The Fine Whine of California

Shortly after the national election last year, the UC Davis Graduate School of Management called a press conference at the Sacramento campus to announce their fourth UC Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders. This sounds interesting but there’s less here than meets the eye.

As it turns out, UC Davis hadn’t actually studied the women business leaders at major California companies, their backgrounds, duties, decisions, performance, opinions, and so forth. Rather, they had only counted the women, and brokered the result to the public in the baleful tones of a news report on a natural disaster.

Only 13 of California’s largest public companies have a woman CEO. Women hold only 10.9 percent of board seats and executive positions, “insufficient progress from 2007, when the figure was 10.4 percent, and from 2006 and 2005, when it was 10.2 percent,” according to the press statement, which was rather editorial.

“Only” 12 percent, or 334, of the 2,782 senior executive officers in California’s largest 400 public firms are women. Of the 206 companies that have women in top management, only 61 have two women on the executive team. The semiconductor industry “remains an old-boy bastion” in which more than two thirds of the firms have men-only boards and 65 percent are run by all-male executive teams. And so on, by now all too familiar. Women were still underrepresented, a state of affairs to be loudly lamented.

“It’s time to stop focusing on our women leaders’ pantsuits or hairstyles,” said Rosario Marin, secretary of the California State and Consumer Services Agency, “and start placing value on how these women are making their companies more efficient and effective – and get that leadership in place at companies across our state.”

UC Davis undertook the study in partnership with the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Executives (FEW&E). Wendy Beecham, CEO of FEW&E, bemoaned “the substantial issue of the lack of women leaders in top executive positions and in board roles in the United States.”

How much “progress,” exactly, would be sufficient to satisfy Ms. Beecham and the politically correct head-counters of UC Davis? That failed to emerge. When asked whether they had some kind of quota system in mind, they denied it. Was there perchance some place in the world where women were represented in sufficient numbers? Nicole Woolsey Biggart, dean of the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, cited Scandinavia as a positive example, but said that their model was not suitable for America.

Where was it written that the boards of corporations must reflect the gender breakdown of the population? No answer emerged, but that mandate is not any part of California or U.S. law. Neither is it found in the U.S. Constitution. That is a very shaky foundation for declaring women to be “underrepresented.”

Why should companies stack their boards with women and hire women executives? “Time and time again,” said Rosario Marin, “studies prove that businesses with women in leadership positions thrive.” Unfortunately, Secretary Marin failed to name any of those many studies. The truth is, some businesses with women in leadership do prosper, but others founder. As we have noted, Carly Fiorina is no longer CEO of Hewlett Packard. There is no glass ceiling, nor a glass floor, and that is the way it should be.

Discussion of the UC Davis study, if one can call it that, was also missing a subject the Contrarian has often explored, the effect of personal differences, effort, and, above all, choice. As Susan Pinker and others have noted, women are making choices in a post-feminist society, and those choices don’t always conform with the ones gender militants want them to make.

Where does that leave us? With no quota demands, no strict numerical goals, and no accounting of women’s career choices, this study amounts to a kind of institutional whining. How this helps anybody is a mystery to me. On the other hand, as a CEO, I find it very annoying.

We live in a democracy with a market economy. All California companies are free to hire those they believe are best qualified for the jobs they create. No law forbids women from pursing any career field. These conditions, plus women’s choices, produce a diverse outcome in which some companies have more women in leadership than others. The UC Davis Graduate School of Management should deal with this reality, rather than acting like a subdivision of the sociology and women’s studies departments.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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