Advertisement

JUDY ROSENER : Women’s Equality Is Working : UCI Professor Cites Benefits of Female Management

a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times

It sounds like a feminist dream from the future.

For similar jobs in similar companies, women are paid the same as men, both worry equally about the conflict between work and family, and career women can marry and still reach the top--in fact, 70% already have.

But a new study conducted by Judy Rosener, a UCI professor of management, says that dream is today’s reality. The study, which challenges some popular assumptions, is the basis of an article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Rosener found that women are succeeding, but in a different type of company: fast-growing, fast-changing, international, service-oriented. It’s there that women’s natural style of management, which Rosener calls “interactive,” is best used.

Advertisement

The findings put companies on notice for the ‘90s, Rosener says, because American businesses will increasingly need managers with nontraditional skills to cope with an increasingly diverse work force and internationalized marketplace.

But some object to labeling women leaders as natural power-sharers and consensus-builders. “There’s a scary orthodoxy about this new wave of feminism,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, who runs the Center for Leadership and Career Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. “It dictates that all women should behave in a certain way.”

Sonnenfeld and Rosener were quoted in a Fortune magazine article last week about female managers.

A Los Angeles native, Rosener, 61, now lives in Newport Beach and is enough of an Orange County expert to have advised author Judith Krantz about county personalities for her latest novel, “Dazzle.”

Advertisement

Rosener is a former member of the state Coastal Commission and has just co-authored a book, “Workforce America: Managing Employee Diversity,” which is due to be published in January.

She spoke recently with Anne Michaud, a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times, about her studies involving women in management.

Q. Your study published in the Harvard Business Review said that the men and women managers you interviewed make the same amount of money, contrary to other studies showing that men are paid more. Why is that?

A. The women that I studied make exactly the same amount of money as the men in the same positions in the same kind of organization. Now, what we’ve been reading about is this tremendous pay gap at the top, and I contend that’s because they have studied women who are heads of companies, and then they study men who are heads of companies. Well, if you take Michael Eisner, who is head of Disney, and he makes $40 million a year, there is no woman who is the head of a similar company. You can’t compare a Michael Eisner. We don’t have enough women in these huge companies to make a comparison. But if you take women who are achieving and then you match them to men in similar positions, they’re making exactly the same amount.

Advertisement

Q. What does that tell you?

A. What it says to me is that in those organizations that are receptive to women, they’re being paid equitably. But in those organizations that still feel women don’t belong in operations but rather in staff positions, they’re being paid less.

Q. Have you had any negative reaction about your finding that women and men are paid comparably?

A. No, that’s the interesting thing, because this is so contrary to every other finding. My point was women are being paid comparably because women are in organizations where they’re valued. No one has criticized that.

Advertisement

Q. So women who are succeeding are at mid-sized rather than large companies?

A. No. Some of them run very large organizations. (The women included in Rosener’s study work in companies with annual revenue between $1 million and $6.5 billion; the average was in the range of $100 million to $500 million.) If you look at successful women and you ask questions, you get very different answers than if you look at huge, large tradition-bound organizations like Fortune 500 or major accounting or law firms.

Most studies are done of Fortune 500 companies or based on anecdotal evidence in which you look at these big companies and you say, well, there are no women up there. So, we have been hearing over and over again, women can’t make it, women can’t make it. But I knew of a lot of women who were very, very successful--the women in this study have a mean income of about $140,000 a year.

Q. So what do they have in common, these companies where women are succeeding?

Advertisement

A. The companies are very fast-growing, very fast-changing, high tech, very service-oriented or international. Those are all organizations that are not tradition-bound. They’re all organizations where cultural difference is very important, where you have to be sensitive to how people feel and operate. That’s why we found a lot of them in the West, where there are new and fast-growing companies.

So the issue is not necessarily size; it has more to do with the rate of change of the organizations, the function of the organizations and so forth. Since most organizations are changing rapidly, this is a rare opportunity in the ‘90s for women to take advantage.

Q. Can you cite an example of a woman who has succeeded using the interactive management style you describe in your article?

A. Debi Coleman, (vice president) of Apple Computers. She is a very non-conventional kind of leader. That’s a high-tech company, and she was an English major. But she could produce, so they didn’t care what she looked like; they didn’t care how she talked; they didn’t care what her major was. But try and get an English major into an old-time manufacturing company, and they would’ve laughed at her. You find very few of these successful women in manufacturing companies.

Advertisement

Q. Your article discusses a style of leadership that you say comes naturally to men--command and control--and another style that you say is natural for women--interactive. Could you describe the two styles?

A. What we perceive as effective leadership tends to be associated with male attributes, with being independent, aggressive, competitive, all-knowing, with being linear in your thinking, rational, unemotional.

The academic terms are transformational and transactional. I changed them for the article, so command and control is the transactional: there’s a transaction between the subordinate and the boss. Transformational, or interactive, is when the boss transforms the self-interest of the individual into the interest of the organization.

I call it interactive because instead of communication just going from the top down or information going from the bottom up, the information’s coming from all over the place. The leader is asking employees, colleagues, peers, friends.

Advertisement

Q. You say interactive leadership will become more important in the future. Why is that?

A. What I’m suggesting is that if you were to ask 10 years from now, ‘What do you associate with a good leader?’ people will say: comfortable with ambiguity; able to motivate without specific rewards for work; able to create an environment where work is fun; sensitive to cultural differences, able to form alliances, develop consensus and use intuition.

Q. Why the change?

A. The first thing is that the demographics all show that by the year 2000, 85% of the new jobs will be held by women and people of color. In other words, the number of white males is shrinking in the labor force. So, if you’re going to attract the best and the brightest, you’ve got to be looking at women and people of color, which is traditionally not where people have looked. So, what’s been happening is women have been getting educated, they’ve been getting a lot of experience, and they’re going to turn out to be potentially a very important source of labor for companies.

Advertisement

We’re even talking about changing immigration laws to allow the immigration of people who have high-level skills. That tells you something about the concern regarding the labor market.

So, because there’s going to be a labor shortage--based on the population decline as baby boomers age and so forth--if you want to attract and retain good people, you’re going to have to have an environment that is receptive to them.

The other part of this is that women are starting their own companies at three to five times the rate of men. They’re beginning to say, ‘Look, if I don’t like this environment, I’m going to go start my own company.’ Of the women I studied, 28% have their own companies.

Q. Do women have to start their own companies because they can’t move up where they are?

Advertisement

A. No. I did a study of entrepreneurs in Orange County, and the interesting thing is that men frequently start their own companies when they can’t do anything else or they’ve had this dream. Women go to corporations and get experience, and if they can get money, they are saying, “Hey, I’ve had it. I’m not going to work when I realize I’m being disadvantaged because I’m a woman. So I’ll start my own company.”

Q. So women get fed up more easily?

A. Yes, they realize they’re not going to make it. We know that women are making it from the bottom to the middle, but they are not moving from the middle to the top.

Men are not starting companies because they feel they’re being discriminated against based on their sex alone.

Advertisement

Q. Why is it important to study the different leadership styles?

A. I started a course here 10 years ago for women because female students were coming to me and saying they were having trouble, that they were working but felt they were not being treated the same. So I started a course about women in management.

Then I realized that, hey, the women aren’t the problem. No matter what these women did--they could wear their navy blue suits and their little bow ties; they could talk right and walk right; they could have many degrees--they still weren’t getting promoted.

The problem is the organization. I eventually changed the class to women and men in management. It became a popular class because we had the men really talk about what bugged them about working with women.

Advertisement

We try to sensitize the students to the fact that we all have this in us. We’re all sexist, and we’re all racist. But if we begin to realize that we are, we minimize that getting in our way of looking at (an employee’s) performance.

Q. Why is that important for future managers?

A. The reason it’s important for future managers is that, whether they like it or not, they’re going to be working with women and they’re going to be working with people of color.

Q. Your book is about valuing that cultural diversity, rather than asking people to assimilate into the culture of the corporation?

Advertisement

A. Yes. What I’m saying is that in organizations, we can’t just keep talking about changing the woman or changing the black or changing the Asian. We have to talk about changing the organization so that we allow people to contribute in the way that’s most comfortable for them, but at the same time develop some shared set of goals or visions.

Now we have what I call the assimilation model, which says everybody has to be like the people in the dominant group. That dominant group, for no reason other than history, happens to be white males. So we’re not saying that white males are bad; we’re saying that if women had started our corporations, or blacks or Asians, they would’ve been different.

But it happens that companies were started by white males, and they were fashioned after the military and the church, both of which are very hierarchical, very formalized, very top-down, with clear lines of authority. Since it has worked, and America has been a great economic power, we have felt that’s the best way to go. Now we begin to see that maybe this doesn’t work.

Q. Do you think corporations will accept your analysis and change themselves?

Advertisement

A. That’s going to be difficult because there’s no bottom line; there’s no way to show you how this kind of training converts into profitability. But if people feel comfortable in an organization, they’re going to be more productive. In corporations now doing cultural diversity training, absenteeism is down and morale and productivity is up.

What we have to do is value performance regardless of gender and color, and that means you have to be aware of your own biases and prejudices.

Q. Can you give an example of when diversity has been valuable to a company?

A. I think the NUMMI experiment with the Japanese and American automobile manufacturers will show that the best of both cultures has been brought together. (The experiment is a joint venture of General Motors and Toyota using Japanese-style management techniques to get greater worker participation in directing manufacturing operations. General Motors has organized its Saturn plant in Tennessee under these principles.)

Advertisement

Q. If a company wanted to encourage diversity, how would it go about doing that?

A. It’s going to take a long time, and it takes commitment at the top. The only organizations where this is working are ones where the chief executives themselves have gone through training to examine their own biases and stereotypes. Then they must change policies and reward people for valuing diversity. In other words, it has to work all through. You can’t just say, we’ll have a policy.

Q. Are many executives interested in these issues?

A. Some of them don’t want to talk about it; they like it the way it is. These issues are very unsettling to people because when you deal with them, it hurts. We’re talking about deeply held values, and it makes people uncomfortable. But the point is it’s like surgery: After the discomfort, things get better.

Advertisement

Q. What do you plan to study next?

A. The next study is going to be to take a look at the interactive men and women and see if they’re in different kinds of organizations (from the non-interactive men and women).

I’ve already taken a glance at the data, and what I’ve seen is that most of the men who are interactive are in educational institutions, nonprofits--again, non-traditional organizations. So it appears that interactive behavior is the issue. Men who act this way are also disadvantaged because for a man to act in a way that is associated with female attributes--caring, concern about relationships--is probably a problem for him.


Advertisement