ACCORDING TO LIZ - Three women. That’s all it takes to change testosterone-skewed priorities on corporate boards.
In recent years it has become common for Fortune 500 companies to look at the optics and propose one or two token women as company directors, in a number of cases combined with their token people-of-color nominees.
‘Propose’ in this case is more akin to ordain since current practice at most, if not all, modern corporations is for the board to put forward a slate of… just the number of names needed to complete the board under their bylaws.
Ensuring a particularly closed and sell-perpetuating system.
Men are less likely than women to agree with quotas as a mechanism for change but research from Catalyst and around the world consistently document that diversity has winning financial implications: that Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women on their boards of directors perform significantly better than those with the fewest, and with notably stronger-than-average performance at companies with three or more women on the board.
When there are three or more women on a board, the culture of a company’s board changes, the priorities change and that ethos trickles down until eventually change happens at all levels of the company and along its interfaces with customers, suppliers and stockholders
In Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next, a movie which was well-received but did not reach the break-out status accorded some of his more controversial works, the filmmaker visited eight countries in Europe and one in northern Africa to illuminate successful social policies they’ve implemented that the United States would do well to emulate. Or, more accurately, to reclaim as many of these ideas originated on this side of the Atlantic.
One of the countries visited was Iceland where women have not only challenged male-domination but have shown that a woman’s approach can be more successful.
What would happen if American women walked off their jobs to protest the gender wage gap? No secretaries in the office, no nurses in the hospitals, no teachers in the schools, no homemakers in the home.
Big change. The women of Iceland went on strike on October 24, 1975, bringing the country to a screeching halt. Ninety percent of them did, empowering all women and granting themselves a vision and purpose. Five years later, the voters elected the world’s first female president, Vigdis Finnbogadóttir, and re-elected her three times before she retired in 1996.
She was not a woman who tried to act more alpha dog than male counterparts as is seen in many American corporations: “I’m not a man and I never have been and my principle has always been not to try to act like a man.” She set in motion a transition to enable women’s values be considered in all transactions.
Part of her legacy was the 2000 passage of the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men which defined areas of gender discrimination, identified differences between indirect and direct gender discrimination, acknowledged gender gaps in wages, and identified gender-based violence as detrimental to society as a whole.
This then laid out a map for Iceland to achieve gender equality on many levels, from outlawing gender discrimination in school curricula and corporate culture to protecting women from being treated as products to a nine-month paternity leave paid at 80%.
Pursuant to the equality law’s provisions on gender parity, public companies with over 50 employees must have at least 40% women and 40% men on their boards of directors and in senior management.
American and multi-national corporate retreats focus on male-bonding rituals for teamwork, emphasizing aggressive behaviors and unquestioning action to drive profits to new heights.
Ultimately these are short term and selfish – quarterly earnings and year-end bonuses – rather than engendering policies to develop wisdom, sharing, perceptiveness, and long term holistic approaches to problem-solving.
That is the key component – by demonstrating sharing skills, women can role-model a caring methodology for governance. Each of us has the capacity for using a broad range of tactics to address challenges but most of us have been educated and conditioned by the patriarchal corporate views endemic in our society today. Few have seen and appreciated the success of less aggressive more considerate archetypes.
Working together rather than through cut-throat competitiveness, takeovers, and economic warfare.
Recently, over two dozen employees of a Swiss company were injured while walking in bare feet over hot coals, purportedly an ancient religious tradition that has become popular on corporate retreats.
Would you trust your money or your life to people who get their jollies playing games like that?
The heavily-skewed gender imbalance on stock exchange trading floors is an excellent example of testosterone driving more risk and excessive speed. Rewarding a male approach to problem-solving which was a survival skill for individuals or small tribes on the open savannah, is not of benefit in today’s urban and interconnected world.
Women’s inherent role emphasizing longtime survival of the species tends not to buy into such perilous behavior unless they can see some certainty of an upside and understand what’s in it for society as a whole, while men continue to pursue what’s in it for them, as the individual or a small band of brothers.
In Iceland, nearly 70 bankers and hedge fund managers were imprisoned in connection with the collapse of the country’s three principal banks in 2008 and the bankrupting of its economy.
By focusing on the victims - paying off loans for consumers, forgiving homeowner debt up to 110% of the property value and throwing the perpetrators in prison – rather than protecting them – Iceland’s economy not only bounced back from the brink but was thriving at a time when other countries were still living with the consequences of male-pattern greed.
Instead of bailing out the banks when the ruling party was overwhelmingly male, the financial industries were dominated by males, and those taking absurd risks on the markets were almost exclusively male, Iceland put women in charge of much of its financial decision-making.
The male prime minister resigned and in his place, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir was elected as Iceland’s first female prime minister (and the world’s first openly gay head of state).
Women continued to play a leading role in creating a more balanced economy by incorporating overtly feminine values into the country’s financial system and government. Six years later, the economy had surpassed its pre-crash peak.
Male values continue to dominate American businesses and politics.
Although over a thousand bankers were convicted by the Justice Department in the wake of the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s, following the financial implosion of 2008 only one banker, Egyptian-born and Yooper-raised Kareem Serageldin, was tried and imprisoned by a United States criminal court.
Discussion in Congress continues to be driven by short-term profit not human values, leading to more money wasted on wars and corporate incentives while too many Americans are homeless, hungry, ill, and in debt. Our so-called democracy can’t even pass laws to protect its own air and water, let alone curtail our disproportionate impact on global warming.
As of 2021, Iceland has been #1 on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for twelve years running, somewhat of an irony in a country where the equality laws’ regulations on comparative advertising prohibit saying a product is “best.”
(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions. In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)