By Katty Kay and Claire Shipman -- Fixing the Economy Is Women's Work

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By Katty Kay and Claire Shipman
Sunday, July 12, 2009

While the pinstripe crowd fixates on troubled assets, a stalled stimulus and mortgage remedies, it turns out that a more sure-fire financial fix is within our grasp -- and has been for years. New research says a healthy dose of estrogen may be the key not only to our fiscal recovery, but also to economic strength worldwide.

The sexy new discussion in policy circles around the world, thanks to the recession, is whether a significant shift of power from men to women is underway -- or whether it should be. Accounting giant Ernst & Young pulled out charts and graphs at a recent power lunch in Washington with female lawmakers to argue a provocative bottom line: Companies with more women in senior management roles make more money. The latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine sweepingly predicts the "death of macho." Economists at Davos this year speculated that the presence of more women on Wall Street might have averted the downturn. Adding to this debate is the fact that the laid-off victims of this recession are overwhelmingly men.

All those right-brain skills disparaged as soft in the roaring '90s are suddenly 21st-century-hot, while cocky is experiencing a slow fizzle.

The numbers make a compelling case. The studies Ernst & Young rounded up show that women can make the difference between economic success and failure in the developing world, between good and bad decision-making in the industrialized world, and between profit and loss in the corporate world. Their conclusion: American companies would do well with more senior women.

And it's not only one study, but at least half a dozen, from a broad spectrum of organizations such as Columbia University, McKinsey & Co., Goldman Sachs and Pepperdine University, that document a clear relationship between women in senior management and corporate financial success. By all measures, more women in your company means better performance.

Pepperdine found that the Fortune 500 firms with the best records of putting women at the top were 18 to 69 percent more profitable than the median companies in their industries. McKinsey looked at the top-listed European companies and found that greater gender diversity in management led to higher-than-average stock performance.

Is there a magic number of women? In some cases, it's just three. Catalyst, a research firm focused on women and business, found that Fortune 500 companies with three or more women in senior management positions score higher on top measures of organizational excellence. In addition, companies with three or more women on their boards outperformed the competition on all measures by at least 40 percent.

It's time to admit the obvious. Men and women are different, and our management styles are different. Research by the University of Pittsburgh and Cambridge University, among others, finds that some of those differences are intrinsic, thanks to hormones.

Gender stereotypes aren't politically correct, but the research broadly finds that testosterone can make men more prone to competition and risk-taking. Women, on the other hand, seem to be wired for collaboration, caution and long-term results.

According to a 30-year study of fund managers released last month by the National Council for Research on Women, female investors and professional money managers used more measured strategies. They didn't take huge risks, but they also didn't lose big. Their returns were consistent. Men took larger risks and wound up with results that varied more widely. A study by the French Fund association found that funds managed by women had more consistent results over one-year, three-year and five-year measurements. Female-managed funds weren't usually top performers, but they were never at the bottom.

Whatever the future, we hardly need to explain why, after all the trouble the testosterone-infused Wall Street culture brought us, a bit of that caution would be a healthy ingredient in our financial mix.

If that all seems too touchy-feely for left-brainers, here's more hard math. The "diversity prediction theorem" is part of the most cutting-edge thinking about best business practices. Scott Page, an economist at the University of Michigan, uses mathematical models to demonstrate that a diverse group will solve a complicated business problem better than a homogeneous group. In fact, diversity is even more important than expertise. In other words, a bunch of white male brainiacs won't usually reach the best conclusions.


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