More than ever – and in more companies than ever – men and women are working together, swapping ideas, sharing power. It is no longer newsworthy when an accomplished woman is promoted to lead a business unit or to run a company full of hard-charging men. In fact, more people in the United States now work for women-owned businesses than for the 500 biggest public companies. So why is there still so much tension between men and women at work? Do men and women really lead in different ways? Do they view and use power differently? Must high-achieving women make different sacrifices than men? Fast Company asked 13 prominent women – leaders from a variety of companies, industries, and backgrounds – for their insights on these and other provocative questions.
President And COO
Martha Stewart Living
New York, New York
It’s dangerous to generalize, but there are differences between men and women in management style – not in skills but in style. We can’t ignore a million years of history – at the office or in the living room. The hilarious Broadway show Defending the Caveman summed up the difference pretty well: Men hunt, women gather. That’s why today, if a woman wants to watch her favorite television shows, it’s often easier for her to buy a new TV than to battle a man for the remote control.
I believe that “gathering” is at the crux of how women view and use power differently from men. I’ve had lots of experience with business negotiations – an activity not unlike hunting, since it’s fraught with conflict and casualties. Men have tended to demonstrate a “go for the kill” mentality. They try to get as much as possible through pressure, intimidation, and the sheer desire to defeat at any cost whoever is sitting across the table from them. Women have tended to prefer searching for common interests, solving problems, and collaborating to find win-win outcomes.
It’s not easy to find the freedom to operate with a “gathering” style – even though there is plenty of research documenting that collaborative approaches offer the best chance of producing high-quality results. But in the real (read: male) world, collaboration is often viewed as a sign of weakness. So unless you’re the boss, collaboration is risky. That’s why, over the last few years, I’ve focused on helping to build entrepreneurial businesses in which I can be a leading participant. I want the freedom to work in ways that work.
Sharon Patrick led the team that acquired Martha Stewart Living Enterprises from Time Inc. She has an MBA from Harvard and was a partner in McKinsey & Co.’s New York office.
In my 30 years in the labor movement, “pushy broad” is one of the nicer names that I’ve been called. And I wear it like a badge of honor. If I really believe in something and others don’t, I don’t just let it go – I’m tenacious. Sometimes I’m ornery. But I always find ways to get things done.
The substance of what I stand for hasn’t changed. But sometimes my style has. Back in Texas, where I was based until a few years ago, I’d be in meetings where I’d cuss like a sailor. I didn’t have a choice: How much you could take and dish out was the measure of others’ respect for you. Remember, I was dealing with six-foot-tall, 250-pound Texans who smoked big cigars. I couldn’t let them push me around. While a few of my union brothers didn’t like me, they sure did respect me.
I have faced plenty of obstacles in my career – not just as a woman but also as a woman of color. But I have always played by my own rules. Back in the early 1970s, I became the assistant business manager for AFSCME Local 2399 in San Antonio. I thought I was so important: I had a title, I went to meetings. But my colleagues thought of me as a secretary. I’d be the only woman in a room of 20 men, and they’d say, “Linda, why don’t you take the minutes.” I absolutely refused. Instead I’d say, “I’d rather be president or secretary-treasurer.” They were floored, but I stuck to my guns. And eventually I did become secretary-treasurer.
Those early experiences taught me another important lesson: Women who want to be leaders have to be up-front and honest about it – not only with themselves but also with the men they work with and the men they share their lives with.
I am the first woman of color – in fact, the first woman of any kind – in an executive position at the AFL-CIO, but I don’t want to be the last. I want to be one of many. We might have a few more hurdles in our path, but we’ll get there.
Linda Chavez-Thompson is the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. labor movement. She has been a union activist and leader for more than three decades.
President and COO
John A. Levin and Co.
New York, NY
It’s an age-old formula and a Wall Street credo: If you’ve got money, you’ve got power. Now that more women have money, the Street needs women. Firms are scrambling to create marketing programs targeted at women and investment funds run by women.
Wall Street is a tough place to work – for men and women. But women have always faced special disadvantages. My approach has been to turn those disadvantages into advantages. When I was younger, for example, I’d give presentations to institutional investors, and I’d be the only woman in the room. But that negative often became a positive. The men tended to listen to me more closely because I was a woman – a curiosity. And they tended to remember me the next time I made a presentation.
That was early in the game. What we need now is lots more women in senior jobs helping other women along. I am very big on mentoring. You can’t talk to a man in this business who says he succeeded on his own. Which doesn’t mean that men can’t be great mentors for women. I’ve had two mentors in my career, and both were men.
But Wall Street needs more women in top jobs. People everywhere tend to hire and promote people who are like them. And there’s still a certain mystery surrounding women on Wall Street. Do we work less hard than men? Are we more temperamental? The more women a company has, the less mysterious we become. John A. Levin & Co. is an $8 billion investment adviser. Previously Jessica Bibliowicz was head of Smith Barney Mutual Funds, the ninth-largest fund complex in the United States.
Digital City New York
New York, New York
So many of us are so confused about gender. For years, I’ve seen women trying to act like men. More recently, I’ve seen men trying to act like women. It won’t work. The only way to be powerfully successful, whether you’re a man or a woman, is to be who you are.
A lot of my work involves contract negotiations and deals with media companies. I see the same patterns over and over again: Men are oriented toward power, toward making fast decisions in a black-or-white mode. Woman are more skilled at relationships. They see shades of gray and explore issues from different angles. It’s instinctual. Men come to the negotiating table in full battle armor. I don’t do that. I believe it goes against a woman’s nature to be aggressive, rude, or abrupt. I never know how to react to these kinds of women, and neither do men.
What’s interesting is that the kinds of companies we admire today are also those that depend increasingly on female attributes. We are in the relationship era: It’s all about getting close to customers, striking up joint ventures, partnering with suppliers. Warriors don’t make good CEOs in companies based on relationships. The new CEO is a Seeder, Feeder, and Weeder – and those are women’s roles. The power that a woman has when she has the courage to be a woman is mighty – even in a man’s world.
Janice Gjertsen cofounded Total New York, which was purchased by Digital City in 1997. Digital City, the largest locally focused online network, delivers news, community resources, and entertainment in 14 different cities.
Director of Marketing, Field Operations
Coopers & Lybrand
New York, New York
Supplicants don’t get respect. At best, they get pity. Usually they get ignored. After all, power is much more attractive than weakness. Whether you work in a 16,000-person firm like Coopers & Lybrand or a 50-person startup, the only way you’ll change things is by working to change them. I have three pieces of advice to offer.
Don’t mourn, organize! When progress for women at C&L wasn’t happening as quickly as many of us would have liked, the women partners banded together and created their own annual meeting. Then they invited the firm’s top executives to listen to their concerns, to discuss issues, and to work on solutions. Nick Moore, our chairman and a long-time champion of women at the firm, made real commitments to breaking the glass ceiling – commitments that he backed up with action. The women did not ask for “help.” They commanded attention – and got it.
One of the results of those meetings was the C&L 100, a formal mentoring program that I was asked to join. It has helped me enormously. My male mentor was vital in helping me navigate difficult career waters – and I can thank this program for my recent promotion.
Measurements matter. Business is run (mostly) by numbers. So if you can make your case with statistics, it will get a better hearing. One of the most powerful numbers at C&L was the female-departure rate. We were losing talented women with strong records who were working between the levels of manager and partner. And we weren’t losing them to babies – the all-too-convenient male explanation. We were losing them to other companies.
Share the spotlight. Once the company starts making progress, don’t be shy about spreading the word. Work to get positive PR. Apply for awards. And let the guys get some of the glory. It’s not easy to change corporate cultures that have developed over decades. But if making change is nothing but hard work and pain, who’s going to want to help?
Katherine D’Urso has been with Coopers & Lybrand since 1994.
Partner, Patton Boggs LLP
In law firms, power goes to the partners who generate the most business – which usually means a small group of white men. Women do become partners, but we often don’t make as much money as our male counterparts, we don’t have the same face-to-face client relationships, and men don’t always refer business to us. In a very real sense, we are on our own.
I’ve recently initiated a “Patton Boggs Center for Women and Enterprise.” I want to market our women lawyers to women in positions of power – both high-ranking women in the nation’s 1,000 largest companies and the leaders of women-owned businesses. The opportunities are undeniable. Women are starting companies at twice the rate of men, and they account for 40% of the people in the United States with more than $600,000 in assets.
I started the project with two goals in mind: to generate more business for the firm, and to generate more business for women partners and associates. It’s my version of the old boys’ network. But here’s what’s so interesting: I brought my idea straight to the top of the firm. I didn’t spend lots of time building consensus among the other women – I didn’t think I had to. But I was wrong. The men loved it. So did the younger female associates. But the more senior women lawyers resisted.
I don’t know if they felt threatened or if they felt I was rocking a boat that they had worked hard to climb into. I listened to their concerns, but I kept moving forward. Women need to be in business for – and to do business with – one another. We’re just getting started.
Before joining Patton Boggs, Michelle Bernard was chairperson of the District of Columbia Redevelopment Land Agency, which negotiated the public-private financing of the District’s recently opened MCI Arena.
Founder and Editor at Large Doubleday/Currency
New York, New York
Women need to become more like men than men are. We need to become hyperaggressive and hyperdetermined – because business is about intense daring and a reckless abandon to succeed. Of course, men have those qualities. It has to do with their once being boys. While girls learn to be good, boys play at being great. And men build their companies the way they used to build their forts – as clubs of exclusion.
Sure, women are making progress. But it’s not nearly deep or fast enough. My business, publishing, is dominated by women. But it’s led by men. That’s a big difference. Women are jockeying for positions in the middle ranks of organizations, but the top is still a barren plane for them. Women hold fewer than 643 of the 6,081 board seats at the country’s 500 largest companies – that’s a meager 11%. But until we’re on those boards, we’re nowhere – because that’s where real power dwells. Remember, plantations were run by slaves, but the slave owners called all the shots.
None of the polite “female” techniques for getting ahead – networking, mentoring – really work. Men run companies, and men basically want to be with their own kind. If you look at deep-seated social change, which is what we’re talking about, you realize that the slow, peaceful march has never made a real difference. Hillary Clinton says it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a mob to change a company. Women need to engage in more dramatic tactics, both as individuals and in groups. If you think you’re too sophisticated for guerrilla theater, think again.
A year ago, I wrote a letter to the CEO of Bertelsmann, our parent company. I knew that he was going to retire and that a search was on for his successor. In my letter, I proposed that I be made acting CEO for the year while the search took place. I wanted him to consider and understand how much the company would gain by reaching down into the organization and pulling up someone with a lot of moxie, drive, and determination.
It was a daring letter – which I never sent. I’m sorry I didn’t.
Under Harriet Rubin’s leadership, Doubleday/Currency published more than 60 business books, 40 of which sold over 100,000 copies and 5 of which sold more than 500,000 copies. She is the author of The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women (Doubleday, 1997).
Menlo Park, California
It’s not becoming for a woman to think about power. And it’s not part of my personal repertoire. To enjoy “power” is to enjoy control – especially over other people. I suppose I could wield that kind of power, but I choose not to. I’d rather persuade people with my powers of reasoning than dictate to them from a higher position.
Let’s be honest: The culture of any management team, even if there are women on it, is still a male culture. Certainly that’s true in a male-dominated field like high technology. It all comes down to football. Most women haven’t played team sports. They don’t understand how men feel when they’re part of a team – the sense of camaraderie, the joy of victory. The companies I back all embody that team spirit – a commitment to winning, being the absolute best, dominating markets.
I know women who are great at the mechanics of running a business. I know women who are great nurturers. But I haven’t met many women who are conditioned to touch people’s hearts as leaders – which is quite different from touching their hearts as nurturers. Most people in most companies still want – and need – someone who says, “There’s the hill. It’s big and steep, but we’re going right up to the top!” That’s not nurturing; that’s demanding.
I have coached lots of women on this point. Most women get where they are by working incredibly hard, by being outstanding performers at their jobs. But at some point, their very success propels them into a whole new sphere – this male-dominated realm of power and leadership. And they are unprepared for it. My simple advice: Work for someone who is an extraordinary leader and watch how he does it. Then decide if you’re cut out to lead in that way too.
Kathryn Gould has served on the boards of 11 startups. She has positioned five of them to be acquired and has taken two of them public, in deals totaling $2.5 billion.
NFL Properties Inc.
New York, New York
Is my leadership style different from a man’s? That’s a tough question for me to answer – so I asked my management team for their thoughts. That simple act, they told me, pretty much answered the question. They agree that my emphasis on group communication, on soliciting their ideas and opinions, is a major characteristic of my management style. They also say it’s why they think I’m a good leader.
Is this a distinctly “female” trait? The members of my team – all of them male – seem to think so. Does it work? I suppose it does. Indeed, I will be brash enough to suggest that the culture of NFL Properties has changed under my leadership – and changed for the better. Now the emphasis is on sharing ideas, communicating them throughout the company, and reaching common goals. At NFL Properties, when we win, we win as a team.
Before joining NFL Properties, Sara Levinson was president-business director of MTV. NFL Properties is the licensing, marketing, and sponsorship division of the National Football League.
Director, Work/Life and Wellness Initiatives, Motorola Inc.
For almost 20 years, I’ve been on the front lines of the struggle for power in the workplace – both by women and between women and men. And it’s evolved quite a bit. At first, women defined and pursued power according to the precedents set by men. Most of us can probably identify at least one woman who can attribute her success to an ability to be “just like the men.” But gradually women redefined power to be about more than achieving a certain job or reaching a certain income level.
Women became more comfortable with using their own style as a way to move forward; they didn’t have to act “just like the men” anymore. As they began to define power as the ability to influence their environment to suit their needs, they began to rely upon their innate abilities to achieve this power.
Women, much more naturally than men, enjoy collaborating – defying the boundaries of age, status, rank, and race. Such collaboration has persuaded companies across the country and around the world to institute workplace improvements such as on-site child care, family leave, and flexible work schedules.
Through these grassroots collaborative efforts, women have both envisioned a different future and also helped to make it a reality. Now, isn’t that what real power is all about? Kathy Kane-Zweber is the author of Flexible Work Options: A Guidebook for Employees, Managers, and Human Resources Professionals (Motorola University Press, 1997).
Menlo Park, California
Only in the last 10 years has the male-dominated world of venture capital opened its doors to women – and only because it’s had to. Highly competitive markets can’t afford the luxury of discrimination. That said, whenever you mix women and men – and then add money – interesting things are bound to happen.
When a man is sitting across the table from a woman who is sitting on a pile of money, the situation can get uncomfortable – especially since it’s every venture capitalist’s job to say “no” a hundred times more often than she says “yes.” That’s why I’m always careful to put people at ease, to connect with whoever is on the other side of the table. Any venture capitalist needs to know what it’s like to wear an entrepreneur’s shoes. But that’s especially important for women.
Early in my career, I had a meeting with an entrepreneur whom I tried to help – with my opinions, not my money. Later I discovered that he had called me a “bitch” who liked to tell people what was wrong with their ideas. My first reaction was to think that he wouldn’t have said that if I were a man – and I got mad. My second reaction was to say, “How stupid of me!” I was giving him feedback that he had no interest in. I’ve learned that you should wait for people to signal that they want honest feedback before you offer it.
Darlene Mann served as vice president of marketing at Avantos Performance Systems, and as cofounder and vice president of marketing at BroadVision Inc., before joining Onset in 1996.
Bridging the Gap
Auckland Park, South Africa
There are a few points about power that apply to both sexes – but are especially relevant to women. First, you need a good relationship with those in power in order to be able to learn from them. Second, people who have power don’t always have something to teach you. Third, the best way to learn is to ask questions – even if doing so makes you feel uncomfortable. Fourth, real power comes from within, not from your official position. And finally, the power to contribute – to make a difference in a fast-changing world – should never be confused with power over others.
I’ve learned these lessons during my experiences in South Africa. Several years ago, at age 36, I was invited to join the board of a food company listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. I said yes – and crossed a line of power to join men, all white and all in their fifties and sixties, who had been in this business their whole lives. I knew nothing about food except how to buy it, cook it, and eat it. I went out on a limb – something that men do all the time but that women are less willing to do. They are reluctant to make themselves vulnerable, to put themselves in a place of “not knowing.” For me, that has been the best place in which to learn and to grow.
In 1991, Wendy Luhabe founded Bridging the Gap to prepare black South Africans to enter the workplace – and to prepare companies to accept them. In 1995, she founded the country’s first Women Investment Portfolio to improve the economic conditions of black South African women. She sits on the board of seven major corporations.
Years ago, our CEO Lew Platt stressed the importance of making women a part of management at every level. He asked us all to become part of the solution. Well, I took his message to heart and helped start the HP Boise Women’s Network. Here are two things I’ve learned about driving change from the grass roots of an organization.
Focus on what really matters – not on what you think matters. We created informal chat groups to learn more about what we cared about. Some of what we discovered was “hard business” stuff, such as the transfer, hiring, and promotion rates for women. But some of it was quite personal – for example, the difference between women’s and men’s styles at HP. There’s an amiable style here that didn’t always work for some women. They felt hampered by all this “nice guy” stuff. We’re saying that men’s and women’s styles are very different. And we need to value these differences, not to pretend that they don’t exist.
Open systems work best. We invited speakers on-site to share their perspectives. And we worked hard to make sure that everyone attended these talks. We targeted the site’s managers and hand-delivered invitations to them. The turnout was incredible.
A lot has changed in Boise. We’ve increased awareness about the importance of diversity, and we’ve seen more women promoted into the higher ranks. If you have good intentions, senior people will respond.
Sallie Ewing is a product manager in marketing for HP’s Workgroup LaserJet Division.