Are Leadership Messes Women’s Opportunity?

BirdsFemale leadership firsts are trending. Especially when an organization is in big trouble, it seems. Often the choice of a woman appears to be an act of desperation. Fix us, clean up the mess and make it all work. Call mommy to doctor a skinned knee, soothe the troubled waters.

Marissa Mayer at Yahoo for instance, was brought in to stop the bleeding at Yahoo and set it back on a path to profits — when she was pregnant no less.

Chaotic moments can be enormous opportunities for women to move into leadership positions at organizations that have been impervious to women’s advancement due to what Secretary General of the Council of World Leaders Laura Liswood dubs a “thick layer of men” rather than a glass ceiling.

But the ugly underside occurs when women are called in as a Hail Mary pass after previous leaders have so messed up the system that the opportunity can be a set up for failure:

  • When the old systems, or leadership thereof, are corrupt as General Motors. Mary Barra didn’t have much time to celebrate her ascension to the first woman CEO of a major automobile company before she was faced with righting egregious safety wrongs, a moral bankruptcy more likely than economic bankruptcy to do the company in.
  • When an institution is shrinking like the vaunted Riverside a Church in New York which recently appointed its first woman senior minister, Dr. Amy K. Butler.
  • When scandal catapults a woman to a leadership role and being dubbed by Forbes the fifth most powerful woman in the world as it did Christine Lagarde, who became head of the International Monetary Fund in the wake of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrogant sexual behavior.
  • When a tanking economy causes companies to shed higher paid men and take on or retain women who still earn comparatively 25% less than male counterparts.

That’s why women going into these situations need a special set of tools to help them succeed. 

I started writing this post from the ship Isabela II in the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador. While observing first hand natural selection and evolutionary adaptation at work, I’m also reading The Beak of the Finch, a beautifully written narrative of how Charles Darwin and other less known researchers developed their scientific theories of change in the natural world. The tale is told through the work of professors Rosemary and Peter Grant who studied the finches extensively a century after the nondescript little brown birds first prompted Darwin’s idea of evolution of species.

Upon careful observation, the finches turned out to have at least thirteen different beak adaptations, each an exquisitely evolved tool enabling the birds to access the various seeds available in order to survive the harshest island environments.

Similarly, anyone going into an organization in dire need of change will benefit from having specialized tools to clean up the mess while righting the culture and creating a new strategy.

Stepping up to such challenges first requires courage. The courage to embrace power in ways few women have historically done. I’m heartened when pop culture celebs like Kerry Washington encourage women to take more risks. Her “badass” message applies regardless of sector.

Being courageous in an intentional way requires employing practical leadership tools to leverage the opportunity–to “carpe the chaos”—one of the power tools I’ll teach in my
9 Practical Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career certificate course. It’s a four-week course, entirely online so you can do the work at your convenience, starting July 16. I’d love to see you there. (You can still get the early bird price for a few more days.)

The course is packed with helpful specific tools and tips. Plus the big bonus is the support and insights you get from and give to other women. We make the online platform surprisingly human.

Let’s face it, if women are ever to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors as Take The Lead’s mission Intends, we must step up, even if the opportunity is rooted in chaos and the risk of failure is high.

If you have taken on a leadership challenge during a time of crisis and chaos, or are considering doing so, please tell us about it. Your story will inspire someone else. For each act of courage makes the path easier for the next woman.

Mind the Gap: Liz O’Donnell’s New Book on Moms in America

Liz ODonnell headshot 3x3Feminists and economists alike have been buzzing about the latest data released from the U.S. Census Bureau that shows the gender-based wage gap has remained virtually the same for the past decade. Women earn, on average, just .77 cents for every dollar a man earns. And for women of color the gap is even greater.

But another gender-based gap is worth talking about too – the housework gap. This gap has a direct and negative correlation to the wage gap.

Sure, men are doing more housework than they’ve ever done before, but they were starting from a low percentage. According to the American Time Use Survey, women still do approximately 30 percent more housework and child care than their spouses. Even in homes where couples split chores like cooking, cleaning, and yard work, women tend to shoulder the burden of invisible tasks like scheduling doctor’s appointments, arranging carpools, and organizing play dates.

Another new study, this one from The Pew Research Center, reports there are approximately 550,000 stay-at-home fathers in the United States, and while these men do more housework and childcare than their partners do; it’s not that much more. A working woman with a spouse who stays home does approximately 14 hours of housework and 9 hours of childcare per week. Compare that to a working man with a spouse who stays home. They do approximately 8 and 6 hours respectively. Clearly, women are carrying a large share of the responsibilities at home, regardless of their work status.

These inequities inside the home contribute to inequities in the workplace. Women are stretched thin; 15 percent report feeling tired or exhausted almost every day. And employers are concerned. Research from Shelley J. Correll, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, supports the idea that many employers believe mothers are less committed to their jobs than other employees. As a result, employers are reluctant to hire them and offer them high salaries. And two other professors, Joni Hersch and Leslie S. Stratton, published research in The Journal of Human Resources, indicating housework indeed has a direct and negative correlation to women’s wages. And they suggested one theory for this could be employer’s negative reactions to women who appear dedicated to household activities.

Liz ODonnell MogulMomMaid3D_FINALThose who believe the wage gap is the result of choices women make are missing the bigger picture. They attribute the gap to women choosing jobs with lower salaries or choosing to work part time or take time off to care for family. Some women do. But many women, who may appear to choose to cut back at work, are actually just trying to manage the demands of home and career.

Women’s partners, including the more than half a million stay-at-home fathers, should push for legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen earlier fair pay legislation, and should play an active role in closing the gap at home. And companies should take a hard look at how they can embrace working parents, especially working mothers, as a vital part of the workforce. By instituting family-friendly policies like flex time and telecommuting, and encouraging not only women, but also men to use them, they can help create a more equitable dynamic in both the home and the office.

When you consider that more than half of American women who work are breadwinners contributing at least some part of the necessary income to maintain their households, you can see the wage gap is not a woman’s issue; it’s a family issue.

If we don’t mind the gap, families stand to lose out on income necessary to get by, women stand to lose out on lucrative career choices, and businesses stand to lose out on the valuable contributions of women at work.

The Young Politica: Dropping Down the Fiscal Cliff

Since the U.S. reached the debt ceiling in late 2012 and the country’s credit rating was downgraded for the first time in history, talks of reaching a fiscal cliff have loomed.

The fiscal cliff is a term used to describe what will happen after the start of the new year if there is no budget reform. If Congress does not reach a deal extending tax cuts by the time the Budget Control Act of 2011 goes into effect, taxes will be raised for anyone in the workforce. The result may be another recession.

How can it affect you?

If congress does not reach a deal, $661 billion in new tax hikes will start affecting your first paycheck (a two percent increase) after January 1st. On January 2nd, $78 billion in sequester hikes will begin cutting on some government and private sector workforces, likely causing layoffs and budget cuts.

How can this problem be solved?

A solution is an extension on tax cuts for the middle-class. However, Democrats and Republicans will most likely take this to the eleventh hour. John Boehner admitted that Congressional progress towards reaching a compromise has reached a stalemate.

The House will vote on a middle-class tax cut extension next week, which may stall our economy’s cliff diving.

According to CNN, gsectors that will be affected by the cliff-dive come January 1st include:

  •  Medicare,
  • Food Safety and Inspection Service agency,
  • The CDC,
  • The NIH,
  • WIC,
  • The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program,
  • The Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes,
  • Gallaudet University (an education program for the deaf and hard of hearing),
  • Social Security.

It seems that Obama’s pressure towards Congress to pass a tax-cut extension are more “bargaining tactics” and less “honest compromise.” Obama has doubled his request for higher revenues, and Republicans aren’t having it. Orrin Hatch called the plan “a classic bait-and-switch on the American people.” Mitch McConnell even burst into laughter when Geithner outlined the White House’s plans.

Obama has warned of a ‘Scrooge’ Christmas if Republicans in Congress don’t sign off on a deal.

Here’s a fiscal cliff countdown just in case you haven’t started saving that extra two percent.

State of the Union Speech: Almost the Obama We Voted For

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been a harsh critic of Obama’s leadership or lack of it since he took office, not because I supported Clinton (which I did but I got over it), but as someone who understands the responsibilities of a chief executive to create meaning, articulate a vision, and put forth an agenda for people to work from. From the time he was elected until now, his vision kept shrinking rather than expanding and his penchant for appeasing even the unappeasable has been nothing short of maddening.

That unwillingness to put a stake in the agenda ground left the Democrats in Congress adrift. The result has been that even when Obama scored accomplishments such as heath reform, it never felt like a victory. Because it was never clean cut, never a righteous fight.

But I have to say he knocked it out of the ballpark tonight in his State of the Union Address (full text here). His energetic delivery, piquant story telling, and frequent appeals to the highest American values made me remember the Obama I voted for in 2008 and thought had disappeared entirely.

It was brilliant to start and end with foreign policy and homage to the military, whose selflessness and teamwork contrast so sharply with the circular firing squad that is Congress.  “Imagine what we could achieve if we all had the selflessness of the troops.”

Best line of the speech IMHO: **Fight obstruction with action.**

Where have you been these last three years, Mr. President? Welcome back.

It was so smart (albeit a little smoke and mirrors) to connect the multiple wars people are so tired of with the post WW II economic boom and the rise of the middle class. Now, there is HOPE. “The defining issue of our time is how to keep that dream alive.” “Fair shot, fair share, everyone play by rules.” “Reclaim American values.” He took the mantle personally by talking about his own grandfather’s military service and using the GI Bill to get an education afterward.

I couldn’t help thinking how darn lucky Obama is that Hillary Clinton is such a team player. So many of these foreign policy victories were hers. He did acknowledge that though she had been his primary opponent, as Secretary of State, she was in the room when the decision to go for Bin Ladin was made. (I try not to be like the sexist media and comment on female politicians’ looks, but it was great to see her looking radiantly, authentically Hillary, with her longer hair and the return of her much-maligned headband.)

Segue to taking credit for creating 3million–or was it 4?–jobs after Bush lost so many. And for protecting consumers after the big bad banks screwed them. And for saving GM, which has shown once again that the American workers are the best. He touched the heart of every businessman, who has probably read the classic business book, Built to Last.

Did he read my blogpost? He did what I asked him to do–emphasize expanding jobs in the sectors that heavily employ women, in myriad ways. Lauding teachers, expanding community colleges, and on.

I won’t continue with the usual SOTU Christmas tree of mentions dangled before constituencies waiting anxiously for their personally important issues. The important thing is the overall effect. This Obama can demolish any of the current Republican candidates.

No wonder the pundits were speculating on whether the GOP would try to draft a faux moderate like Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels since all their current choices are deeply flawed. They tried to soften their hard-edged image by putting Daniels  up to do the requisite retort. He started out statesmanly, then quickly shifted to blame everything from joblessness to the pox on Obama. The only interesting moment was when he coined a new phrase, “trickle down government” as tar to stick together his various disparagements. Otherwise, it was same old same old. Whine whine. Negative, bitter. Attack. No vision, no action.

What Obama left out:
Didn’t mention Paycheck Fairness Act though did mention equal pay to big cheers.
Didn’t mention putting the Freedom of Choice Act back into his priority list, or even the recent rulings expanding contraceptive coverage.
Didn’t talk much about health care at all.
If he mentioned major women’s initiatives such as the Executive Order Instituting a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, I missed it.

But there was great symbolism in the first time an openly gay military officer sat with the first lady and the end of Don’t Ask Don’t tell was lauded. Same with Warren Buffett’s secretary nodding approval when the president pointed out the unfairness of her paying a higher tax rate than her boss, and the camera panning Laurene Jobs each time the word “innovation” was mentioned. There was also the almost unbearable sadness of seeing the courageous but still wounded AZ Rep. Gabby Giffords bidding farewell for now to her Congressional colleagues.

All in all, I’m breathing out, relieved that the president performed so well. Commentators said that the State of the Union speech isn’t nearly as important or watched as it used to be. But I’m a sappy enough patriot to listen to every word, and to embrace the theater of it as an incredibly important declaration that our democracy lives for all of us to fight passionately another day for what we believe.

Will Tonight’s State of the Union Address 2012 Soar?

I’ve been critical of the President’s leadership in the past, and wrote this about a previous State of the Union address. But I’m rooting for him to be at his rhetorical and persuasive best tonight, not so much for his re- election prospects as for the good of the country.

Candidate Obama had a large vision during his campaign and it called us to our higher selves. In part his decisive 2008 victory was due to America’s exhaustion with George W. Bush. But a big factor was Obama’s vision and his promises to lead a progressive agenda once elected.

Instead, once elected, he focused on small vision projects and on doing deals rather than articulating the ideals that had propelled him into office. Tonight’s speech gives him a new opportunity– the last such chance he’ll have during this term–to give people that bigger vision and not just to say things that are safe. To come out swinging at the Republicans who have stopped every initiative he proposed without offering alternatives to do anything other than feather the nests of the wealthiest among us. To offer bold initiatives that address our biggest problems.

John F. Kennedy inspired a nation worried about our technological competitiveness when he said in defense of space exploration,“We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Obama needs to call us to do things that are hard if they are also for the good of the country. He’s got a chance to bring some sanity to the conversation, in contrast to the Republican greed and gridlock, and to set the agenda for public debate.

Regarding economic initiatives, which should certainly be front and center of his speech, it should be remembered that the economy overall is a women’s issue. When policies favor brick and mortar projects, a smaller percentage of women benefit because they are less likely to hold jobs in those fields. To be more competitive with China and other nations, we need to build up our intellectual infrastructure (60 percent of today’s college grads are women). More money should be invested in schools, libraries and social services where women will be working, and it will pay off in a workforce better prepared for the economy of the future. And of course, I hope the president will prioritize passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.

There’s much more of course. But then State of the Union addresses typically sound like verbal Christmas trees, loaded with gifts for various important constituencies. I’ll just touch on one more topic. I suggest that Obama should proactively take the credit for getting contraception almost universally covered in the health care plan because 95 percent of Americans use it and because it’s the right thing to do. The dollop of whipped cream with a cherry on top would be for him to place the Freedom of Choice Act back on the agenda. I’m not holding my breath but I can hold out hope.

And instead of letting the Republicans tar him with “Obamacare” as a negative label, he should embrace the controversy (No Excuses power tool #4!) as a badge of pride. A generation hence, most Americans will regard Obamacare as important to their lives as Medicare is to seniors today.

What are you hoping to hear from the president tonight?

Will he soar or fly under the radar?

Can he take the attention from the right wing Republicans battling it out for their nomination? Post your thoughts.

Leadership Lapses on Payroll Taxes

A political consultant who taught me lots about the workings of the lawmaking process when I was new to retail politics told me that politics is in the end all theater. Rarely has his analysis seemed as accurate as watching the House Republicans today try to justify holding American citizens in a state of suspended animation, wondering what’s going to happen to their paychecks next year or whether their unemployment check will continue to come. One aim of the Republicans is to get voters to hate government, and that seems to be the one thing they are succeeding at. So I found Politico’s question today a little facile, but I answered it anyway. I’d love to know what you think , please.

RejectedArena Asks: House Speaker John Boehner has predicted that the House will reject the Senate-passed payroll tax holiday bill during a vote today. The two-month package would extend rates on the payroll taxes that fund Social Security, unemployment benefits and Medicare by increasing certain home-mortgage fees.

If paychecks go down in January 2012, who will they blame: House Republicans, Senate Democrats, Congress in general or President Obama?

It’s clear that the Republicans orchestrated all of this. Why is there even a question?

You can argue for or against any of the various provisions in the bill, but the political theater we are witnessing is purely being staged so the Republicans can tell the Tea Party and corporate “person” funders that they went to the mat even if it means destroying what’s left of the middle class economy they’ve already squeezed dry.

The Republicans wouldn’t be able to get away with this behavior if President Obama had led the public debate more proactively. He and the Democrats would be in a vastly stronger position if they talked more about American ideals than they do about making deals. But in the end the Republicans must bear the responsibility for their own recalcitrance. That’s what’s grinding to a halt the wheels of lawmaking.

 

Why did the supercommittee fail? (Duh!)

Silly question today but I decided to answer it anyway. More to the point, what in your opinion should be the next steps? Who should take leadership?

US CongressArena Asks: Congress is bracing today for the failure of the supercommittee, which will most likely fail to submit paperwork to the Congressional Budget Office by its Monday deadline.
Is this a big hit for Congress, which had a nine percent approval rating in a recent poll? And why was the supercommittee unable to make ends meet?

My Answer: The supercommittee was doomed from the start because the Republicans have less to lose politically by being intractable on revenue. The supercommittee process played right into their hands and the Democrats took the bait.

If anyone can force a solution to emerge, it’s “mom in tennis shoes” Patty Murray. Unfortunately, sometimes mom’s only solution is to send the bullies to the woodshed. It’s time for the Dems to do just that, to take off the gloves, stop whining about how much they are willing to give in to the Republican demands and start educating the American public about how much the Republicans are trying to take away from all of us. I think they’d find enthusiastic supporters rising up to vote for them in 2012.

What do they think Occupy Wall Street is about after all?

PS Heartfeldt readers: You may be interested in Lucinda Marshall’s excellent commentary regarding feminism and Occupy Wall Street. And if you didn’t catch my post a couple of weeks ago on why women need to step up to leadership now to grapple with the economic problems the supercommittee has failed to solve, please check it out here on the 9 Ways Blog.

 

Fresh start for Rick Perry?

Waaaay to soon to rule Rick Perry out, folks, as all of us who grew up tough in West Texas know.

What do you think will be Perry’s next “distractive” comment, by the way? And what are your thoughts about Obama’s best strategy to fight or flank?

Here’s the link to my original post on Politico

 

strategyThe Arena Asks: Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s new proposal would let Americans choose between their existing income tax rate or a new flat tax of 20 percent. Will Perry’s flat tax plan restore him to the GOP presidential primary lead? Will his new campaign team help? And what do you make of Perry’s recent birther-curious comments?

 

Rick Perry might not know how to govern the country but he knows how to win a race by adapting and persisting. The unifying thread connecting these three changes in Perry’s campaign is this: the man is a learner with an almost feral competitiveness that turns obstacles into fuel to propel him to his goal.

For example, while Herman Cain sounds crazy with his 9-9-9 plan, Perry catches that people yearn for simple, neat answers even if they are wrong. Voila! The Perry flat tax proposal, which sounds almost sane in contrast to Cain’s.

And in the bread and circuses category, there’s a dollop of raw meat for the birther contingent of the Republican Party to flame up the fires of Perry’s base (pun intended) support while taking their focus off his not-so-anti-immigration position. Guess he’s holding his next draconian anti-abortion salvo in his back pocket till another “distractive” issue is needed.

Democrats, be very afraid. And Obama had better come up with a zingier, more numerically explicit retort than mushy-mouthed allegations that the most fortunate would pay less while middle class people would pay more with a flat tax. It’s like cotton candy, melts in your mouth but doesn’t satisfy the need for real economic nourishment and a bold policy menu.

Is Obama’s Leadership dragging down Dems?

I’m in SC today speaking to the South Carolina Women Lawyers Association Women Lawyers and Leadership Conference. Everyone is looking for leadership, but we need to remember that a leader is somebody who gets something done.  And then go do it. Same advice I have for members of Congress in my Arena commentary today. Read on and let me know what you would tell the complainers:

Foreclosure signArena Asks: President Obama’s sagging poll numbers have many Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2012 running for cover. And discontent with the president is growing on the House side, too: In his retirement statement Thursday Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) ripped the Obama White House for what he called inaction on the housing foreclosure crisis. Will President Obama be a political albatross for Democratic congressional candidates in 2012?

My Answer: As a lawyer, President Obama should know the first rule of debate: whoever defines the terms is most likely to win it. His failure or perhaps intentional reluctance to do that is the real albatross weighing down members of Congress and causing him to lose the extraordinary voter enthusiasm that swept him into office.

But it’s really up to the members of Congress themselves to decide whether to send the bird on its way or allow it to define the terms of their leadership–both the policy terms and whether they will win additional terms in office. Nothing but Washington political roles as usual keep them from asserting leadership initiatives themselves. We haven’t seen a lot of that either, now have we?

Sometimes it’s up to the followers to show the leader where the parade is going so he can get in front of it.

A strategy of trying to distance themselves from the president will in the end drag Congressional candidates down much more surely than if they instead worked to lift him up with the power of defining and vigorously fighting for the very policy solutions they charge Obama with ignoring. All Democrats are going to be called birds of a feather anyway, so they might as well flock together rather than allow themselves to be picked off separately by attacking one another.

Obama’s Leadership: Will “Buffett tax” fly?

I didn’t get around to answering Politico’s question “Will ‘Buffett tax’ fly?” in time for them to publish it.  But after a day of hearing the President argue his case, I’m sharing my thoughts with you. Let me know what you think.

Politico TheArena logo

Arena Asks: President Barack Obama will release a plan today to cut the federal deficit by $3 trillion over the next decade, drawing half the savings from new tax revenue and sparing Medicare recipients from having to wait longer to collect benefits. Invoking calls by investor Warren Buffett, Obama’s plan would also would prohibit millionaires from paying a lower tax rate than middle-class Americans. Will this populist-sounding proposal win broad backing? Or is it repackaged class warfare that won’t play well in an aspirational society?

My Answer: If Obama had launched this bold Buffet Rule initiative in January 2009, it would have been a slam dunk. The public was with him, it would have fulfilled a campaign promise, and it would have sucked the wind right out of the Republican “no”-sayer sails. Obama would be in a much more favorable leadership position today and the polls would show it. That’s because he would have shown both strength and courage by setting the agenda and establishing the playing field’s boundaries.

It’s still the right thing to do, and it’s never too late to do the right thing. If the president goes all out to educate people about why this proposal is fair to individuals and good for the economy overall, he might parlay the initiative into an electoral plus. The “class warfare” charge is nonsense, and in fact it’s just the opposite–an attempt to ameliorate an unfair tax system that has exacerbated economic class differentials.

Timing counts for a lot, though. Three years of transparently (and often foolishly) pre-emptive political compromising have used up the moral high ground momentum Obama brought into office. The Buffett Rule proposal in 2012 feels like the calculated hail Mary pass of a team captain with time running out for a win. And with a Republican House and weakened Senate Democratic majority, the likelihood of scoring a meaningful legislative victory is zilch.

Scoreboard: Net yardage gain to Obama, but not likely to change the game.