Sand­berg scru­tiny proves why star­tups must set gen­der agenda

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE -

FACE­BOOK is in cri­sis and Sh­eryl Sand­berg is to blame. That is the trope be­ing pushed by The New York Times and oth­ers. She’s be­ing blamed for the rise of fake news, Don­ald Trump, in­flu­enc­ing elec­tions and Face­book’s 25pc drop in share price over the past year. CNBC com­men­ta­tor Jim Cramer called for her head. The same level of scru­tiny hasn’t been put on Mark Zucker­berg, Face­book’s founder and CEO.

The ques­tion is — would this hap­pen to a man? Let’s put Sand­berg’s ca­reer at Face­book into per­spec­tive. She ar­rived at the com­pany when it was pre-rev­enue and its 23-year-old co-founder had no de­sire or in­ter­est in the busi­ness side of Face­book.

Be­yond the prod­uct, she built out ev­ery func­tion into a $50bn a year busi­ness while cre­at­ing a Leanin move­ment that em­pow­ered women and po­si­tioned Face­book as a fe­male-friendly work­place.

Yet Sand­berg’s lead­er­ship is be­ing called into ques­tion by some. This, of course, isn’t un­com­mon. A study pub­lished by The Na­tional Bu­reau of Eco­nomic Re­search in the US showed that women in fi­nan­cial bro­ker­ages are 20pc more likely than men to lose their jobs for mis­con­duct, even though men are more than twice as likely to en­gage in bad prac­tices.

Sim­i­larly, fe­male physi­cians see re­fer­rals plunge by 54pc af­ter the death of a pa­tient, but male physi­cians often see no such drop, ac­cord­ing to a 2017 Har­vard study.

Women are often low-balled by HR and suf­fer a pay dif­fer­en­tial in many com­pa­nies, while men are more likely to beat their chests and pro­nounce them­selves a suc­cess.

We cel­e­brate male busi­ness fig­ures and en­trepreneurs such as the Dragons — three of whom deemed them­selves wor­thy of the Pres­i­dency — but we fail to give the same level of recog­ni­tion to the many suc­cess­ful fe­male role mod­els in busi­ness.

Anne Her­aty built CPL re­sources to over half a bil­lion in rev­enue. Google’s global CMO is Car­low-born Lor­raine Twohill. Linda Kiely sold Vox­pro for over €150m.

The heads of Mi­crosoft, Google, Dell EMC, Voda­fone, Paypal, Linkedin and Twit­ter in Ire­land — Cathri­ona Hal­la­han, Fion­nu­ala Mee­han, Ais­ling Kee­gan, Anne O’leary, Louise Phelan, Sharon Mc­cooey, Sinead Mc­sweeney — all women.

Sim­i­larly the CEOS of Eir, Bank of Ire­land, Glan­bia and Ul­ster Bank — again in­cred­i­ble women. And there’s a bur­geon­ing group of star­tups — Nu­ri­tas, founded by Dr Nora Khaldi, Talivest founded by Jayne Ron­ayne, and Food Cloud founded by Iseult Ward.

They’re far more suc­cess­ful than many men in the cor­po­rate arena who aren’t shy about putting them­selves for­ward.

While girls out­per­form boys in most sub­jects in the Leav­ing Cer­tifi­cate, and even in pro­fes­sional ex­ams, plac­ing Ire­land at the top of a World Eco­nomic Fo­rum ta­ble for ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment, the re­sults dif­fer when women en­ter the work­place.

Ire­land drops right down in terms of gen­der equal­ity in the work­place of­fer­ing lower wages to women and lower par­tic­i­pa­tion rates. Women are more likely to work part-time and less likely to be in the C-suite or at board level.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Women’s Coun­cil of Ire­land, women make up just 13.2pc of board mem­bers of the largest pub­licly listed com­pa­nies in Ire­land.

And while they com­prise the ma­jor­ity of work­ers in the pub­lic sec­tor, women are more likely to oc­cupy the mid­dle and lower pub­lic grades with only 33pc among those in se­nior grades.

Even Google, a com­pany often ref­er­enced when it comes to good com­pany cul­ture and work­place prac­tices, has its own prob­lems.

Em­ploy­ees re­cently staged a global walk­out ask­ing for a com­mit­ment to end pay and op­por­tu­nity in­equal­ity. They asked for a chief di­ver­sity of­fi­cer, trans­parency over cases of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, an end to forced ar­bi­tra­tion — what are, to me, rea­son­able asks.

This all makes for stark read­ing, and while our gov­ern­ment is led by our half-in­dian and gay Taoiseach who wants to see more fe­male pro­fes­sors — a noble ef­fort — it too re­mains a boys’ club with only three fe­male se­nior min­is­ters at cabi­net.

What we need is a more rad­i­cal ap­proach. En­trepreneurs need to ad­dress the prob­lem of di­ver­sity and gen­der in­equal­ity the same way they do any other busi­ness prob­lem with a de­gree of de­ter­mi­na­tion and com­mit­ment.

Tech com­pa­nies need to re­alise that while free food pre­vents hour-long lunches and keeps peo­ple work­ing in the of­fice for longer, free or sub­sidised child­care is more likely to en­sure higher par­tic­i­pa­tion rates across the board.

We need to high­light fe­male role mod­els like those above and en­sure that peo­ple know there’s a cred­i­ble path to fol­low.

Flex­i­ble work­ing hours need to be of­fered and a greater un­der­stand­ing of the di­ver­sity of sex­u­al­ity and gen­der. It’s a broad spec­trum not al­ways clearly de­fined, re­quir­ing flex­i­bil­ity and real thought as op­posed to to­kenism.

Some star­tups have tried to emu­late the ‘Rooney rule’ used in the NFL where they in­ter­view at least one per­son from an un­der­rep­re­sented back­ground and one fe­male for ev­ery open lead­er­ship po­si­tion.

This has helped Pin­ter­est suc­ceed, where fe­males now make up 45pc of the com­pany’s work­force. Etsy is 53pc fe­male with a lead­er­ship that is 50pc fe­male. Star­tups have a real role to play here. These com­pa­nies in their in­fancy are too often for­given for their bro cul­ture.

They have the abil­ity to nur­ture a more open en­vi­ron­ment and pave the way for bal­ance and di­ver­sity.

The World Eco­nomic Fo­rum re­cently re­ported that more than two-thirds of US star­tups have no women at all on their boards.

The same re­port also cited Kauff­man Foun­da­tion re­search show­ing that tech com­pa­nies led by women achieve a 35pc higher re­turn on in­vest­ment than or­gan­i­sa­tions led by men.

Forbes found that fe­male tech en­trepreneurs, de­spite hav­ing re­ceived 50pc less in ven­ture cap­i­tal fund­ing, pro­duce 20pc higher rev­enues than their male equiv­a­lents.

If that is not a com­pelling ar­gu­ment for di­ver­sity, I’m not sure what is.

So how about we ad­dress this prob­lem with some­thing more rad­i­cal than a to­kenis­tic ges­ture or two and some real com­mit­ment. And per­haps we should cel­e­brate more fe­male cor­po­rate lead­ers like Sh­eryl Sand­berg and oth­ers rather than hang­ing them out to dry at the first op­por­tu­nity.

Sh­eryl Sand­berg is bear­ing the brunt of all the crit­i­cism lev­elled at Face­book

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