Monday, December 27, 2010

Making Women Count

I recently read, Susan Bulkeley Butler's Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World, a little book (only 131 pages long) that has succeeded in changing my thinking about women and equality.

Motivation for reading: I was familiar with Susan Bulkeley Butler's previous book Become the CEO of You Inc and receive her newsletter which is filled with insight and book recommendations. So when I was offered an advance copy of Women Count to review, I happily accepted.

Susan’s background:
Susan Bulkeley Butler was the first female partner of a major consulting firm. Susan has experienced the discrimination women face in the workplace. She has gone from a self-described “man in a skirt” at Accenture to the CEO of the Susan Bulkeley Butler Institute for the Development of Women Leaders, and has used her experiences to write a book that highlights the successes of women in the world. Butler believes in personal responsibility and advocates mentoring as a way to help the next generation of women leaders. Women Count gives examples of how every woman can change the world and how communities can remove obstacles to equality and success.

My thoughts:
Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World is packed with inspiring, eye-opening revelations. Here are some of the major points that resonated with me:

Susan’s explanation of “Women Count:”
For as long as I can remember, the world first ignored, then focused on counting women’s accomplishments. Each time a barrier is broken, another marker is posted along the way.

I experienced this firsthand. In 1965, I became the first professional female employee at Arthur Andersen & Co. Fourteen years later, I was the first woman partner at Andersen Consulting, a division of Arthur Andersen & Co. that became Accenture, one of the world’s largest management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing companies.

Make no doubt about it: The accomplishments of women in recent years are truly astounding and well worth celebrating. But tallying numbers is no longer enough. We’ve done that. It’s no longer enough to count women – it’s time to ensure that we are all women who count. Change our way of thinking. (Pg. 1)
Women Count?
Of course they do, but not like they should in the roles that matter most in today’s world. Consider some numbers:
-Less than 3 percent of the top executives in America’s biggest companies are women.

-Less than 16 percent of the directors of Fortune 500 companies in America are woman.

- Only 17 percent of members of Congress are women. As of early 2010, only six of the nation’s fifty governors are women.

-Four decades after Congress passed the Equal Pay Act; women still earn an average of seventy- eight cents for every one dollar a man earns. (Pg. 9)

Why don’t the numbers add up for Women?
Partly it has to do with basic discrimination that still exists today, despite the introduction of numerous laws over the years. Partly it’s because there aren’t enough women who strive to be CEO’s and members of Boards of Directors and not enough people are mentoring and supporting others to help women reach such heights. Partly it’s because there just aren’t that many of these sorts of positions available, due to lack of turnover. (Pg. 13)

Also, women continue to think about others before themselves.

Susan goes back in history revealing the incredible progress women have made in a relatively short period of time. I was astonished to learn Catherine Littlefield Greene invented the cotton gin. It wasn’t considered proper at the time to hold patents, so she passed her idea along to an aspiring young inventor named Eli Whitney.

To move from being counted to counting, Susan feels every woman has to figure out her own way to make all the disparate pieces of her life add up to success and happiness.

So where do we begin?
We begin by changing our organizations. We must all ensure that women and men are represented equally in our companies, our government and elsewhere. Diversity, we have learned, fosters change.

At first I had difficulty with this point.
Susan suggests that if company leaders promote diversity and increase the ranks of women in their top management, those top managers will in turn promote diversity and women who work for them.

I was skeptical. How is this going to happen? If men hold the majority of leadership positions in our companies what will magically change their way of thinking and persuade them to begin promoting women. I went back and reread the chapter “Change our Organization.” I discovered this is the key to change:

Women need to do more to promote women on our own teams. Be their advocates and help them get the visibility they need. When I ask women why there aren’t more women in the senior ranks of any organization the answer I frequently hear is, “The woman at the top likes being the only woman.” They are not helping others climb the career ladder and join them in leading the organization to new heights. Others say “I did it on my own merit, so others can too.” Actually none of us – women or men –made it to the top on our own. (Pg. 82)
Women need to do more to promote other women. More often than not I hear women backstabbing and gossiping about other women at their company rather than promoting them. I’ve even witnessed women trying to rally male company officers to their side against other women. Believe me this behavior will not lead to men promoting women; no officer male or female wants this kind of drama managing their organization.

I loved Susan’s chapter on community service. Here are her thoughts on why it is important:
Community service makes a difference, no matter where you are or what you are doing. Just like your organization, changing your community changes the world.

I remember when my company first stressed the importance of “giving back.” The idea that stuck with me was that the people in the city where I lived helped make my company profitable and helped pay my salary, so I should support them, too. There was clear incentive to volunteer in the community, because without the community, my company might not exist. I learned the importance of giving back (or as I like to say it, “giving forward”) and making a better place for my having been there. (Pg. 88)
And let’s not forget the international community:
As secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has made women’s rights one of her signature issues. As columnist Ellen Goodman put it: “Clinton’s role is a boon for women around the world.” In her push to improve the social and political status of women, Secretary Clinton says, “Democracy means nothing if half the people can’t vote or it the vote doesn’t count, or if the literacy rate is so low that their vote is in question. The transformation of women’s roles is the last great impediment to universal progress. (Pg. 92)

Susan has inspired me to change my way of giving:
Although we are changing, women typically have had a different giving pattern than men. Since we have a hard time saying “no” to anyone, we have a real tendency to give our money to a lot of organizations and consequently to give smaller amounts of money. And in many cases, we do not consider what we want to see happen as a result of the donation. Men typically do just the opposite giving more to fewer causes and probably saying “no” more often. (Pg. 94)

This is true in my household. I have no giving plan, my donations consist of contributing small dollar amounts to every request I receive from friends and colleagues throughout the year. My husband on the other hand has three causes he is passionate about and concentrates all of his giving on those causes. When he receives additional donation requests he simply says, “No, I concentrate my donation dollars on X, Y and Z.” And doesn’t feel guilty or look back.

Bottom line: Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World is packed with information and guidelines guaranteed to motivate you to change your own thoughts and behavior. Butler gives numerous examples and inspiring stories to get you started. In addition, to recommending books throughout Women Count she includes a guide for further reading at the end.

I am going to close by quoting her final paragraphs:
But remember that as long as we dream big, beginning with the end in mind; take our teams along with us, mentoring others along the way; make and follow our plans; and navigate our way to a successful outcome, every one of us will be a woman who make a difference.  We will be women who count.
And together, we will change the world. (Pg. 124)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What to do for those who have lost a child?

I mentioned in a previous post that my husband’s brother died in a drowning accident at the age of 24. His birthday was Christmas day. Needless to say after the accident, Christmas was no longer a joyous holiday for my husband’s family. His mother would take to her bed a few days before Christmas and not come out of her room until after the festivities were over. This changed after she had grandchildren, but I’m sure there was never a Christmas where her beloved first born was not far from her thoughts.

A couple of years ago, I met a woman at the gym who had recently adopted a little girl. We were talking about her new daughter when she mentioned she had had a son. He had died in a drunken driving accident when he was 18. And yes, he had been the drunk driver crashing his truck into a tree. The woman began crying, telling me after five years she still has a hard time coping with her loss. We stood in the parking lot talking for some time as I told her about my husband’s brother and how difficult it also had been for my mother-in-law to cope with her loss.

This woman has since adopted another child and no longer comes to my gym, but her friends talk about her. They say things like it’s time she “moves on.” And they tell me how she still travels out of town for the week of her son’s birthday leaving her two adopted children with sitters. They think she should spend this week volunteering for “Mothers Against Drunk Driving.” They say things like, this woman’s son is really not her adopted children’s brother and by continuing to carry on about him she is ruining their childhood.

I thought of this woman, my mother-in-law and the other women I know who have lost a child as I read this Dear Abby column. A mother who lost a daughter two years ago wrote a letter of advice to Dear Abby for all the wonderful people who asked her two years earlier, “What can I do for you?”

She tells us:
Accept me for who I am now. Her father and I work hard to honor her memory, but we will never “get over it” to the degree of being who we were before. I am different now. In some ways – I think – better, I am kinder, more patient, more appreciative of small things, but I am not as outgoing nor as quick to laugh.

I know people mean well when they encourage me to get on with my life. My priorities have changed. My expectations of what my future will hold have changed. Please extend to me again the offer of “anything I can do” and, please, accept me as I am now.
Enough said.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mom worried about son's startup business

Margo writes:
My 23 year old son has been running a small computer consulting business out of my home for the past two years. He’s recently decided he needs a store front and has rented office space (at a good rate) with a grand opening scheduled for January 3rd. He doesn't have a business plan, a seller's permit, hasn't checked into sales tax laws, doesn't have a business checking account and pays his one employee with cash. I am not sure if his business is an LLC. When I ask him about these items he says don’t worry mom I’ve got it covered or it doesn’t apply to me. I'm so stressed out about this I’m not sleeping. How critical is it to have these items in place by January 3rd? The accountant at my place of employment says he probably has a year before the IRS catches up with him.

First this is exciting. Most new businesses are started by young people in their mid-20’s to mid-30’s. Also, starting a business during an economic downturn can be cost effective. Your son is getting a good deal on rent and most likely other items he needs to open his store.

Your question does however remind me of a Zen proverb:
In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few.
It is illegal for your son to provide services that are subject to sales tax without having a sales tax permit. Computer services are a taxable service. The cost for a sales tax permit is $25 in Wisconsin and he can apply online.

It is also illegal to pay an employee or independent contractor without completing the proper tax filings. Your son needs to pay payroll taxes and workers compensation, etc if his worker is truly an employee. If his worker is an independent contractor he needs to issue a 1099 at the end of the year. He should make an appointment with an expert to discuss these items.

A business plan is helpful, but not critical or a business breaker.

His company doesn't need to be an LLC; he can operate as a sole proprietor which doesn't require any registration. If he decides to become an LLC at a later date he can do so.

Without a business checking account he may have difficulty depositing checks written out to his business name into his personal account OR people may be uneasy about writing a check to him personally at his business store front for business services. Plus if he doesn't keep his business transactions separate from his personal transactions right from the beginning, he's asking for a huge headache/mess at the end of the year when he needs to prepare his taxes.

I asked one of my tax preparing colleagues if she has seen small businesses that were not set up properly in the beginning and what the repercussions were. Yes, she's seen this before and these companies end up paying more in the end when it all catches up to them. Like four times as much because of penalties, errors, accounting fees, interest, etc.

So my advice:
You need to encourage your son to sit down with an expert NOW to discuss the above items. He should strive to run his new store as professionally as possible; his reputation is at stake as well as his pocket book. He can get free online and in-person business counseling, mentoring, training and advice at SCORE a nonprofit association made up of over 13,000 volunteer mentors dedicated to educating entrepreneurs.  He can find an office in his area here.

One more thing, I recommend that you don't co-sign any rental agreements or business loans.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Can reading a book transform you or your business from good to great?

I initially became skeptical of business and management guru advice books, when I read Tom Aranow’s article "Paradigm of Management Fads" in Corporate Reports Wisconsin.

In the article, Aranow points out really good managers have always pursued lean operations and were doing so long before “Lean Manufacturing” became a popular consulting product. He writes:

It’s not that the great management fads haven’t been productive. Each can provide ways of working with and through issues that improve productivity and quality but none is a panacea or formula that will make any company shine.

What executives may be overlooking is that all of these fads are really examples of marketing phenomena in which intelligent authors have captured the essence of what good managers do every day and they’ve packaged them up for distribution and general consumption by departments, like the “TQM” departments that have adopted their brand names.

His concern is that each one of these may be a substitute for the incisive management thinking that leads to the development of high quality solutions custom designed for their best applications.
Aranow's article brought to mind the must-read business and advice books I’ve attempted reading in the past, but didn't finish:

Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People. I’ve tried reading this one twice.

David Allen's Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. I attempted to read this for Trent at The Simple Dollar's book club read-a-long.

Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I wanted to learn what all the fuss was about.

I’ve since come to the conclusion, business advice books are similar to dieting; if I am not 100% committed to changing my behavior I will lose interest along the way.

Then there is Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson which was touted as the must-read business book of the year this past summer. My initial thought upon finishing the book was:

Did I read the right book?
The book was written for a startup or starters (as the authors call them). Fried and Hansson provide advice they gleaned from running 37signals their successful startup company. I thought their ideas were nothing new and sounded good in theory, but wondered whether they'd work when implemented in the real world.

Which brings me to my latest read, David H. Freedman's book Wrong: Why experts* keep failing us--and how to know when not to trust them *Scientists, finance wizards, doctors, relationship gurus, celebrity CEOs, ... consultants, health officials and more. This book is based on the premise that most of the expert advice we receive – from scientists, doctors, economists, media experts, management gurus and others is wrong and misleading. The chapter “Experts and Organizations" helped me hone in on my skepticism of books written by business and manager gurus.

Freedman informs us major business movement books fit into one of two templates:

1. The authors place a number of winning companies or CEOs under a microscope, distilling what management principles these role models follow that losers don’t.

Examples include:
In Search of Excellence by Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by Jim Collins

First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently by consultants and motivational speakers Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

The Breakthrough Company: How Everyday Companies Become Extraordinary Performers by Harvard business professor Keith McFarland

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by journalist Geoff Colvin

2. The second template relies on authors who have observed or derived a new strategy, trend or management technique that will determine which businesses will succeed in the coming years, showing how winning companies are already taking advantage of the new thinking.

Examples include:
Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning by the consultant and Babson College business professor Thomas Davenport and the Accenture researcher Jeanne G. Harris, who tell us the future winners will be those who do a better job wringing insight from data.

The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by the journalist Thomas Friedman, who insists that winners will be those who most effectively globalize.

Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by the consultants Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, who reveal that winning is tied to the wisdom of crowds.

The Future of Management by the London Business School professor and consultant Gary Hamel and the journalist Bill Breen who explain that winners will shed conventional management hierarchy.

Freedman concludes his findings by saying:
Unfortunately, as with weight loss and politics there is a vast sea of ideas pointing in all sorts of different directions for solutions to the same basic problems. They can’t all be right, and even if they could how can you tell which advice best applies to your company? Pg 128.
The bottom line is found in his interview with Jerker Denrell, a professor at Stanford’s business school who specializes in studying how business wisdom goes astray:
There is too much randomness in business success. Even if you identify the right companies and study them closely, you can’t figure out how to be like them. Pg 145.
I must say I was surprised to see one of my favorite business books of all time Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't listed as one of Freedman’s main offenders. Jerker Denrell is quoted as saying:
It isn’t a good book because most companies don’t even do simple things well, like accounting. A better book would be Incompetent to Okay. But if you’re in academia, you won’t seem very interesting saying that sort of thing, and if you’re a consultant, you can’t make money off it.
So what is a small businessperson or manager wannabe who likes to have a thought provoking book on their bedside table to do?

Freedman mentions another subgenre that has sprung up within business publishing called business-literature summarizing books. You could read one of these. Examples include:

Guide to Management Ideas and Gurus (The Economist) by Tim Hindle

Entrepreneurial Excellence: Profit from the Best Ideas of the Experts by Richard J. Goossen

In conclusion, I wouldn’t discount all advice business books entirely, but it is important to remember a book is one person's opinion and their advice may not hold true for every company or every situation. In addition to business literature summarizing books, my favorite librarian suggests reading the top ten best-sellers of the previous year paying attention to the best idea from each book. Or better yet check out one of the books on 10 Overrated Business Books (and What to Read Instead) a list compiled by Geoffrey James.

It is fun to note, he includes In Search of Excellence by Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman as an overrated book. He suggests reading The Dilbert Principle by Scott Adams instead.

Why: You’ll know exactly why “excellent” companies go smack down the toilet.
Also included as overrated is Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. What to read instead: The Prince  by Niccolo Machiavelli
Why: It will provide you with the precise moral foundation you’ll need to be successful on the corporate ladder.
Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson a book given to my husband by an outplacement company when he was laid off from his previous job also is overrated.

How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff is the book to read instead.

Why: If you want to read a short book, this one will open your eyes. You’ll never look at a corporate presentation – or the evening news – exactly the same way again.
What do you think? Can a book transform you or your company from good to great? What business books have you found to be overrated? Or do you have a business book recommendation that belongs on everyone's nightstand?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life" and Jealousy

Motivation for reading:
I added Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life to my reading list when Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness mentioned it in her post Happy Birthday, Anne Lamott. She had read it during a creative nonfiction class as a way to learn how to write narrative essays without getting bogged down. I decided I needed to read this book now when Kim included Anne Lamott on her list of 15 novelists who've influenced her because of this book.

What is the book about?
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is a memoir Lamott has written based on lessons she learned over the years working as a writer and teacher of a writing class. She provides advice on the craft of writing as well as humorous antidotes about life especially the life of a writer.

My thoughts:
I’ve read other books on writing: Steven King’s On Writing and Brenda Ueland’s If You Want To Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit,but this book is so much more than a book on writing. Individual readers will be influenced by different sections of the book based on their life experiences. The first half of the book concentrates on the writing process. She covers “Shitty First Drafts,” plot and set design. She also writes about the emotional side of writing; writer’s block, discouraging voices, and loneliness. She encourages writers to dig deeper to find their own voice. Since I am not a creative fiction writer I skimmed the chapters on character and dialogue, but her writings about life were exceptional. Her essay on jealousy is the best writing on the subject I’ve ever read.

Everyone who has been hit with the green-eyed-monster will relate to this chapter. I think jealousy has become more prevalent during the recession. Some of us have done everything right; we've earned a college degree, have a good work ethic, even have relevant work experience, but can't get a job interview while our less experienced friend snags their dream job. It’s hard not to become jealous when we are stuck in a job we can’t stand or worse yet remain unemployed.  

Anne writes:
Jealousy is such a direct attack on whatever measure of confidence you’ve been able to muster. But if you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with it, because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you. Pg 122.
And I, who have been the Leona Helmsley of jealousy, have come to believe that the only things that help ease or transform it are (a) getting older, (b) talking about it until the fever breaks, and (c) using it as material. Also, someone along the way is going to make you start laughing about it, and then you will be on your way home. Pg 124.
My therapist said that jealousy is a secondary emotion that is born out of feeling excluded and deprived, and that if I worked through age old feelings I would probably break through the jealousy. She said this other writer was in my life to heal my past. She said the writer had helped bring up a lifetimes worth of feeling that other families had some owner’s manual to go by. She said it was once again comparing my insides to other people’s outsides. Go ahead and feel the feelings. Pg 126.
This quote on reading and writing is my favorite quote from the book:
Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship. Pg 237.
Bottom line: I want to own a copy of this book. I believe it is a book I could read again and again taking away something different with each reading.