Adding a Lone African American to its Board is Unlikely to Solve Facebook’s Diversity Challenges

blog thumbsdown In a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus earlier in October, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, made a public commitment to appoint an African American to its currently all-white board of directors – in the foreseeable future.

The promise came when members of the Congressional Black Caucus were questioning Sandberg about the lack of diversity on Facebook’s board and at all levels of employment at Facebook where only three percent of employees are African Americans, and there are no black executives. Lawmakers confronted Sandberg about Facebook advertising that has been linked to Russian accounts purchased during the 2016 election that were connected to Black Lives Matter. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus said that if more blacks were in decision making positions, the connection with Russian accounts and anti-Black Lives Matter content may have been caught before the FBI looked into the issue.

But is one African American board member going to be able to bring a loud enough voice to change the status quo on the board and also move the company toward greater diversity in its rank and file? Drawing on our research on how many women it takes to change corporate board dynamics we conclude that a lone member of an underrepresented group is unlikely to be an effective voice for change.

blog sumruquoteMy colleagues Vicki Kramer, Allison Konrad, and I interviewed 50 women directors, 12 CEOs (nine male), and seven corporate secretaries at Fortune 1000 companies. We found that the benefits of having women on a corporate board are more likely to be realized when three or more women serve on a board.

While even one woman can make a positive contribution, more typically, the token minority person is simultaneously invisible as a peer who can contribute and hyper-visible for being different from the majority, with irrelevant aspects of their demographic difference overshadowing their professional skills. We heard examples of lone women directors being talked over and otherwise ignored when they responded to a strategy question but asked about their preference for home decorating. In other words, being a token tends to be a powerless position.

Having two people different from the majority is generally an improvement over the token position. But it is corporations with three or more different people on their boards that tend to benefit the most from the diverse perspectives they can bring. Our results showed that with three or more women, board discussions expanded to include the interests of multiple stakeholders, including the community and to pursue answers to difficult questions such as CEO compensation and diversity. Three or more women were also able to change board dynamics toward a more collaborative approach to leadership, improving communication among directors and between the board and management.

Important to note is that Facebook’s board is currently comprised of eight individuals—six white men and two white women—and two of these individual are the inside directors, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. This elite structure reflects the lack of a wider perspective of viewpoints, experiences, concerns, priorities, and sensitivities. While this may have helped the organization’s growth, there are corporate responsibilities beyond the bottom line.

If Facebook is serious about its diversity problem, adding one African American to its board is not going to be enough. It takes a critical mass of three or more people who are different from the majority to bring about change on a board.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D., is senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Her research interests include women’s leadership, racial/cultural norms and identity in youth and families, and adolescent development.

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Why Are There So Few Women Leading Theatres and What Can Be Done About It?

curtain

This blog was originally published on the HowlRound website on December 1, 2015, and is re-posted with permission.

This week on HowlRound, we continue the conversation on gender parity, which has been gaining momentum this year through studies, articles, forums, one-on-one discussions, and seasons and festivals focused on women. As Co-President of the Women in the Arts & Media Coalition and VP of Programming for the League of Professional Theatre Women, I have the pleasure of working with, coordinating, contributing to, and raising awareness about many of these local, national, and international efforts. This series explores what needs to happen right now—in this precipitous moment—in order to profoundly, permanently expand the theatrical community's views and visions of women, both onstage and in every aspect of production.

When people unfamiliar with the world of theatre learn that our current research is on why there are too few women leading major U.S. theatres, their first comment is, “But it’s better than it used to be, right?” We say, “No, the situation hasn’t changed for decades.” They respond with, “I don’t understand, look at Lynne Meadow, look at Diane Paulus.” We say, “Yes, there are a few illustrious examples.” Unfortunately, comparisons with the “bad-old-days” and mention of token successes also showed up frequently in our interviews with 100 theatre professionals. Furthermore, they added, “Racial minorities have it worse, that’s where we should focus our attention to diversify leadership.”

In 2013, the leadership of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco approached us at the Wellesley Centers for Women to be their research partner for studying gender equity in LORT leadership. There were only fifteen women who served as artistic directors, or held the combined Artistic Director/CEO position in the seventy-four LORT theatres at the time. The situation on the executive/managerial side of the theatres was better, but not much: there were nineteen female leaders. There was only one female artistic director of color. For men of color, leadership representation was also bleak: there were five leaders on the artistic side, and like women of color, none were top executive/managerial leaders. Our research, which is supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and individual donors, suggests that many issues associated with the scarcity of women in top leadership are also true of people of color. Pointing to the scarcity of people of color to avoid paying attention to women is an excuse. There needs to be action on both fronts, paying particular attention to the virtual absence of women of color in theatre leadership.

Our research strategy aimed at better understanding the career paths of those in current leadership in order to make recommendations for aspiring future leaders in the pipeline and examining the search process to make recommendations to hiring committees. We had two informant pools: our primary charge was within LORT, so we focused on current leaders and their immediate reports within the League through interviews and resume analyses. Because candidates for leadership can come from both inside and outside of LORT, we also gathered anonymous survey data from stage director members of SDC and operational managers in TCG theatre members with a budget of over $1 million.

Demographics (of gender and race) in LORT Leadership. Photo courtesy of Wellesley Centers for Women.

Demographics (of gender and race) in LORT Leadership. Photo courtesy of Wellesley Centers for Women.

First, we studied the pipeline. The career path toward an artistic director (AD) position is strongly defined by “whom you play in the sandbox with,” in the words of one of our interviewees. The skills of directing and producing can best be honed by getting invitations from multiple theatres to bring a variety of plays to the stage. But skills are not enough. To have a shot at top leadership, directors and producers need to build relationships with people who can speak to their strengths and can vet their reputation. In our survey with almost 1,000 stage directors, women highlighted two barriers toward succeeding in their quest to become the artistic leader of a theatre: a lack of opportunities to direct widely to strengthen their portfolio, and not having someone speaking to their strengths. Stage directors of color (both women and men) added to these two barriers faced by white women that they also confronted being pigeonholed into directing plays by playwrights of color.

So, yes, there is a pipeline issue facing women and people of color in their preparation for artistic leadership. How do we strengthen the pipeline?

1. Make conscious, planned, and thoughtful decisions to include women and people of color as directors and producers in programming each and every season to provide them with frequent, varied opportunities.

2. Travel and relocation are real obstacles for both men and women with families, but the preconceived notion that “they won’t want to come and do this” is a stronger barrier for women. If these issues do present a challenge, be willing to accommodate the director’s needs.

3. ADs should invite directors of color to direct the classics as well as new plays to support their portfolio growth.

blogpullquoteLORTWomenA word of caution: To conclude that the main problem is a pipeline issue and over time more women and people of color will become viable candidates is an incomplete diagnosis of the problem, and an excuse. It dismisses the large numbers of producers and directors who are well prepared and eager to take on artistic director positions. In addition to the pipeline, there is just as profound a glass ceiling that can be broken with a change in mindset among those who make hiring decisions. Here are some action points for hiring committees about selecting ADs:

1. Don’t overlook the sizable number of women directors and producers, including women of color, who have founded theatre companies, and have developed expertise in all aspects of artistic leadership. These women constitute a viable, immediately available pool of candidates, but are being overlooked in searches and are waiting just below the glass ceiling. Curiously, we found previous AD experience to be prevalent in the background of male, but not female artistic directors within LORT.

2. Be willing to go beyond your comfort zone and the current model of the male leader to trust and select women (and people of color) candidates. A fair number of female LORT ADs had worked in a LORT theatre prior to their AD appointment. These women were known and trusted, hence were promoted. There are many other talented women (directors and creative producers) who have the necessary skills without having worked in LORT. They need to be pulled into the search process.

3. Learn how to and then actively support any candidate’s success once on the job and continue to mentor them. One AD of color we interviewed points out that gender should hardly matter in choosing a candidate: “... nobody is prepared for one of these jobs when they come into it.” All new hires, male or female, people of color or white, will need support from their Board to succeed.

4. Move toward developing metrics for vetting leadership candidates to create greater transparency in the selection process and provide guidance to people in the pipeline. These metrics can also be used to evaluate the wisdom of the board’s selection and the performance of the candidate chosen.

Women have fared slightly better on the operational side of LORT theatres, outnumbering men in all departments, except executive/managerial directors (ED). So there is no pipeline problem for ED appointments; the absence of women at the top is clearly a glass ceiling issue. All it will take is for search committees to have the resolve to move beyond the model of having a man as the operational leader. But the lack of a pipeline issue for women aspiring to become EDs is true only for white women. Women of color are far fewer on the operational side and there is no woman of color who is the ED of a LORT theatre. For women of color, there is both a pipeline and a glass ceiling issue preventing their presence at the top. In our surveys, both women of color and white women’s comfort and expertise with fundraising come through as their strongest assets, and should be reasons for Board selection committees to seek them out. Indeed, a background in development is well represented among white female EDs. However, women managers reported that they are just as comfortable with budgeting, contracts, or real estate law. Ignoring these talents by placing the majority of women in development is limiting the pipeline and solidifying stereotypes that general management and finance are male domains.

Breaking the glass ceiling by creating more opportunities for women and people of color among current leadership in LORT now, without further delay, will serve as a route to simultaneously grow the pipeline reaching all the way down to high school teens who will learn to see the theatre as a possible and viable option among their career choices.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. and Ineke Ceder are members of the research team at the Wellesley Centers for Women, working on the Women's Leadership in Residential Theaters project.

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The value of sports for career launch

Olympic-Rings

This will be the first time that female athletes are allowed to compete in ski jumping at the Olympics so it’s fitting that the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia open Thursday on the heels of National Girls and Women in Sports Day February 5th.

The satisfaction goes beyond the glow of victory after a long battle because access for female ski jumpers represents progress in the broader quest for gender equity. As in this case, athletics often carry meaning beyond the competition itself.

Sport is both a tool in the quest for political, social, and economic equality and a glass that magnifies the failings of fairness on a societal level. What happens on the field affects and reflects the world off the field (or the slope)-- and vice versa. The cascading events of the 1970s -- the rise of the women’s movement, passage of Title IX, and expanding sport and career opportunities-- express the relationship.

This is important, but well-trod territory. So three of us at WCW asked another question: How does this dynamic actually play out for the individual athlete?

Sports matter off the field, but precisely how do they matter? A study published in 2012 that drew data from polling alumni suggests a connection between college sports participation and higher earnings a decade after graduation. That data relies on a look back by those who had successfully navigated a career launch.

blogpullquoteValueofSportsBut how do recruiters on the front-end value a varsity credential? Does sports participation in college, for example, offer access to enter a corporate career?

Given the widespread assumption that sports are a steppingstone to business success, we wanted to know: What qualities do recruiters look for in new graduates, how are sports experiences evaluated, and do athletes have an advantage when being screened for an initial interview? Do male and female, black and white candidates fare equally?

We asked human resource professionals experienced in recruitment to complete a detailed online survey in which they selected from a list of eight leadership attributes the top four they seek in candidates, rate candidate profiles based on those qualities, and rank-order candidates to invite for an interview.

Recruiters received randomly generated profiles that varied sex (signaled by first name), race (signaled by African-American–related extra-curricular activity or not), and leadership experience (athletic or non-athletic). Extracurricular activities were varied to reflect leadership experience in a non-athletic activity (such as Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper or representative to the Board of Trustees) or varsity athletic experience as either a top basketball or track athlete. Candidates had similar GPAs, majors, career interests, and research and work experiences.

Our findings showed that among the 828 recruiters who completed the survey, 72 percent identified “ability to work in a team” as among the top four attributes. Recruiters rated athletes over non-athletes on the ability to work in a team and being results-driven. This held true regardless of a candidate’s sex or the rater’s sex or involvement with athletics as a leisure pursuit. At the same time, athletes received lower ratings than non-athletes on organizational skills, critical thinking, follow-through on tasks, and transferable skills.

The results were surprising and interesting on a few levels. First, it was striking that female athletes got the same “credit” for participation as their male counterparts. Second, even as raters saw athletes as being the classic “team player” and driven to produce results, they seemed unaware of organization skills college athletes need to juggle academics with daily practice, travel, etc. Third, while critical thinking skills may not be explicitly required of athletes, the lower rating suggests a “dumb jock” stereotype at play given that all candidates had similar majors and GPAs. Raters also did not appear to recognize that the follow-through of athletic training and preparation, like a range of other skills, had transferrable value outside of sport.

What does this mean for the individual athlete?

The message is that even though it has nearly become a cliché for managers and corporate leaders to extoll the virtues of athletic participation, the recruiters who serve as gatekeepers screening resumes don’t see it – beyond the obvious “teamwork” credential. Our findings challenge athletes to better articulate just what they are learning on the sport field and how that can be translated off the field. Athletes also must address recruiter beliefs that they struggle with organization and critical thinking. They must also be explicit in describing how positive skills they hone in sport will be useful in the workplace.

Overall, there is notable good news. We found that female athletes received equal consideration as their male counterparts from raters selecting candidates for an interview. Yet, if the experience of playing a college sport builds skills that are valuable in the workplace, our results show that both male and female college athletes must better communicate that message to recruiters, who may have spent their college years in the stands.

Let the Games begin!

This article was contributed by Laura Pappano, Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. and Allison Tracy, Ph.D. Pappano, writer-in-residence at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College, is an experienced journalist who writes about education and gender equity issues in sports. Research by Erkut, WCW associate director and senior research scientist, encompasses variations in the course of child and adult development. Tracy is a Senior Research Scientist and Methodologist at WCW, where she provides technical expertise in a wide range of statistical techniques used in the social sciences.

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Enough with the Excuses—Corporate Boards Need Women

womenboards

The controversy surrounding lack of women on Twitter’s board of directors as it is going public with an IPO, has rekindled interest in diversity on corporate boards. In research conducted at the Wellesley Centers for Women, my colleagues Vicki Kramer, Alison Konrad and I showed that having a critical mass of three or more women improves board governance. Catalyst (2007) and McKinsey (2012) subsequently reported that companies with diverse executive boards enjoyed significantly higher earnings and returns on equity. When there is a business case to be made for greater diversity on boards, the usual excuse is that there are too few qualified women, buttressed by the small number of female CEOs. But let’s look at the facts: not all male board members are CEOs. A board needs diversity in professional expertise as well as gender, race, and nationality. People making excuses for high tech companies’ lack of female board members point to the small numbers of women majoring in computer science. Again, not all male board members of high tech companies have technology backgrounds. In fact, most blogpullquoteRuralAfricamembers of Twitter’s board members have undergraduate degrees from liberal arts colleges: one has a degree in English; another in Asian Studies. Couldn’t female experts in entrepreneurial management, intellectual property law, investment management contribute, for example, contribute positively within such a governance structure? It was smart of Twitter to include diversity of educational and work experiences on its board. Twitter (and all corporations) needs to stop making excuses and go for greater diversity, by including female, minority, and international members on its board.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. is an associate director and senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College where she studies women's leadership and co-led the Critical Mass on Corporate Boards study.

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Marriage: Love, Benefits, ...

DOMAblog Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that denying recognition and benefits to same-sex couples is unconstitutional. Gay and lesbian couples who are legally married (they are able to do so in 12 states and the District of Columbia) will be able to take advantage of such benefits as tax breaks and pension rights that are available to other married couples. Further, legally married same-sex couples will have the same immigration rights as heterosexual couples. Reflecting on the Supreme Court’s ruling, I am reminded of the research study my colleagues and I launched in May 2004, when the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts’ decision went into effect, making Massachusetts the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.

blogpullquoteLoveBenefitsMy colleagues and I interviewed 50 same-sex couples in Massachusetts and their children. Some of the couples had chosen to get married and some had not. Whether or not a given couple chose to marry, they talked about the importance of the legitimacy and the recognition the change in the law offered them. Their sense was that when legal marriage is available to same-sex couples, the ramifications stretch far beyond the couples themselves. Perceptions of families, co-workers, neighbors, and strangers shift toward greater acceptance.

Rod* (married, in a 27-year relationship) put it this way:
It has been an amazing experience. I do feel in some fundamental way that it has changed me in the sense of legitimizing me… I always used to say, I’m married, but it wasn’t real. And now it’s real, you know? It’s real, real. You know? I mean it’s like legal real. In that way I think it fundamentally changes the way I approach the world. You know? It’s like, “Are you married?” “Yeah!” And it’s your problem to figure out who it is that I’m married to, or whether this is a straight marriage or a gay marriage or whatever. And I’m extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity to do that.

Regardless of whether they believed that legalization changed their personal relationships, and whether or not they chose to marry, all respondents clearly recognized the tangible and intangible benefits that come with official state approval. These included access to family health insurance, legitimacy for second parents, and next-of-kin status in medical contexts. The issue of medical access, privileges and decision-making was specifically mentioned by a number of families. Linda and Sally, a couple who had been together for 24 years, described the importance of a marriage license for their family’s legal protection:

Linda: Well, I honestly feel like, not to be unromantic but, the marriage part was really just the medical benefits and that sort of the financial and…
Sally: Get the piece of paper.
Linda: Right and, just the things that help the family in a time of crisis.

Ada, a married woman in a five-year relationship described the transformation from a cautious to a secure position with respect to her family and their public entitlements:
If we didn’t have a legal marriage, I would feel like I was constantly on the defensive about what should I do, how I should do it and… And instead I’m able to take a much more assertive stance and be able to advocate for the family in a way I didn’t feel like I could have before, because I didn’t have anything behind me to do it.

Other respondents shared similar sentiments, identifying a sense of “safety” or protection that comes as both a formal and informal benefit of legalized marriage:

Jaidyn (married, in a ten-year relationship), said,
To be legally validated and whether or not someone likes it, we’re married. They can’t say ‘Well, that’s not real’. I think there was a feeling of safety that would come along with the legal marriage. …We were very safe in our relationship with one another, in our lives, but [now we have] safety from people who might want to deny us our civil rights.

Despite the real benefits and protections that came to same-sex couples in legalized unions in Massachusetts, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was repeatedly mentioned by study participants as a source of unequal financial burdens on couples who chose to take advantage of the availability of family benefits that were state but not federally recognized.

Leo, a married man in a 27-year relationship, described the dilemma confronting many couples in the study as they contemplated taking advantage of the new opportunity to put a same-sex partner on the other partner’s family health insurance plan.
Even though I could bring him under my health insurance, I would have to pay a tax on the contribution the state of Massachusetts--because I was a state employee. So [the contribution that] the state of Massachusetts makes towards his health insurance, I’d have to pay a tax on that. That’s a considerable amount, because the state pays seventy-five percent of the insurance. So … there are still some penalties that same-sex couples face that opposite sex couples don’t.

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court has lifted the penalties and unequal burdens. We rejoice.

[*The quotations in this piece are from “What I did for Love, or Benefits or…: Same-Sex Marriage in Massachusetts,” by the Same-Sex Marriage Study Group, Wellesley Centers for Women. Names of the study respondents have been changed. The paper can be downloaded for free through July 2013: http://www.wcwonline.org/pdf/paid/422.pdf . In addition to the WCW Working Paper, you can also download this publication from the study: "Never In Our Lifetime": Legal Marriage for Same-Sex Couples in Long-Term Relationships.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. is an associate director and senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Members of the exploratory study of same-sex marriag in 2004-2005 were: Erkut; Ineke Ceder; Georgia Hall; Amy Hoffman; Erinn Horrigan; Gloria Luong; Jean Murphy; Anne Noonan; Konjit Page; Michelle Porche; Diane Purvin; Catherine Senghas; Lisa Sankowski; Ellen Schechter; Joyce Shortt; Allison Tracy; Jasmine Waddell; Nancy Wechsler; and Jodie Wennemer. Additional expertise was provided by Jean Hardisty; Nicolene Hengen; Karen McCormack; Nancy Marshall; Jan Putnam; and Donna Tambascio.

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Fortune 500s--Where Are the Women?

WomenCorporate

Five years ago, my colleagues Vicki W. Kramer, Ph.D., Alison M Konrad, Ph.D. and I studied the effect on boardroom dynamics of increasing women’s presence. We interviewed 50 women directors, 12 CEOs (9 male), and seven corporate secretaries at Fortune 1000 companies. The results showed that the benefits of having women on a corporate board are more likely to be realized when three or more women serve on a board.

Two recent reports released by Catalyst of Fortune 500 women board directors, executive officers, and top earners, show that “women’s share of Board Director and Executive Officer positions increased by only half a percentage point or less during the past year”—the seventh consecutive year of no improvement in the number of board seats women held. The reports further demonstrated discouraging data for women of color and women’s earnings at the highest levels within the organizations.

What we found in our study—and what studies since have verified—is that women directors make distinct types of contributions that men are less likely to make. For example, they can broaden boards’ discussions to include the concerns of a wider set of stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the community at large. And even more germane to the distressing news about the lack of growth in women’s representation reported by Catalyst in “Women and Men in U.S. Corporate Leadership,” women’s presence on a corporate board has a positive impact on women in the corporation. In other words, increasing the number of women on corporate boards is a good beginning for increasing the number of women leaders in a corporation.

A recent report in the McKinsey Quarterly from April 2012 shows that diversity in the top echelons of corporate diversity is associated with better financial results. In 180 publicly traded companies in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany, companies making up the top quartile of executive board diversity (in terms of women and foreign national on senior teams) returns on equity and margins on earnings before interest and taxes of were 53% higher compared to companies in the bottom quartile.

So if top team diversity is good for the bottom line, why aren’t corporations rushing to diversify their leadership? The answer may be the persistent bias in viewing men with identical credentials to women as more competent than the women. The results of a recent experiment reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online Sept. 17 can shed light on this gender bias. The study focused on the scarcity of women in academic science, where women are also highly underrepresented. In this experiment, science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a graduate student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the identical female applicant. (Faculty participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant.)

It appears that undervaluing women’s credentials, seeing them as lacking the necessary competence, to be a laboratory manager or a corporate leader, is pervasive and quite resistant to change. This gender bias operates most forcefully in situations where people are evaluating candidates with whom they have little personal familiarity. Curiously, in actual organizational settings the results of field studies (not laboratory experiments) have shown that there are few differences in how male and female managers are perceived. Greater familiarity with the actual characteristics and performance of managers one works with seems sufficient to overcome masculine biases. However, hiring and promotions decisions are made blogpullquoteFortune500sby people who do not know the candidate personally. When there is no familiarity with the person being evaluated to trump the bias that makes men seem more competent, men are chosen over equally competent women.

How are we to bring rationality to evaluating women on their merit? Becoming aware of implicit biases is a first step. Training can help us to be aware of our implicit biases. When faced with a hiring or promotion decision, we need to compel ourselves to justify an “automatic” assumption that a male candidate is more competent. Having diversity on evaluation committees is another must.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is the author of Inside Women's Power: Learning from Leaders.

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