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Business Needs a Course in 'Momonomics'

06/03/2013 05:28 pm ET | Updated Aug 03, 2013
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The University of Virginia's mascot, The Cavalier, was stretched into new, unwelcome meaning recently by the comments of a major donor, hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones. He opined there will never be "as many great women investors or traders as men -- period, end of story" because women have babies, which become a "focus killer."

The response has been swift, including a terrific piece in The Atlantic by Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter, "The Real Problem With the 'Babies Are a Focus-Killer' Theory: Bad for Business." In it, she cites hard data that female traders actually do better than male traders in the long run. And Jones' statement that women are too risk-averse runs contrary to research which shows that female traders do better than male traders in the long run, because they are more strategic about taking risks.

The research findings for our new book, The Athena Doctrine, suggests that Jones is arguing from an outdated model of success. The data reveals the new leader of a modern, social/transparent economy does not look like a macho, winner-take-all guy, but a reasoned, nuanced executive who creates value by taking the long view. Seventy-six percent of people in our survey said 'in general, women are more patient and able to plan for the future.' And when asked to articulate traits of exemplary modern leaders, 'patience' 'selflessness,' 'collaboration' and 'humility' were highest correlated and also seen as 'more feminine.' ('Pride,' 'aggressive' and 'independent' were the least correlated and most masculine.)

In contrast with Jones' beliefs, 67 percent said, "whether you're a man or a woman makes less difference in business today," while 58 percent feel "there would be fewer scandals if more women were in leadership positions." On this point, it was hard for us to find anyone in Reykjavik who thinks that it was merely a coincidence that the guys who wrecked Iceland's economy were all, well, guys. Precipitated by excessive risk-taking, in 2008, Iceland's super hot financial sector collapsed in a pile of bad debt. Nicknamed "The Iceland Miracle," money poured into Iceland as formerly state-owned banks began borrowing heavily abroad and bought up companies all over the world, often paying prices that others deemed exorbitant in high-risk ventures that yielded high returns. Reykjavik was a land of by Range Rovers and Kobe beef.

Skeptics questioned that Iceland could thrive as a financial center, but because of groupthink, they remained a small minority. According to Halla Tomasdottir of Audur Capital, "the great-big-penis syndrome" led to "the relentless pursuit of more" paired consistent denial of the systemic risk When reports surfaced showing that the banks had amassed debts worth more than eight times the entire country's gross domestic product and Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in 2008, the Icelandic economy came to a grinding halt. Iceland became a great place to find a deal on a used Range Rover. It also became a great place to develop new ideas of how a country should run. A crisis led to creativity.

To start, the Icelandic government resigned and was replaced by the country's first female prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir. As she was elected, her spokeswoman noted, "men, especially young men, made a mess of things."

Our experience in Iceland was ironically reinforced by Jone's co-panelist, Jeff Walker, who stated, "In my experience he people that were the best at holding us together as a firm were the women." Yet comments like Jones' serve to alienate us, when in fact it's the opposite of world opinion. In our study, 82 percent of people said, "you need both masculine and feminine traits in today's world to succeed." That the financial services industry has a paltry 10 percent level of trust in our data further reinforces that a new model leadership is needed to rebuild trust and realign financial services with the people they're meant to serve.

Indeed, our studies show that people strongly favor empathy and identify it with effective modern leadership. One doesn't need to be a mom to be a modern leader, but the data suggests it surely doesn't hurt: Two-thirds of the 64,000 people around the word said 'the world would be a better place if men thought more like women'. Slaughter's piece highlights this best: In 2009, Hedge Fund Research reported that funds run by women had for nine years straight significantly outperformed those run by men.

And the cradle will rock.