Tuesday, 9 February 2016

What’s wrong with the next generation of leaders?

The era of Bill Gates and Andy Groves and Steve Jobs has come to a close, and a new group of entrepreneurs and leaders is emerging—one as talented and driven as any previous generation I can think of. But there’s something profoundly wrong with the next generation of business leaders, as business channel CNBC has inadvertently pointed out.

You see, when doing research for a client, I happened on CNBC’s 2015 list of Top 50 Disruptors. All of these disruptors, defined as private companies whose innovations are having a dramatic impact across their industries, have attracted venture capital. Many of them are destined to change the world. And some – like Uber and SapceX and Airbnb – already have. But when I saw the photographs of the entrepreneur-leaders behind these companies, something struck me as odd.

source: CNBC.com

All five of them were male.

Okay, no big deal, I thought. That’s just the top five. What about the other 45? Let’s see the rest of these business all-stars before I jump to any conclusions. But when I scanned the remaining 45 photos, all I saw was row after row of males. There were but three exceptions, which I’ve highlighted in yellow.
source: CNBC.com
So this the next generation? This is the future of the business world? Virtually female-free? What’s up with that? Look, I’m not a statistician, but even I can recognize a statistical anomaly when it stares me right in the face.

So when I decided to try and find out why, I found a couple of interesting facts.

Fact #1: Very few CEOs in the Standard & Poor’s 500 are women. Most of us could have guessed that. But I was shocked to find that they represent only 4.8% of chief executives. 

Fact #2: Men are nearly twice as likely as women to launch a new business.

Okay, fine. But neither of these facts explains the huge discrepancy in CNBC’s list. Only 3 startups out of fifty? If my math is correct, that’s a meager 6 per cent. How can anyone explain this massive incongruity?

And no, it’s not that women are less competent at running startups than men. Studies show that women startup founders actually outperform their all-male counterparts, with female founders performing 63% better than all-male teams, according to a study by First Round Capital (ten years of data on over 300 companies and nearly 600 founders were analyzed.)

Perhaps the solution to the puzzle might be found in another interesting fact. It seems that firms with technical co-founders perform a full 230 per cent better than their non-technical colleagues. By technical, they are referring to STEM – those with a Science, Technology, Engineering or Math education.

This clearly tips the scales in favour of men, because women tend to shy away from STEM related fields, even though they are just as capable of excelling at STEM courses as men. So why the aversion? It appears to be a cultural issue according to a U.S. government study entitled “Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation.” Several factors contributed to the gender discrepancy in STEM jobs, according to the study, including “a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields.”

Okay. So now we've narrowed it down to culture and stereotyping—at least as far as tech startups are concerned. But that still begs the question, why should we be concerned about the lack of women in tech startups? After all, what’s wrong with women starting healthcare firms or lifestyle companies or social services organizations, which many do? Nothing at all. Except for this:

Those kinds of startups tend not to be scalable.

That means they’re not perceived as being capable of growing at double digit rates. And that means they will not attract VC funding on a consistent basis, which means women-owned startups will have far less chance of becoming the next Uber or Airbnb, let alone the next Microsoft or Apple.

Entrepreneurs are still seen and judged through a male lens

Venture capitalists are smart people. In fact they are some of the smartest people around. But they are people. And in business, people tend to associate with like-minded people. And since the vast majority of VCs are male, they tend to fund the people they know best. That would be younger versions of themselves, i.e. other males. “Men are more likely to nominate men, so if we actually want to recognize the best of the best, we need to actively encourage women to apply,” said Dr. Catherine Anderson in a 2015 Maclean’s article entitled Why there are still far too few women in STEM.”

But that may not be enough. Sociology professor Sarah Thébaud has unearthed new evidence  indicating that women entrepreneurs are at a disadvantage “because people are prone to doubt that they possess the kinds of traits and skills that we stereotypically associate with entrepreneurship.” 

In a series of experiments she conducted in the U.S. and U.K., she asked participants to evaluate a mixture of mundane and innovative entrepreneurial pitches by men and women. Some participants were told that women led the ventures, and others that men were in charge. They then scored each business on a series of measures designed to capture the extent to which they thought it would be viable and worthy of investment. They rated each entrepreneur on a series of dimensions, such as how competent and skilled they seemed and their perceived level of commitment.

Here is what she discovered:

“I found that participants, when considering pitches of run-of-the-mill business ideas, rated women-led ones as generally less viable and less investment-worthy than those described as spearheaded by men. And, even though there were roughly equivalent numbers of male and female participants, I didn’t find any evidence of gender differences: Women rated women just as poorly as the men did. (The participants were also mostly in their early 20s, a sign that this form of gender bias is not a bastion of older generations.) In reality, entrepreneurs aren’t lone warriors […]. Creating a less gendered vision of what successful entrepreneurship looks like will undoubtedly be challenging. But one way to start would be for investors, organizations and educators focused on entrepreneurship to actively promote and rely on criteria based on the content of a business plan, rather than the perceived personality traits of a given individual.” 
To which, I can only answer, good luck with that! We’ve already established there is cognitive bias, which is notoriously difficult to remove. So what can be done? Is there any light at the end of this seemingly impenetrable tunnel? Could the solution be as simple as finding more high-powered female venture capitalists, like Mary Meeker and Kelly Hoey? That would help. But it's not enough. Filling the VC ranks with women is not easy, given the technical and business requirements of the job. And even if there were more women VCs, women aren’t inclined to bestow any favours on their own sex, as we noted in Sarah Thébaud’s study, earlier.
Perhaps a better solution might be to turn the problem upside down—by changing our educational culture. What if we started embracing science as an art? After all, science is every bit as creative as any of the arts, perhaps more so. Artists and scientists have much more in common than they realize. Experiments and hypothesis testing (trial and error) are at the core of the scientific method. Any scientist will tell you that, just as any writer will tell you that trial and error (rewrites and retakes and do-overs) are at the core of writing and musical composition and movie-making, not to mention painting and sculpting.
To make science feel more like an art, fresh creative air must be blown through the dusty, hidebound corridors of science teaching, which is often bound by tradition instead of creativity. To encourage more people—especially women—to go into technical fields we need to make science more relevant to young children, especially girls, and keep making it relevant as they grow up.
Science teachers need to do a better job of relating science to the real world by finding simple, practical and creative ways to show their pupils how science can help people live better lives—because it can. If science and scientific thinking began to feel like a key part of our daily lives, women (and more men, too) might flock to the sciences.
Who says girls innately don’t like science and STEM? Both Marie Curie and her daughter won Nobel Prizes in two core STEM fields: chemistry and physics. So why can’t the next generation of female leaders be inspired to do something similar? The world is becoming more ‘technical’ every day. We continue to write ever more sophisticated code that unlocks the puzzle behind the body and the mind and our health and our quality of life. Surely the world would be a better place if women were equal leaders in this exciting technological arena. I certainly know the next generation would be better and stronger for it, and so would I.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Givers & Takers & Great Motivators

One of the things that most impressed me about Adam Grant’s thinking in his book Give and Take was that “givers” develop a devoted following in part because because they are such wonderful motivators. They are not the brash, hyper, rah-rah type of motivators, however, but the quietly persistent type – you know the ones. They seem to have an unshakable belief in the potential of others.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Givers & Takers & Four-Legged Treasures

Giver, Taker,
Matcher, Faker,
Rich Man, Poor Man,
Beggar Man, Thief

I came across Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take, only recently, and it left an indelible impression on me. He says there are three groups of people in the world: givers, takers and matchers. Actually, there’s a fourth group, which I'll get to in a moment.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Is blogging really that hard?

Well, is it? Is blogging that hard? This is actually a loaded question because there is no easy answer.

If you've never blogged, for example, it can be a little difficult to get started, either because it's a little intimidating or because of simple procrastination (my own personal experience).

Monday, 21 September 2015

Complex is easy. Simple is hard.

How you tell your story is more important than what story you tell

Whether you are the CEO of a startup or an executive trying to make a career move, the challenge is the same: You need to persuade people you do not know to get to know, like and trust you.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

How Kitchener-Waterloo Became an Innovation Hub

Its Roots Run Deep
A year ago I made the big move from Toronto to Cambridge – part of the Kitchener-Waterloo region located an hour away from Toronto. It’s a beautiful part of the world removed from the gridlocked hustle and bustle of its big city neighbour. But what’s most interesting to me is that while the Kitchener-Waterloo region, also known as the Tri-Cities region, has become a global hotspot for entrepreneurship, it has much less to do with Blackberry than you might think.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Positioning: Why startups need to know their "place"

An 'unpositioned' product is a ship without a rudder

Recently, I've been helping a startup position their new software product. It occurred to me that most of us are startups one way or the other. We're all trying to find a position to start a conversation or promote a product or a perspective. But what does the word 'position' really mean, and why do so many business startups fail to position their product or service at all?

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Intuition or metrics?

You may have noticed the last three posts have focused on one thing: how to make better decisions. Why such a focus? Because the quality of our decisions is directly responsible for the quality of our lives. Yet we frequently make decisions that are not in our best interest. Why?

Sunday, 31 May 2015

The secret to making better decisions – Part 3

“In manufacturing plants, decisions are made carefully and scientifically. But at the top of organizations, decisions—even those in which millions or billions of dollars are at stake—are often made based on politics or personality or a good PowerPoint presentation.” - Dan Heath

It's time to reach out to the people who know your organization best

Monday, 27 April 2015

The Secret to Making Better Decisions - Part 2

Despite the importance of decision-making, and despite all the research into decision-measurement that has taken place over the past three decades, studies continue to show that the majority of business decisions are simply wrong. Which begs the question:

Why aren't business executives getting better at making them?

Monday, 23 March 2015

The secret to making better decisions

Everyone wants to make good decisions. So why don't we make more of them more of the time?

The reason, of course, is that we’re human. But that’s not a very helpful answer, is it? If we want to be better decision-makers, we need to go a little deeper and try to discover the why behind the what. What’s the root cause behind so many of our poor decisions?

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A Ten-year-old Offers A Lesson In Persuasion

When I studied screenwriting a decade ago, one of the most important concepts I learned was specificity. When writing a story, push hard for the telling detail, said my teacher, the incomparable Nika Rylski. Don't say it is a late model sedan. Say it is a midnight blue Lexus with a broken right headlight. Don't tell us it's a Sunday. Let us feel the Sunday morning drizzle.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

True Leaders Aren't Afraid to Get Naked

The art of being vulnerable

Leadership isn't just about being open to employees’ thoughts and insights and ideas. It’s about giving your employees permission to be open as well. But if leaders don't open up and show their vulnerability first, it's highly unlikely employees will take the risk. As a result, leaders won't get what they really need from their employees: actionable feedback.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Forgetting to ask Why

Why do we ask WHY so often when we are growing up, yet ask it so little as we grow older? Perhaps we are no longer curious. Or perhaps we think we know all the answers. Or perhaps we’ll feel stupid. But we risk missing out on a key life lesson if we fall into that trap. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Are CEOs Using Outdated Leadership Ideas?

[This post appeared yesterday on the APQC blog.]

Majority of respondents to an APQC study 

say today’s leadership style is outdated

CEOs are the racehorses of the business world. They move fast, they’re accustomed to finishing first, and they often wear blinders to avoid distractions and stay focused. And that may be a problem because today’s CEOs face a wider and deeper set of challenges than ever before.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

How to grow your professional services firm - Part 3

Not too long ago, buyers would do their pre-purchase research the old fashioned way – word of mouth and brochures and directories. Not anymore. The internet has completely changed how buyers go about purchasing professional services, and your firm can benefit big time.

Friday, 25 July 2014

How to grow your professional services firm - Part 2

(And why thought leadership is like barbecue sauce)

In Part 1 of this post, I suggested that maybe it was time for marketers to get back to basics. CEOs certainly feel that way, as a survey by the Fournaise Marketing Group revealed: 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

How to grow your professional services firm - Part 1

 What do financial advisers, accountants and lawyers have in common?

They all want to grow their business, yet have trouble differentiating themselves from the competition. 

What can they do to change this picture?

Monday, 26 May 2014

Why is everyone starving for content?

Most of today's customers begin their buying process by researching online -- seeking out content in order to educate themselves. Yet much of the content they find is overly promotional or poorly thought out, even as the need for higher quality content continues to grow.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Abraham Lincoln: "I don't need no ghostwriter"

Courtesy, Library of Congress

Abraham Lincoln is not known as a great writer. He is known as one of America’s greatest presidents. Yet he penned one of the most memorable pieces of writing in history: the Gettysburg Address. He loved writing and understood its power to provoke and inspire and create change.

Friday, 10 January 2014

People don't want creativity, they want results

As the frigid start to 2014 begins to recede from our memories, it's worth remembering that risk is a four letter word for many people. Especially those in large corporations.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Want to self-publish? This Forbes article is an eye-opener

Considering Self-Publishing? Don't Bother

(Unless You Follow Guy Kawasaki's Advice)

....If you’re writing a book simply as a means to an end – to get rich, or to get the word out about your expertise, or to attract more consulting or coaching business – forget it.  Stop what you’re doing right now.  If you’re thinking just about what you can get out of it, you’re probably writing a “crappy” book (Guy’s word), and your “crap” will be forever immortalized in black and white.  Something you definitely don’t want.
Guy advises, “Write a book because you have something important to say. If you have a life story that inspires, or information that you believe everyone in a particular niche NEEDS to know, then do it.”  But don’t just rush to get something out because you think it will enhance your career, profile, business, or bank account.  You just won’t succeed with those inner motives....
Read the full article at:

Monday, 28 October 2013

An Action Plan for Women Entrepreneurs (Part 2)

If you’re a woman entrepreneur, your time is now. 

In Part 1 of this two-part post, I talked to Andrea Guendelman and Fran Maier about the challenges facing women entrepreneurs. Female tech entrepreneurs, in particular, are few and far between, and they get funded far less often than men. Part of the reason is that angel investors and venture capitalists are predominantly male (85 per cent and 95 per cent, respectively) so they tend to relate better to male than female entrepreneurs. There is clear evidence that a subtle gender bias is at work in the VC industry.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Where are all the women entrepreneurs?

My thanks go out to Andrea Guendelman and Fran Maier for taking the time to share their thoughts on an important subject: women entrepreneurs and startups. Here is the first of two articles I wrote as a result:

Building a business is never easy, but do women entrepreneurs have an extra hurdle to overcome?

"Only 8 per cent of venture backed companies are women-owned. Only 11 per cent of venture capital partners are female. Only 15 per cent of angel investors are female."