THE BLOG

The NY Times Has No Idea "What Women Want"

05/25/2011 11:45 am ET

On Tuesday, John Tierney in the New York Times presented a nuanced and seemingly logical argument entitled “What Women Want.” He told of an experiment in Pittsburgh where they gave men and women five numbers to add in their heads and they were paid for every correct answer. The women did great. Then they broke the groups into teams. The women did great. Then they asked, “Who wants to be in a tournament?” Even the worst performing men wanted to be in the tournament. And guess what…the women weren’t so keen. Even the best said no thanks. Tierney’s conclusion was women don’t like to compete. Hello?

Will this become the new “Mommy Track” or the new “Glass Ceiling.” God, I hope not. While I appreciated John’s attempt to understand us, I feel the need to blog on about it…the need to write a “Dear John” letter to Mr. Tierney.

Dear John,

I hate to cut off our relationship before we’ve even met, BUT…in your “What Women Want” piece, you managed to praise us and bury us at the same time.

You understood how talented and accomplished women are but quickly made it into a liability instead of an asset. Please don’t put us in old boxes.

We’ve been in the workforce, on the athletic fields, in the military in full force for about 30 years. We’re doing really great. We love to compete -- using our ideas, our energy, our skills. But the curious thing is we compete differently. It’s not the be all and end all for us to have someone lose. We actually get significant joy out of seeing a team win, a supplier win or even an entire industry win.

Did it ever occur to you that the Pittsburgh women thought the tournament was silly? They already knew how good they were. In study after study of women in leadership and management, researchers have found women perform on par, or better, with men in just about every dimension from decision making, intuitive thinking, strategic planning, team development, accomplishing goals…hundreds of attributes. About the only thing we don’t do as well on is tooting our own horn.

Actually, most contemporary management gurus, when describing skills needed for success against the competition in the 21st century use words normally associated with women’s leadership – collaborative, inclusive, nurturing and intuitive. To compete in the global economy we’ll need women leadership more than ever.

Tom Peters has this to say, “War -- or business on a wartime footing -- is fundamentally a women’s game. Why? Because when everything’s on the line, what really matters are the relationships that leaders have created with their people.”

Mindless competition among nations has been the bane of the 20th century; in fact, the bane of human history. This is a new century. It is a legitimate hope to think that women in positions of leadership may change a few things we don’t like about the past -- including people who prefer mindless competition to collegial leadership.

Before you write about us again, please remember we don’t need to be codified, we just need to be allowed to be ourselves.

All the best,

Gerry