In Business Women's Work

Men created the great credit bubble that we are now living in the aftermath of, yes? Sounds sexist or silly, but perhaps there’s quite a lot of truth in it. At least one prominent politician seems to agree.

In the financial markets, animal spirits ruled OK, ignoring risk as the adrenaline churned and cheap money churned though the system. Very masculine behaviour?

The economists were called in to certify that risk had been tamed: that securitised debt was parcelled out to people who knew what they were buying, by people who knew what they were doing. The highly trained, superconfident MBAs created a hugely effective production pipeline, dividing up financial instruments so that each parcel produced a fee, and nobody – not the credit rating agencies, not the regulators – could see the overall picture. The dreadful truth.

A top economist who worked at Citibank in the 1970s tells the story of what the markets were like even then. The first thing one trader would do every morning would be to take a trip to the men’s room... to be violently sick, hands down the throat. Not bulimia, but his preparation for the trading day.

This is a man’s world, and maybe (just maybe) its excesses are male only excesses. Women are sick in the early stages of that wondrous thing called pregnancy. Market men psych themselves up every day for work.

Middle ranking businessmen embarking on a sales trip think of themselves as “road warriors”. Business as war is a pretty silly simile, and a dangerously misleading one. But it goes back to the days of the men out hunting animals so that the tribe can eat. Have we not evolved a little since then?

OK, here’s another sexist or silly remark to follow the first one at the start of this piece. Men got us into this Credit Crunch mess, let women get us out of it.

There may be something in that proposition. It does appear that while men get stuck into single issues, women do have the ability to juggle several things at the same time, and to bring that wider view into the assessments they have to take, perhaps round a boardroom table.

Except of course that there are still not very many women round those top boardroom tables, and the ones that are may find themselves in a mainly man’s world where men reporting to men produce the ideas reports and analysis about what the business is doing and where it is going. Ignoring the risks and the perils until they are obvious to everyone.

This lack of many women on company boards makes it difficult to come to any particular conclusion, though a recent London School of Economics study seemed to show that companies with a greater proportion of women on the board actually did worse than others in profitability and at share value. Some research points in different directions, but the lack of womanly companies make it difficult to find any sort of norm.

And as this programme demonstrates, it is not easy to get women to agree with the proposition that there’s a big role for them in sorting out the male Credit Crunch mess. Some are wary that this is another trap for women: an invitation to fail at a tremendous task.

And many are simply too modest; they talk about equality in the boardroom, not different (or better) thinking. They shun the ideas of boardroom quotas for minorities.

But if business is still a very male world which fails so rhythmically and spectacularly, then surely it’s time to seek elsewhere for ideas about how to run a bank or a business? And (look at the numbers) top level women are one neglected resource that might be worth a try.

Peter Day

Previous Programmes

Watch Your Language - Peter Day joins a group of enthusiasts determined to improve the language of business.

Keep it Local - As pubs struggle to survive, Peter Day travels through villages in Yorkshire and Cumbria to talk to local activists.

Space - Peter Day asks what happens next on the USA's journey into space.

German Pencils - Peter Day asks Faber-Castell and Staedtler how they both stay sharp ...

Building BRICS - Peter Day finds out about the BRICS - Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and China

Over A Barrel - Peter Day contemplates the turmoil in the Middle East and fears it will affect the price of oil

Reconstructing Capitalism - Peter Day hears all about the challenges to the way capitalism works.

All at Sea - Peter Day hears all about sea transport.

China Dispossessed - Peter Day hears about some of the problems caused by China's rush for prosperity.

Back on the Road - Alan Mulally tells Peter Day how he changed the way Ford works and how it is now back in the business of selling cars.

Asia Bling! - Peter Day ponders how the rise of the Asian comsumer will change business.

Euro on the Rocks - Peter Day asks what is the future for the Euro?

Bitter Pills - Peter Day looks at changing face of drug development.

Operation Robot - would you allow a robot to operate on you? Peter Day looks at robot-assisted surgery.

Growing Pains - Peter Day asks, what is the main component of growth?

After the Crunch - Government funding and regional development: the view from Newcastle.

Chips off the Old Block - Computing in the UK, past, present and future.

Hidden Depths - Graham Hawkes, DeepFlight and exploring the oceans.

Sociability - How social technology makes new business models possible.

Are CEOs Up to the Job? - Two thirds aren't according to Xinfu's Steve Tappin. Peter Day investigates.

In at the Start - Saeed Amidi and Silicon Valley

Power Play - Is the 'smart grid' the start of something big?

Now Wash Your Hands Please - How a simple idea can transform lives in the developing world

Coming Soon - What can the experience of previous financial crises tell us about the current one?

Ticking Over - Can the Isle of Man rejuvenate the business of watchmaking?

Not Just Silicon - what can Silicon Valley teach us about innovation?

Press under Pressure - what lies ahead for the world of newspaper publishing?

Remembering CK Prahalad - in a world of change and multiple opportunities, how does a company keep up?

Rwanda Rising - building a clean safe state where business can flourish.

Life Cycles - building businesses around the idea of new kinds of bikes.

Who Sets Our Standards - the business and social benefits of standardisation.

Ready to wear - the ethical issues of the international clothing industry.

Doing It Wrong - what's wrong with the way business works?

New Age - the business of aging.

Project Alcatraz - rehabilitating offenders in Venezuela.

Selling Salvation - Peter Drucker and the Salvation Army.

Let Me Entertain You - office parties and away days.

Brazil's Sugar Rush - Brazil.

Small Wonder - microfinance.

Unlimited Company - organizational models.

Credit Crunch - cash and credit.

Student Startups - student entrepreneurs.

Media Mayhem - changes in the newspaper industry.

Squeaky Clean - branding.

Battery Power - Bolivia.

Women's Work - women in the city.

Hell For Leather - John Timpson and Timpson's Shoes.

Learning Curve - organisational culture.

Let's Start a Bank - banking.

Goodbye to Intel - Craig Barrett and Intel.

Location Location - So?

Iceland feels the Heat - the credit crunch in Iceland.

The Cisco Kid - Mike Lynch and John Chambers.

Grand Design - business schools.

Power Drive - the car industry.

All New - innovation.

Europe on the edge - What is this thing called "Europe"?

For more programmes visit the In Business programme archive.

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