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Elizabeth Sherman

Elizabeth Sherman

Assistant professor of American Politics at American University; founder and former director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Women in Fantasy Land

If women had been at the helm of top Wall Street firms during the past decade or so, Wall Street as we know it would have been completely different and probably far less crisis prone. Why? Because boards and organizations that nurture and support women's leadership also encourage different attitudes, perspectives and behaviors. In short, they reject group think. Having women, as well as other underrepresented minorities, in positions of influence throughout an organization makes it more likely that a wide range of views will be respected and incorporated in decision-making

Studies show women to be more averse than men to risk-taking and less likely to respond to peer pressure to roll the dice even when the rewards might involve big pay-offs. That inherent reluctance might have diminished enthusiasm for the high-risk, high-reward strategies that recently proved so destructive. Women also demonstrate caution about the potential downside of crossing ethical or legal boundaries that might expose their organizations, and them, to prosecution and disgrace. Given these patterns of careful consideration before engaging in risk, having many more women at the top might have rerouted Wall Street from its full-tilt plunge off the financial cliff.

Of course as we know the macho, competitive culture of Wall Street has hardly welcomed much less nurtured women's leadership. For a woman to reach the top of Bear Sterns, AIG or Lehman's, she would have to become the Margaret Thatcher of Wall Street, tougher by far than most of her male colleagues, a proven team player disdainful of womanish weakness, and willing to say and do whatever it takes to achieve the outsized goals of the organization.

If "Mistresses of the Universe" had somehow reached the top rungs of Wall Street, they would have done so by adopting the ethos and practices that have brought catastrophe to the financial system, so nothing much would have changed. The fact is the testosterone-driven fantasy land of Wall Street thrived on its hyper-competitive, win-at-any-cost culture, crafted and sustained by fanatical warriors in Armani suits. The chances of women ruling that particular roost were slim to none. We are living with the results.

By Elizabeth Sherman

 |  March 9, 2009; 3:22 AM ET
Category:  Women in Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Gender Is Not Destiny | Next: Barbarians at the University Gate


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Don't bet on it. Who do you think pumped their husbands to give America the economic equivalent of VD? The womenfolk.

Thanks to Warren Buffett for correctly diagnosing the problem with modern society and its economic malady.

Women! Who do you think this was all created for?

If men were the only humans on the planet, we'd all still be back in the Garden of Eden drinking jungle juice and arguing over last night's orangutan fights.

And happy about it, too.

Thanks much. Reality Dweller

Posted by: HLBeckPE | March 9, 2009 12:35 PM
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I believe the the issue of governance needs a look. How much experience? What colleges and degrees? Diversity? My hypothesis is that the problem may be traced to too little experience, too many MBAs, and a culture where short term profitters are rewarded while the wise are replaced.

Posted by: Eriemaster | March 9, 2009 11:50 AM
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