Work Life Balance

I Like The Message, Warren Buffett, But Women Deserve A Little More Than Capitalism As The Basis For Equality

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shutterstock_133105124 (1)I know I’ve been targeting certain professions as particularly challenging for women (*cough, cough* the law) and I may have even suggested I won’t be encouraging my daughter to get into the field based on a study that confirmed my belief that working moms are being forced out in deflating ways. Terrible personal experiences aside, I really am a strong advocate for women’s equality and I want to raise my daughter to continue the fight for equality. I also hope both of my children will fight for work-life balance and that the culture of face-time and emphasis on hours logged will be replaced by a culture of cooperation and results. But first things first, women are still fighting for equality, 93 years after the Constitutional amendment gave us the right to vote.

I was excited to see the opinion piece, “Warren Buffett is bullish … on women” in Fortune magazine pop up in my Twitter feed. Warren Buffett staking claim in the feminist world? I love it! The 140 character invite told me Warren Buffett was demanding all men get on board. Sounded great, until I read his reasons why.

I don’t typically read Fortune (ever) but the tweet with the link came from a reputable organization that does great work in advancing women.  I was optimistic as I started reading Buffett’s piece. Just like their tweet promised, he did in fact say (and I quote) “fellow males, get on board,” which I thought was a really good message. That might have been the beginning and end of the positive quotes.

He launched right into motivating language aiming right for the pockets of those men he calls to action.

So, my fellow males, what’s in this for us? Why should we care whether the remaining barriers facing women are dismantled and the fun-house mirrors junked? Never mind that I believe the ethical case in itself is compelling. Let’s look instead to your self-interest.

Never mind that the ethical case is compelling? Oh boy. Things only got worse from there.

Now, thank heavens, the structural barriers for women are falling. Still an obstacle remains: Too many women continue to impose limitations on themselves, talking themselves out of achieving their potential. Here, too, I have had some firsthand experience.

Move over Sheryl Sandberg! We don’t need a woman telling us that we hold ourselves back, when a man can point that out just as easily. It is our fault that women aren’t taken seriously. We take ourselves out of the game. It isn’t that we are pushed out by the culture of men (save a few good apples) that don’t comprehend something that looks like work-life balance. No! Got it. Now let’s hear more about this woman in your binder of experience who will perfectly demonstrate the ways in which women are holding themselves back.

He eloquently launches into the story of Katharine Graham, controlling shareholder and CEO of the Washington Post Co, who took the reigns when her husband passed away. She resisted all the business men who tried to convince her to turn the company over to more capable male hands and held the reins for nearly two decades. Buffett saw she struggled with her self-confidence during her tenure and decided to give her a pep talk.

I told Kay that she had to discard the fun-house mirror that others had set before her and instead view herself in a mirror that reflected reality. “Then,” I said, “you will see a woman who is a match for anyone, male or female.”

 

I wish I could claim I was successful in that campaign. Proof was certainly on my side: Washington Post stock went up more than 4,000% — that’s 40 for 1 — during Kay’s 18 years as boss. After retiring, she won a Pulitzer Prize for her superb autobiography. But her self-doubt remained, a testament to how deeply a message of unworthiness can be implanted in even a brilliant mind.

Is he really saying she is one of the failures? That she held herself back? To me, that sounds like a raving success – a pioneer, a glass-ceiling breaker – by way of her accomplishments. So she still had self-doubt? That doesn’t make her a failure, that makes her a human.

And at the end of the piece he simply defaults to capitalism as the reason why women should be brought up the ranks by men.

The closer that America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater its output of goods and services will be. We’ve seen what can be accomplished when we use 50% of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100% can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about America’s future.

Just think: if only women were encouraged by men to carry their weight too, we could all have so much more. I can’t wait to tell my daughter.

(photo: Serhiy Kobyakov/Shutterstock)