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Women: The corporate leader/bag lady divide

March 27, 2013|By Paul Whitefield
  • Recent studies show that women make better corporate board members but that some also express deep misgivings about their financial futures.
Recent studies show that women make better corporate board members but… (Christina House / For The…)

You know, maybe women really are from Venus.

How else to explain these two recent stories in The Times: “Women make better corporate leaders than men, study finds,” and “Almost half of American women fear becoming bag ladies, study says.”

Or, as most men would say, “Huh”?

But let’s take this one step at a time. In the first study, researchers at A.T. Still University in Arizona and McMaster University in Canada surveyed 600 board directors and, as my colleague Stuart Pfeifer writes, came to the conclusion that “women make better corporate leaders than men because they are more likely to make fair decisions when competing interests are at stake.”

Male directors, who made up 75% of the survey sample, prefer making decisions using rules, regulations and tradition, the survey found. Female directors, by contrast, are less constrained by rules and more prepared to “rock the boat,” the researchers found. They are also more likely “to use cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building.”

Women leaders are more inquisitive than men and tend to see more than one solution to a problem. This leads to decisions that are more likely to be in the best interests of a company, said Gregor McQueen, associate dean at A.T. Still.

So for women, so far, so good. Although the study did find that worldwide, women make up only about 9% of corporate board members. So despite their superior leadership skills, women have a long way to go in breaking men’s grip on the levers of business power.

But what to make of the second study? As The Times’ Walter Hamilton writes:

Despite making enormous strides professionally and financially, almost half of American women fear becoming bag ladies, even many of those earning six-figure salaries, according to a new survey.

Six in 10 women describe themselves as the primary breadwinners in their households, and 54% manage the family finances, according to the poll by Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America.

Even so, 49% fear becoming a bag lady -- a homeless woman who wanders the streets of a city lugging her meager belongings in a shopping bag.

Most surprising, 27% of women earning more than $200,000 a year said they fear falling into such destitution.

Really? Marissa Mayer worries about being a bag lady? Meg Whitman secretly fears she'll end up on the streets? 

Probably not. And as a man, I obviously can’t speak to what women think, and fear, when it comes to jobs and money. But I just can’t imagine getting anything like those results in a survey of men.

Of course, these are just studies. Like reading “Dear Amy,” you take them with a big grain of salt.

Still, as the Supreme Court debates same-sex marriage this week, perhaps they are reminders that it’s not just gays and lesbians who are struggling with their roles in modern society.

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