May 1, 1981: On this date…

Billie Jean King admitted to a lesbian affair, becoming the first prominent professional female athlete known to be gay or lesbian. Thanks to King’s courage, thousands of American athletes, both men and women, have voluntarily come out of the closet, most recently Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA player, and women’s basketball phenomenon Brittney Griner.

Off the courts, corporations and individuals are increasingly embracing LGBT status as an emerging career asset. Yet CTI research ( “The Power of Out 2.0: LGBT in the Workplace”) finds that despite advances in workplace acceptance, 41 percent of American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers remain closeted at the office. Given the increased productivity and lower turnover rates of “out” workers, organizations have a bottom-line incentive to create a workplace where LGBT workers feel accepted, valued and comfortable being who they are.

Meanwhile, hats off to Billie Jean for breaking the barrier!




Japan’s Exodus of Smart Young Women

Students from China and India are familiar faces at American universities. Now, after a sharp decline over the past decade and a half, they’re being joined by an influx of Japanese, particularly young women.

The number of Japanese students studying on U.S. campuses hit a peak of 47,000 in 1997, then fell to 19,000 in 2011, according to the Institute of International Education, cited in a recent New York Times article. But the number of new visas issued by the U.S. State Department to Japanese students rose 10 percent from 2011 to 2012, from 16,811 to 18,668. And, notes Kageaki Kajiwara, dean of the School of Asia 21 at Kokushikan University in Tokyo, “Overwhelmingly, it is female students who show interest.”

 An obvious reason is an increasing emphasis from the Japanese government and major employers to globalize their talent. Major employers, such as Rakuten, a major online retailer, and global clothing chain Uniqlo recently introduced in-house English-language policies. Other employers are demanding solid foreign language skills and international experience.

But there’s another force at work, too: Japan’s limited professional opportunities for educated women.

Our own research in Off-Ramps and On-Ramps Japan paints a detailed picture of the obstacle course awaiting Japanese women with career ambitions. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of college-educated women in Japan voluntarily quit their jobs. The overwhelming reason? Not childcare nor eldercare, as one might expect. Instead, 63 percent of our survey respondents quit because their career wasn’t satisfying and nearly half (49 percent) felt stalled.

More troubling, career-minded Japanese women don’t see a future at domestic companies. Survey respondents overwhelmingly prefer to work at multinational companies, even those located in Japan: 68 percent believe that U.S or E.U.-headquartered companies are more women-friendly than Japanese firms.

Given this trend, the large number of young women in study-abroad programs isn’t surprising. Dean Kajiwara concedes, “Unfortunately, there is a disparity in career opportunities available in this male-dominated society, and opportunities might be greater overseas for Japanese women.”

Facing a shrinking workforce, a stagnant economy, and soaring pension and healthcare costs, Japan desperately needs to tap its pool of under-utilized and under-leveraged educated women. According to a 2010 Goldman Sachs study, Womenomics 3.0: The Time Is Now, if Japan could close its gender employment gap, the workforce could expand by 8.2 million and the level of Japan’s GDP could increase as much as 14 percent.

Yet when the smartest career choice for ambitious Japanese women is to emigrate, the question for the students signing up for study-abroad programs is: Will they return home?

– Catherine Fredman

More Men Stop at the Cosmetics Counter as They Climb the Career Ladder

Men are going all out to look good. A recent study found that sales of men’s cosmetics and toiletries in the U.S. could hit $ 3.2 billion by 2016, up from an estimated 2.2 billion in 2006. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the number of men getting facelifts rose 14 percent from 2009 to 2010 while men using Botox increased 9 percent and male liposuction rose 7 percent.

Women have long known that their appearance directly affects how they are perceived; in the corporate world, grooming – or lack of it – can make the difference between being taken seriously or being ignored. Now men have begun to realize that in the hyper-competitive arena of the post-recession workplace, a polished look is as necessary as performance, hard work and sponsorship to climb the corporate ladder.

In deciphering the secrets of executive presence – that magical quality that opens the door to the executive suite – the Center for Talent Innovation identified three key attributes: polished appearance, superior communication skills and gravitas. Although communication and gravitas hold the most significance in the overall EP equation, appearance is an important first filter.  “Appearance is one’s lighthouse,” explains a male senior manager. “It gets the attention focused on you.” After that, respect and credibility are yours to win or lose – and they are easier to win if you look the part.

Breaking down appearance into component parts, physical attractiveness was ranked by 14 percent of senior leader (director level and above) respondents as being a top trait that bolsters EP in men. Possessing a youthful appearance and good grooming are very important in nailing executive presence.

Recognizing how looks can lever – or kill – their career, an increasing number of men are resorting to appearance-enhancing measures. From high-end grooming and cosmetic products to testosterone supplements, it seems there are few measures too extreme. The increase in plastic surgery especially reflects the concern many older men feel as they compete with their younger colleagues for top jobs.

Men have long made fun of women’s propensity to primp. But now, it seems, they’re learning an important lesson: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

—Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Joseph A. Cervone

Women in the Military Need More Than Combat Experience: They Need Sponsors

A rocky ridge in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province is a tough classroom for an inexperienced young platoon leader to learn to garner the respect of seasoned combat troops.  Mike Abrams’ test came on a moonless night on his first combat mission. His unit was trying to flush out the insurgents who eight hours earlier had blown up a truck in the convoy bringing them to their operating base.  When they learned from an Afghan soldier that Taliban were waiting on top of the ridge to ambush them, he had a choice: He could have decided to return to the patrol base or radioed for backup — or go around the back of the ridge and catch the Taliban by surprise. He gathered the fire team leaders and told them the plan. One asked, “Sir, we’re still going up?” “We didn’t come here to mess around,” Mike replied. “We have the advantage. This is ‘go’ time.” He went with the first team. The entire time he kept thinking, “I’m going to be shot at.” But after that, his unit knew that when they left the wire, they meant business.

When a “new sir” checks-in to a unit, rarely is he given any respect beyond the required military courtesies.  He is a stranger trying to become part of the family.  He must immediately show that he has the intellect, gravitas, and physical endurance to lead.  More importantly, he must quickly develop strong relationships with the senior officers and enlisted leaders around him in order to receive the necessary guidance and mentorship to succeed in a fast-paced, evolving environment.

It’s hard enough for a man to join a combat unit and feel welcomed.  So how difficult would it be for a female officer to enter an all-male infantry unit?  The question isn’t whether she has the capability to lead, but rather if she will be able to establish and develop the same relationships with her male leaders that are necessary for her success.

Last week, the military lifted the ban on women serving in combat roles.  Soon enough, women will begin passing the physical requirements to obtain combat arms specialties and will be checking into all male units as the “new ma’am.”

The Marine Corps is leaning forward on this issue and will be rolling out a formal mentoring program to support the professional development and career advancement of its high-potential leaders of both sexes. A mentoring program is a great start, but it’s not enough – and won’t be enough unless it encompasses sponsorship.

It’s not the tactical advice or career guidance that helps young lieutenants develop into good leaders.   It’s the knowledge that senior leaders have their back that allows them to have the confidence to make quick decisions and be aggressive.  

In a recent New York Times article exploring the career opportunities for women opened by removal of the combat ban, Brigadier General Lori E. Reynolds, the commander of the Marine’s Parris Island training base, responded that she looked forward to seeing that this change is “implemented the right way.”

That means instilling and encouraging the sort of professional relationships that, in the famous slogan of our fellow service arm, enable talented women to be all that they can be.   Tomorrow’s female combat soldiers will not succeed without the sponsorship of their senior male leaders. For these ambitious women and the services that will benefit from their dedication and drive, it is imperative that the military provide the same support they give their male leaders.  This is one mission the military can’t afford to fail. 

–Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Mike Abrams



NPR interview #sponsorship

NPR interview #sponsorship

On Our Mind

Here’s a selection of noteworthy books, blogs and articles that have caught our attention:

  • You can’t always tell a book by its cover, but when it comes to humans, appearance predicts behavior more often than you think, according to a recent feature article in Psychology Today.  “What’s in A Face” observes that we correctly extrapolate character traits from facial features at a consistent above-chance rate of 60 percent or higher. “Snap judgments about faces are not fail-safe, but they are far too accurate to ignore,” writes author Jena Pincott.
  • A few decades of well-meaning but ineffective approaches to diversity have left many managers fatigued and frustrated by the whole subject of diversity. In her HBR blog on “Three Diversity ‘Best Practices’ That Hurt Women,”20-First CEO Avivah Wittenberg-Cox spotlights the source of the problem and offers cogent and common-sense solutions.
  • “The issue of gender balance in corporations often seems unnecessarily complicated,” . A lot of the trouble has been caused by the legacy of a couple of decades of well-meaning but ineffective solutions.
  • Does the ‘I” in iPhone stand for “insomnia”? Thanks in part to the constant pinging and chiming of our gee-whiz gadgets, roughly 41 million people in the United States — nearly a third of all working adults — get six hours or fewer of sleep a night. In a New York Times’ article on “Rethinking Sleep,” David K. Randall, author of Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, praises the power of napping.   He’s not alone: Organizations as varied as Google and several Major League baseball teams believe sequential snoozing boosts productivity.
  • Got a spare 18 minutes? Fill it with the intellectual snackfood provided by TED talks. We always mean to listen to them but often forget, so we bet you feel the same way. Two of our favorites: Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, on “The Puzzle of Motivation” and Eat. Pray. Love blockbuster Elizabeth Gilbert on summoning your inner genius
  • Got a little more time? We’re reading The Swerve  by Stephen Greenblatt. This isn’t just a brainiac’s hors d’oeuvre – it’s an entire dinner.

Tell us what you’re reading – we’d love to know!

White Guys Don’t Rule

We’ve just seen a demographic time bomb explode in GOP faces.

Back in 1988, winning 61 percent of the white vote was enough to ensure a landslide for George H.W. Bush. Tuesday night, Mitt Romney won the same percentage of that vote—and yet was roundly defeated.

Why? Because the white portion of the electorate is shrinking. Today, Caucasian males (Romney’s core constituency) account for only 37 percent of the voting public, down from 44 percent in the late ‘80s.  As the U.S. Census shows America becoming evermore diverse, that downward trend will only steepen.

These demographic facts have already transformed the attitudes and behaviors of business leaders. Eight years ago I launched a private-sector Task Force that focused on accelerating the progress of women and minorities in the corporate workforce. At the beginning we had seven multinational members; today, we have 75, representing every business sector—from Goldman Sachs to Google, from Time Warner to Tupperware. Our growth curve just goes to show how many business leaders grasp the implications of a shrinking pool of Caucasian male talent. With white men comprising a mere 17 percent of the world’s college graduates, multinationals recognize that to win the global war for talent they’ve got to woo and retain women and people of color. That’s why they expend precious resources on our research, reports such as Vaulting the Color Bar and The Power of the Purse: Competitive strength, they realize, derives from diversity. Indeed, as forthcoming research from the Center for Talent Innovation shows, innovation derives from diversity. Multinationals who harness cultural, generational, and gender differences are able to lever open new markets, squeeze more revenues out of existing ones, and trim costs that undermine profit margins.

Furthermore, those who fail to nurture diversity in their ranks pay a terrible price. One need look no further than the IMF, which in the run-up to the global financial meltdown ignored those developing-country staffers who perceived the mounting threat, heeding instead the rosy forecasts favored by its first-world analysts and Ph.Ds. In the wake of the financial crisis, business leaders in our Task Force are highly sensitized to the perils of groupthink—and keener than ever to mitigate the homogeneity that breeds it.

But this was a lesson Romney either failed to understand or simply chose to ignore. In his choice of Paul Ryan—a guy as white, privileged, and insulated as he was—Romney played into this very trap. Like the leaders at the IMF, the Republican team simply couldn’t see what they didn’t believe. And it cost them the election.

Obama’s victory signals, in contrast, a political establishment that’s catching up to the private sector. If the power of difference was what put Obama in the White House, it’s the power of diversity that’s keeping him there. Future contenders will ignore that insight at their peril.

-Sylvia Hewlett

Just launched our eye-popping #Executive

Just launched our eye-popping #ExecutivePresence research @MarieClaire. 250 women who have totally cracked the code @RachelRoy @OliviaWilde

A Tale of Two Cities

In ordinary times, I would have spent the Sunday before our annual Summit proof-reading PowerPoint presentations, fine-tuning my remarks, perusing my closet and deciding which outfit – and shoes! – to wear. But since Superstorm Sandy steamrolled through the Tri-State area a week ago, things have not been normal – and, for many of our community, won’t be for a very long time.

That’s why last Sunday, my husband Richard, my youngest daughter Emma and I (in Emma’s Uggs) participated in a volunteer effort led by a friend to get food, batteries and baby supplies to Far Rockaway. This working-class neighborhood in Queens just south of JFK airport has become a symbol for the devastation caused by crushing waves and hurricane-force winds. It was quite an eye-opener: 150,000 people without power, heat or gas.  

The scenes are shocking: smashed houses, upended boats on sidewalks and massive amounts of debris and garbage just floating around. Even more distressing is the human misery. We dropped off our supplies at a community center which was doing an amazing job under the circumstances, organized and staffed entirely by volunteers whose own homes were only slightly less battered than their neighbors’. As we helped rig up some lights in the darkened building (using power from our car), a huge line started to form outside – men, women and scores of young children and babies. I have rarely seen people look so exhausted and forlorn. Many were wearing two or three layers of clothing; the temperature was dropping and, of course, they have no heat. I chatted with some of the families. Over and over I heard how frightened they were. There’s been a lot of looting and other kinds of crime, and many parents told me that they could not sleep at night: they need to stay vigilant in the cold and dark to protect their kids and their stuff. As you can imagine, these people feel thoroughly abandoned and angry. (If you’d like to lend a hand, NYC Service matches volunteers with a wide variety of opportunities to help.)

The New York Times had a front-page article on the Far Rockaways yesterday morning. (Hopefully press attention will speed the official rescue effort!) It begins: “Watching the Manhattan skyline shimmer over Jamaica Bay has always been one of the charms of life in the Rockaways. But now when the Empire State Building winks on each night, those lights feel almost like a punch in the gut.”

This widespread destruction and distress underscores the wisdom of postponing our cherished Summit. Some of our community lost their houses, many are still without power, some were fortunate enough to be spared material harm but we are all affected by this terrible storm.  A huge “thank you” to the many Task Force members – and speakers – who have reached out with expressions of support – and assurances that they can be with us in February. We will keep you posted as the event is re-assembled. Meanwhile, you are all in my thoughts as we all move towards recovery.

Warm wishes,


More Women in the Workforce Could Raise

More Women in the Workforce Could Raise GDP by 5%- NEW HBR Blog –