March 15, 2009
The truth about cats and dogs
Career coach likens men to eager pups and women to kittens that need coaxing
By Cheong Suk-Wai
Canada-born career coach Avivah Wittenberg-Cox spent 10 years training working women in Europe to stop feeling like they were victims of male domination and start asking for their dues confidently.
But five years ago, she switched from listening to these women to listening to their male peers and bosses instead.
Ms Wittenberg-Cox, who is in her late 40s and the chief executive of workplace relations consultancy 20-First, recalled: 'For 10 years, I got all the women fired up and it was great stuff. But when they went back into their work cultures and organisations, they couldn't use their views and skills there.
'So I thought, 'Well, that's very nice but the real work to be done seemed to me to be on the other side'.'
What 'the other side' told her delighted her a good deal and convinced her that, for the first time, men and women could share power happily in the workplace.
She said: 'Men are fathers and husbands too and they often think women have great strengths which they know they don't have. They just haven't been given the space or time to think about it.'
She has since put all her findings in a book titled Why Women Mean Business, published by John Wiley & Sons. In it, she and co-writer Alison Maitland tell of how women are the secret seed to growing robust economies from now on because they are smarter, richer and more willing to spend their money than any other time in history.
As she pointed out gleefully, 60 per cent of all graduates today are women. They are also responsible for 80 per cent of all consumer spending these days. That's a lot of soft power.
They are calling for a complete rethink of the way work is designed and appraised so that more women can become leaders and guide their companies to profit from a market increasingly saturated with women's wants.
Sharp-minded, vivacious and precise, Ms Wittenberg-Cox was in town last week to give a talk at the Insead business school here and, in an interview, spoke passionately to The Sunday Times about why empowering women made good business sense.
In between sips of grapefruit juice at The Fullerton, she chatted at times in a hushed, almost confessional tone, with the air of a schoolgirl sharing saucy secrets.
The real challenge, she said, is that men are like dogs and women cats and so act and talk so differently that misunderstandings are almost a given.
Men, as she saw it, were energetic and eager to do what it took to get that promotion. Women, however, behaved like cats in that they wanted others to meet their needs and were not as keen to jump through hoops or toe anyone's line so easily.
As she put it, making like a hyperventilating puppy: 'What companies are used to are workers as puppies, you know, 'I want to get promoted, ruff ruff ruff, look at me, I wag my tail, I love this job, I want more and more'. So they're used to that kind of behaviour and that's the kind of people they want to promote, right?'
Wrong, she whispered, in that conspiratorial tone of hers.
She then preened like a Persian cat and said: 'It's women you need to promote more from now on, but women are like cats. They want to be seduced, they have to be attracted to what you want done.'
So, she stressed, bosses should not expect their female colleagues to behave and perform as men do, but instead listen to them more and allow them to be effective in their own way.
As for women themselves, she rues the 'women-focused garbage' of 'glass ceilings', 'victim talk' and 'women-friendly workplaces' they so often spout. 'Women-friendly workplaces are really just human-friendly,' she insisted.
A little later, she mused: 'Men are not going to power-share unless they are confident that it will be well-managed and well-handled.'
In this, she said governments could do more to give working women more support with, say, tax cuts and good creches. Otherwise, she warned, countries may be 'self-destructing' when birth rates plummet because women choose work over motherhood.
She said: 'Women vote with their wombs. They may not scream and shout in the streets, but if they're not given the opportunity to keep working, they stop having children.'
For her part, she credits her 'very supportive' husband, Karl, for making career and motherhood possible for her. He is a vice-president at Oracle, the world's largest enterprise software company, and they have two children - son Adam is 16 and daughter Alexie is 12.
She said, with a big smile: 'He takes more care of the children than I do.'
Why Women Mean Business by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox and Alison Maitland is on sale at major bookstores here at $57.95 a copy (without GST).
I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR
According to Ms Avivah Wittenberg-Cox and Ms Alison Maitland, here are 10 reasons why women will power economic growth throughout this century:
A 2004 study of Fortune 500 companies in the United States found that those with the highest proportion of women in their senior management teams had the best equity yields and total shareholder return.
Women today contribute 40 per cent of the developed world's gross domestic product.
Asia showed the biggest jump in the number of women in senior management - from an average of 17 per cent to an average of 23 per cent - between 2005 and 2007. Most of them are in the Philippines, Thailand and Hong Kong.
Researchers in the US have found that women make 80 per cent of all consumer-purchasing decisions today.
Fifty-four per cent of university graduates in 30 of the world's most developed countries are women.
In the US, 58 per cent of those with bachelor's degrees and 59 per cent of those with master's degrees are women.
France's Institute for International Relations sees the four forces of hope to fuel economic growth in Europe as being, in order of priority: women, business, new European Union member states, and immigrants.
Women have filled six million of the eight million job positions created in the European Union since 2000.
A British study in 2006 found that there are more women than men millionaires in Britain, and most of these women are aged 65 or older.
A study by Britain's Equal Opportunities Commission in 2006 found that the proportion of working fathers who prefer to work from home more than doubled - from 14 per cent to 29 per cent - between 2002 and 2005.