Adding women into the balance of power

So many questions of “What if this?” and “What if that?” have been asked since the economic crash of 2008. What if the bank guarantee hadn’t been issued? What if no bailouts had been signed?

So many questions of “What if this?” and “What if that?” have been asked since the economic crash of 2008. What if the bank guarantee hadn’t been issued? What if no bailouts had been signed?

And how about this one: What if more women had been in charge?

This is the topic that will be explored at a session called “The Feminine Touch: Does ‘Maleness’ Cause Financial and Economic Mistakes?” during the Kilkenomics festival from November 1-4.

So how might things have been different if women had been in charge of governments and banks?

“I think more questions would have been asked,” says Margaret E. Ward, a financial journalist and broadcaster who will take part in the panel discussion along with Linda Yueh, Matina Stevis and Megan Greene on November 3 at 3.45pm in the Set Theatre. (In a separate session, “The Good Room,” she will interview financial writer and festival co-founder David McWilliams about the themes of his new book, on November 3 at 5.30pm in the Set Theatre.)

Those questions, she suggests, might have included: “For example, this guarantee – does that also cover the debts of the banks and for how long? That is a big question. What does it actually guarantee?”

The difference, she says, is that “a lot of studies show that women tend to take their time to make these decisions.”

“Studies would say, for example, when you have all-male boards that there is a lot of testosterone-driven behaviour. So companies with all-male boards tend to do more mergers and acquisitions and they tend to not be as profitable as a mixed boards – there is research out there that shows that. Mixed boards are more profitable than all-male boards,” she says.

The key, she says, is balance – so all-female boards aren’t the solution either.

“I am a big believer of balance in all things, and I think the reason that you have different genders is that you need them – for decision-making, for life, for procreation, for all of these things,” she says. “I wouldn’t like to see an all-female board either, because it would be out of balance just like an all-male board is out of balance.”

So what strengths do men bring to the table?

“Men are very good at articulating their point of view. They have more confidence in their point of view. They can be more persuasive – and that is a strength in certain situations. Men have more experience of leadership, because of the way society is structured at the moment,” Ms Ward says.

“As I said, you need balance in all things. Men are terrific – I have a husband and a brother and a father and loads of guy friends – but I do believe that balance is key in life and in companies and in corporate structures and politics and governance. And we live in a place where men and women live and are affected by government policies. Therefore a diverse range of views should go into forming those policies.”

So what about the controversial idea of gender quotas for corporate boards of management and on the ballot?

“I absolutely and completely support quotas, because without them studies show that we would be waiting 200 years to get more women into politics,” Ms Ward says. “If you look at the civil rights movement in the United States and affirmative action, where they had to have a certain number of people of colour, and also the forced desegregation of schools in the South, that would not have happened on its own. Sometimes you have to force change and just say, ‘This is the way it’s going to be’.”

“You have to think of: What is normal? What’s normal is that we expect that a CEO is going to be a man, a doctor is going to be a man – but that’s all just cultural stereotyping,” she says.”

“‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ – do you know that expression? If women are going to get into positions of power, they need to see more women in positions of power, even if that’s one step at a time. So yes to more women on boards, yes to more women in politics, yes to more women in positions of leadership within their communities, yes to more women in local and community government, yes to more diversity overall, whether it’s religious, national, sexual orientation, whatever it is – diversity, please.”

Is there any hope that things are changing?

I have a 10-year-old daughter and I am really hoping that in 10 years when she enters the work force that she will have a very different experience,” Ms Ward says. “I think awareness is happening. Change is something different altogether.”

“The Feminine Touch: Does ‘Maleness’ Cause Financial and Economic Mistakes?” will take place on November 3 at 3.45pm in the Set Theatre. Margaret E. Ward will interview David McWilliams about his new book in “The Good Room” on November 3 at 5.30pm in the Set Theatre. Tickets to each are €15/€10. Tickets can be booked at www.kilkenomics.com and in the box office at 16 John Street, Kilkenny.