Female Leaders and Red Flags

In their book, The Female Vision, authors Sally Helgesen and Julie Johnson hypothesize that having more female leadership in the financial companies causing the 2008 US economic crisis may have prevented it from ever happening. The underlying issue in these companies was not simply that women were not present in the boardrooms where incredibly risky decisions were being made. Rather, it was that the imbalance of male leadership created a culture of hard-driving competition that rewarded huge risks without regard for potential long-term negative consequences. After the collapse, a number of financial writers and leadership experts noted the relative absence of women among those who were primarily responsible for the disaster. In later interviews, women who had worked in these organizations reported that the red flags they had raised about the level of risk being incurred were summarily dismissed by men who insisted that the quantitative analysis supported their decisions. 

Helgesen and Johnson point out that because leadership was dominated by masculine ideals of risk-taking, winner-take-all, rational, data-driven decision making, what women see and perceive was devalued. What might be referred to as female intuition, "her outsider eyes, her sense of perspective, her ability to notice and connect the dots," may have mitigated the worst economic crisis in the US since the Great Depression.

So what do we have to learn? Companies who invest in female leaders because of rather than in spite of their unique perspectives, gifts, and talents as women have much to gain. Because of their socialization, women are often able to observe relationship patterns and connect the dots between seemingly unrelated phenomena. In a culture that upholds data-driven decision-making, the subjective, relational, emotionally informed aspects of female vision provide a helpful balancing perspective that could potentially avert disaster. 

Helgesen, S., & Johnson, J. The female vision: Women's real power at work. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Jaime GoffComment