot do so, are you of the view that damaging companies’ financial performance is a worthwhile price to pay for increasing the number of women on boards?
7. You might be interested in a recent admission by a leading proponent for more women in the boardroom:
Have a nice day.
Mike Buchanan
The indefatigable Doris also commented:

Submitted by Doris on Mon, 23/07/2012 – 15:54. 

I have followed this blog and read with interest the diverse comments made and can find no “ranting” only objective views from a variety of individuals with one notable exception, the “Female entrepreneur” whose views clearly have no basis in intellectual or scientific argument.  The platform given by the IEA for this subject would not be allowed if it was for an individual/s to just rant as they have significantly higher standards than that however they do want robust debate from both sides of the argument. Mr Buchanan, like so many other commentators on this subject, is systematically shamed and put down for his views which in a democracy is disgraceful. His detractors should however openly challenge him and the many other men and women who share his views to a public debate where infantile playground shaming tactics are definitely put to one side.
Marvellous. I do hope ‘Anonymous’ responds and gives us even a fraction of the entertainment ‘Female entrepreneur’ provided.


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