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FLASH UPDATE: No Seat at the Table

Posted in Law firm practices

Life Imitates Blog

3d Office chair in spotlightOnly a few days ago we posted a blog post, Are You a Manterrupter?, in which we discussed how unconscious gender biases of men may compromise leadership communication and result in female colleagues being marginalized, shut out, interrupted and generally frustrated in the exercise of senior-level professional responsibility.  A second, related post about how to address the impact of unconscious bias is scheduled to be posted next week.

Wow, talk about timing: today’s headlines threw the spotlight on some extraordinary true-life breaking news. Fox International Channel’s CMO Liz Dolan published a scathing article entitled “Gender Bias Forced Me to Quit Quiksilver’s Board.”  It turns out that Quiksilver, an action sports and apparel company, had completely excluded board member Dolan from the decision-making process that led to firing its CEO. Dolan first learned about the change in management while on an airplane, when she opened an email containing documents for a clandestine board meeting taking place while she was in the air. The quickie board meeting was to ratify what was already a done deal following 10 days of secret conversations among the other – and entirely male – board members.

As former CMO of Nike and the OWN channel and hardly a junior-varsity talent, Dolan was proud to be one of the few women on the board of a publicly-traded company. She had earned her spurs as a heavy-hitter, and she had passed board interview muster as someone with the chops to make tough decisions.  Yet she was totally cut out of the loop of a 10-day discussion about terminating the CEO, who had been a senior executive colleague of Dolan’s when they both earlier worked at Nike. When Dolan left the board on May 28th in what lawyers call a “noisy resignation” (meaning that the company has to release the resignation letter), she said:

“I was given many explanations, but I think it boils down to a single answer: unconscious bias. And what I learned is that even when a woman earns a seat at the table, the men can put you in a soundproof booth.” (emphasis added, and much deserved)

“Because I had a previous professional relationship with the (now former) CEO at Nike, the board assumed they knew how I would have voted based on the biased assumption that I’d vote to keep my ‘friend.’ Because that’s what girls do, right? They make emotional decisions about friends instead of strategic decisions based on business facts. Girls can’t keep a secret. Girls are too emotional. Girls can’t make tough calls. And, thank goodness, girls won’t speak out when we marginalize them.”

This exemplar of male thinking, arrogance and dominance – which seems to us more evidence of conscious bias than unconscious bias — is bound to be embarrassing for Quiksilver. But they’ll survive, right?  They’ll duck their heads, decline comment, and elect a replacement board member.

How much do you bet it won’t be a woman?


© 2015, Pam Woldow and Doug Richardson. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without prior written approval.