One interesting discussion I had at the Young India Fellowship was with Prof. Mekhala Krishnamurthy, an anthropologist affiliated with UPenn’s Centre for the Advanced Study of India.
I was discussing various topics, from which I would select one that would become the basis for my ethnography research proposal (I finally went with understanding the Indian early stage entrepreneur’s mindset).
The discussion turned towards women in corporations and what they brought to the table apart from raw intelligence. I mentioned how I would assume that having a woman in senior management, and more specifically, the board of an organization brought in more empathy and receptivity towards looking at the big picture, drive values and ethics and ultimately bring in more level headed decisions instead of rash ones (Garage Venture’s Guy Kawasaki refers to Man’s Killer Gene in the business context here). The rash decisions might make sense in the short term, but might be hazardous in the long term.
I expected her approval at my assertion. However, she said that ostensibly that did seem like a likely thing, however, based on the research (of corporations) she was exposed to, it wasn’t necessarily the case. I was perplexed and I prodded her further on this.
She was trying to make the point that while we’d all like to believe in the “one person can make all the difference” story, when it comes to minorities, in reality, evidence doesn’t seem to support that. So in case there is just one woman on the board, or one woman in the senior management, the chances of her doing all that I elaborated upon earlier, might not happen. She might just go along with the rest of the group and come to believe what they believe in. Or she might resist, continue to propagate what they believe in, and eventually might get sidelined (Remember Carly Fiorina?). I’d think that the real change comes when you have more than one person and they find that resonance. Again it’s not necessary, but just makes it more probable.
This is a crucial (and morbid) point which I think has merit and applies to a larger context of working in teams.
I have often seen how people with a particular ideology or value system might trade that for the sense of being agreeable with the larger group in case they don’t get any support. Being the sole devil’s advocate can be a bitch (also because their loyalty can be questioned at any time). It’s just so much easier (at first at least) to just agree with the group, also perhaps because in case you have no one to talk to about your opinions (and why that is in the best interest of the organization), you might just end up believing in what the group as a whole feels. Or just dissociating from the group and risking getting marginalized.
Perhaps when organizations are constituting their board, and their senior management, they do need to keep this aspect in mind. That certain decisions while, are meant to promote a certain quality, they should be executed in a way which makes the promotion of those qualities more enabling.
Because democracy, as we find out time and time again, does have a brutal angle to it too.
End note: Facebook has 2 women on their board.