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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@

So I’m yakking away with a group of pow­er­ful women when I think: this is so easy. Not the be­ing pow­er­ful bit but talk­ing to a group of women who are the same age, the same sort of back­ground, with sim­i­lar is­sues of bal­anc­ing work and life and, gen­er­ally, solv­ing the prob­lems of the world.

It’s like en­ter­ing a club that you hadn’t re­alised was open. It’s like meet­ing up with old friends where the con­ver­sa­tion picks up from where you left it in the school bus. Af­ter a group hug and a few jokes, we’re all BFFs.

And then I think: this must be what the old boys’ club feels like. When those old-school-tie sorts get to­gether — usu­ally around a board­room ta­ble — they must feel the same friendly fris­son. I bet they talk a bit of sport, toss around a bit of pol­i­tics, skim hol­i­day plans — but I don’t re­ally know be­cause I’m not in that club.

And then I think, no won­der they find it so hard to let go of their club. Why would you give up all that fa­mil­iar­ity, that whiff of cigar that comes with sit­ting down with like-minded chaps, that sense the world is just how you want it, just the way the head­mas­ter said it would be.

At this point, it’s tempt­ing to say how much bet­ter the world would be if it was run by an old girls’ club rather than the old boys’ club. But that’s not go­ing to hap­pen, and it shouldn’t.

Power should never be like a club. Clubs are meant to be places where you feel at home but po­si­tions of power are meant to chal­lenge you; they are meant to open your eyes to the world, they should in­tro­duce you to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. Ergo, they should not feel com­fort­able.

Ob­vi­ously, there have been lots of aca­demic stud­ies on di­ver­sity at the top. Most con­clude that it’s bet­ter than the al­ter­na­tive be­cause a lack of di­ver­sity creates group­think where ev­ery­one agrees not to see the stuff they can­not see. There are a few pro­vi­sos. Mi­nori­ties on boards tend to come from the same so­cioe­co­nomic pool so they act a bit like men in suits. Also, there can be more con­flict in di­verse out­fits. But life on a board wasn’t meant to be easy.

The most com­pelling case for di­ver­sity is that it helps avoid mas­sive fail­ures. Some of the most en­ter­tain­ing cor­po­rate fail­ures have been blamed on group­think. For in­stance, group­think has been blamed for the de­ci­sion by Ap­ple de­sign­ers to put their favourite rock al­bum into ev­ery­one’s mu­sic li­brary. It led to a leisure wear group sug­gest­ing that over­weight women weren’t a good match for its yoga pants. It led to a ve­hi­cle be­ing named Pa­jero, much to the de­light of Span­ish speak­ers, who wanted an SUV called “wanker”. More broadly, group­think pro­motes the idea that young peo­ple want to see movies on the big screen; that women like their prod­ucts in pink; and that gays will al­ways buy some­thing if it leads to a party.

In short, some­thing weird hap­pens when you get a ho­moge­nous group to­gether. It’s like mar­ry­ing a cousin whose grand­mother mar­ried a cousin. It re­sults in some strange out­comes.

Now, the old boys’ clubs are grad­u­ally be­ing opened up to mem­bers who wear skirts and, some­times, saris. But there are new clubs form­ing around money all the time and the most ho­moge­nous of clubs are emerg­ing in Sil­i­con Val­ley, oth­er­wise known as Val­ley of the Dudes.

The val­ley, where 75 per cent of pro­gram­mers are dudes in T-shirts, where 96 per cent of ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists are dudes in suits and where half the tech boards have babe-free boards, is get­ting a bad name for bad be­hav­iour.

We won’t go into all the ways that new-era clubs are diss­ing women, you just have to read the tran­scripts of the class-ac­tion suits to get the gist.

But one of the most telling bits of in­for­ma­tion to emerge from one of those court cases was the claim that women of­ten tend to be ex­cluded from Sil­i­con Val­ley events be­cause they “kill the buzz”.

Which might raise a few ques­tions in a more sober head — say an older, woman’s head. What sort of buzz is it, if there are only dudes cre­at­ing it? Is it a use­ful buzz? And since when are busi­ness events meant to have buzz? That’s like sug­gest­ing that boards should be like clubs.

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