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Paul R. Portney

Paul R. Portney

Paul R. Portney is Dean of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona, where he also holds the Halle Chair in Leadership.

Title IX CEOs

Though it pains me to say this, I do not believe the financial meltdown would have been as severe had women held the top leadership spots on Wall Street.

First, and generally speaking, women are somewhat more risk-averse than men; I think they'd have asked far more questions about the possible downsides to mortgage securitization, credit-default swaps and the other exotic financial instruments the public assumed the Wall Street big boys understood quite well.

Second, and again generalizing somewhat, women are more collaborative and less competitive in business than men; they'd be less likely, for example, to push an untested and poorly understood financial instrument so as to be seen as a Master of the Universe, or gobble up another company just so their merged entity would be bigger than the company of someone they wanted to best.

Three quick caveats. First, some will accuse me of generalizing in the same way that the now-head of the National Economic Council, Larry Summers, did when he opined as president of Harvard that women did less well in math and science than men did. Why is it OK to generalize about women when it puts them in a favorable light, but not an unflattering one? Second, there are two sides to risk-taking; it may be that while we wouldn't have gone into the financial free-fall we're in now had women run Wall Street, neither might we have seen some of the gains associated with smart risk-taking in previous years.

Third and finally, one reason men seem to be more competitive than women (in business, at least--don't get me started on other realms) is that men have participated in competitive athletics for far longer. Might it be that 10 or 15 years from now, when Title IX will have spawned a whole generation of women with experience in intercollegiate athletics, we'll see women behaving as competitively in the boardroom as they did on the soccer field, softball diamond or basketball court?

By Paul R. Portney

 |  March 10, 2009; 11:12 AM ET
Category:  Women in Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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