Great reflections on Lokey GSB Conference

Branding in Balance

Mills’ all-day conference “Creating Shared Value and Evaluating Impact” looked at measuring the impact of socially-conscious ventures. Investors need to gauge return on such programs–yet how do you assess progress on initiatives that require huge timelines?  How do you quantify the “results” of human conflict or emotional deficit?

Impact is often invisible and seemingly impossible to express. Lacy Aspill, Founding Co-Director of Moving Forward in Education, summed up the frustration: chipping away at massive social problems requires “a high level of emotional resilience” to keep believing that change is possible.

Tackling human impact ultimately requires a human approach.


In advertising, creativity is measured to “ensure” the right message hits the right audience. Many times this analysis paralysis is the quickest way to hinder creative expression and innovation. While research has its usefulness, the best creative “results” are often the product of an organic, intuitive and free-flowing process–especially…

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Glass Ceiling for Women: Cracked but Far from Shattered

Glass Ceiling for Women: Cracked but Far from Shattered

Deborah Merrill-Sands, Dean, Simmons School of Management
Deborah Kolb, Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Professor of Women and Leadership, Simmons School of Management

Much has been said about progress in shattering the glass ceiling in business. But recent studies show women have not attained the level of leadership opportunities that would have been expected by 2010.This has considerable implications for business in these uncertain economic times.

In a study of 4,100 graduates of elite MBA programs Catalyst, a research organization on women’s advancement, found that women consistently lag behind men in compensation, rate of salary growth, and promotions. What is perhaps most surprising is that the disparity starts from their very first post-MBA position. Moreover, contrary to conventional wisdom, the success gap persisted even when researchers controlled for aspirations for leadership and for parental responsibilities.

These findings of persistent gender inequities stand in bold relief to the findings of a second study of 1,800 executives presented by Bain and Co. at the 2010 World Economic Forum.  This study revealed that men and women hold markedly different perceptions of the extent of gender parity in leadership opportunities. Approximately two-thirds of the men queried said that promotions to executive and board levels are equally attainable by both sexes compared to one-third of the women. Yet, the stark reality, as portrayed by the Catalyst study, counters these perceptions.

If inequities in hiring and promotion begin with the first job of the most talented MBAs, and if this disparity is not recognized by business leaders, then we have significant cause for concern – both for women and for our business organizations.

Studies by Catalyst and McKinsey have shown that stronger financial performance is positively correlated with greater representation of women in executive and board positions. Further, gender analyses of male and female managers in standardized assessments have shown that women are consistently rated higher than men in the majority of leadership skills needed to run effective organizations, such as setting high standards, driving for results, motivating staff, and building high performing teams.

To understand the different career outcomes of men and women and ensure strong organizational performance, we must dig under the formal systems of hiring, promotion, and compensation to uncover the subtle ways that gender may be operating. In hiring, for example, access to informal networks can provide potential employees with a way to gather information and to negotiate roles and compensation. Many of these networks, however, are male-dominated and can leave women at a disadvantage. It is often claimed that that women do not negotiate hard enough for positions and pay.  However, research shows that women are often penalized when they do, thus putting them in a double bind.

Gender assumptions can also shape specific paths to leadership. For example, women are more likely to be given leadership opportunities in human resource management vs. strategic business development. There are numerous examples of women not being approached for global assignments on the assumption that they will not be willing to relocate their families.

These findings are a clarion call to action. With women now earning more academic degrees, they represent the majority of the talent pool available to organizations. High performing organizations must eschew complacency about gender parity and tackle these issues head on in order to be successful. This will require more than reexamining systems of hiring and promotion, or strengthening policies for workplace flexibility.

Organizations need to look closely at themselves to understand how subtle gender assumptions shape the leadership opportunities and career outcomes of men and women differently. And they need to intervene strategically to change these gender assumptions and the work practices that perpetuate them so that the cracks will enlarge enough to shatter the glass ceiling.

Perceptions Shape Women’s Paths to Leadership

Perceptions Shape Women’s Paths to Leadership

A new study by Bain and Co. reveals a significant gap between men and women in their perceptions of the extent of parity in opportunity for men and women to attain management and leadership roles. The survey of over 1800 business professionals was reported in Wall Street Journal on January 28, 2010 and School of Management Professor Kolb was quoted extensively. See

The Wall Street Journal reported findings that “81% of men said opportunities to move to middle management are gender neutral, compared with just 52% of women. Similarly, 66% of men said promotions to the executive level are equally attainable by both sexes, versus 30% of women. As for appointments to leadership and governance roles, 69% of men and 31% of women said consideration is granted evenly among the sexes.”

Yet, the stark reality counters these perceptions. Catalyst’s 2009 census of Fortune 500 companies shows that only 3% of chief executive officer, 13% of all executive-officer, and 15% of board positions are held by women. The even more discouraging news is that these numbers have changed little since 2000.

Given this reality, it is disturbing that a majority of men, and even a third of women, believe that there is full parity of opportunity for advancement. This perception will lead organizations to be less vigilant in their efforts to bring about change that ensures unfettered opportunities for women to advance to leadership roles. And, as often happens, it will reinforce the popular narrative that places the onus of responsibility for lack of advancement onto women and not on the organization – ‘women are not at the top because they do not have what it takes to get there.’

Our research at the Simmons School of Management and its Center for gender in Organizations challenges this narrative and shows that subtle gender dynamics still shape women’s opportunities and paths to leadership. Change will only happen as managers (and women in business) come to understand these dynamics and make strategic interventions to change them.

Simmons School of Management Professor Deborah Kolb shared this perspective in the WSJ article:

“ ‘Perceptions may play a role in women lagging behind men in advancing their careers’, says Deborah M. Kolb, a professor specializing in women and leadership at Simmons School of Management in Boston. Ms. Kolb says studies have consistently shown women are seen by bosses and colleagues—men and women alike—as being less capable of serving in leadership posts than men, despite evidence to the contrary. ‘Women often get asked to take career detours, to go into areas like human resources, to be on the diversity committee,’ she says. ‘Men get asked to take on strategic-development activities.’ Similarly, studies suggest that women are disproportionately assigned to oversee change within businesses—assignments that pose greater risk of failure, adds Ms. Kolb. ‘They get asked to clean up messes, so they might not have a track record of success and mistakes may follow them,’ she says.

Principled Leadership: A Model for the “Reset” Economy

Principled Leadership: A Model for the “Reset” Economy
Deborah Merrill-Sands

In 2008, the world as we knew it turned upside down. The global economy careened perilously close to collapse and governments around the world made dramatic interventions to save financial institutions “too big to fail.” Billions of dollars in wealth evaporated, hundreds of thousands of employees lost their jobs, and thousands of organizations failed.

Today, we navigate in unchartered waters. We can no longer rely on many of the “truths” that served as our ballast, shaped our understanding and judgments, and guided our site lines into the future. Many of the systems and institutions that structured our commerce, our society, our economy, and the use of our environment have been shaken to their foundations.

As Jeffery Immelt, CEO of General Electric, declared in a recent speech at the Business for Social Responsibility conference, “”This economic crisis doesn’t represent a cycle. It represents a “reset” — an emotional, social, economic reset. People who understand that will prosper. Those who don’t will be left behind.”

Yet, it is surprising that in all of the reflections on the economic crisis and the changes it has precipitated, there has been little discussion of its implications for organizational leadership. And yet, leadership failure and the relentless focus on short-term results were key factors contributing to the crisis.

To extend, Immelt’s metaphor, the economic crisis calls for a “reset” of our concepts of effective leadership. As we reposition our companies and organizations to thrive in our new reality, we need ask ourselves, how do we lead now?, and how do we want to be led now?

These times call for stronger leadership accountability, not simply stronger leadership. It is no longer sufficient to define effective leaders as those who mobilize groups of people to achieve extraordinary results. We know only too well — as the events of the past year have so poignantly demonstrated — that leaders can mobilize people to pursue the wrong ends, do the wrong things, and produce the wrong, results.

The “reset” reality of our times calls for a new model of principled leaders — leaders who hold themselves accountable not only for short-term results, but also for the long-term success of their organizations as well as the long term impact of their organizations on the economy, on society, and on the environment.

To do this, principled leaders need to take on four additional dimensions of leadership accountability that match the challenges we face today.

First, they focus on ethics. They foster a work culture where they and every one of their employees examine every decision that they make and action that they take against a code of ethics and guiding values, and where integrity in decision-making is an explicit measure of success.
Second, they focus on stakeholders. They hold themselves accountable to all stakeholder groups – employees, customers, suppliers, and the communities in which they operate — not only to owners or share holders of for-profit companies, or to board members of not-for-profit organizations.

Third, they focus on diversity and inclusion. They build inclusive organizations where equity is a core value and the power of diversity is harnessed to create greater social and economic value.

And, fourth, they focus on sustainability. They hold themselves accountable for the long-term impact of their organizations on the societies that give them license to operate and the environment from which they draw critical resources.

With the economic pressures facing most organizations today, it is tempting to hold these facets of leadership as desirable, but not essential. Some may even question whether they are attainable. Yet, we are living everyday with the unprecedented costs of unprincipled leadership.

As we “reset” our model of leadership, we can learn from examples of principled leaders who have positioned their companies to ensure long-term profitability while also addressing pressing social and environmental issues.

• Indra Nooyi, the new CEO of PepsiCo, led the company to redefine its strategic goals as “Performance with Purpose,” achieving business and financial success – Performance – hand-in-hand with social and environmental performance – Purpose. Pepsi has integrated the goals of human and environmental sustainability into its business strategy. With the focus on human sustainability, Pepsi is changing its portfolio of products to provide healthier snacks and drinks to help combat the epidemic of obesity. With the focus on environmental sustainability, Pepsi has set rigorous targets for reducing its consumption of water, fuel, and electricity, reducing its usage by 3-9% across its three major divisions in just one year.

• Anne Mulcahy, Chairman and former CEO of Xerox, incorporated the goals of corporate citizenship and sustainability into core business strategies and practices as she led the company through one of the most remarkable “turnarounds” in recent business history. Xerox has long been a leader on diversity and inclusion and is widely respected for “walking the talk” with respect to its code of ethics. Xerox has also been on the forefront of addressing environmental sustainability, promoting double-sided printing to reduce paper use, adhering to rigorous energy use standards in the design of its equipment, and pursuing innovative remanufacturing processes to reduce waste. Since 2002, Xerox has reduced its green house gas emissions by 18% and has worked with its suppliers to significantly reduce the environmental impact of paper production.

• Jeffery Immelt, CEO of General Electric, has launched two strategic initiatives aimed at positioning GE as a leader in the ‘reset” economy. Through its “Ecoimagination” initiative GE has invests about $3 billion a year in research on clean energy and clean water technologies and has grown a $17 billion business selling products that help to solve environmental problems. This year, GE launched its Healthymagination” initiative, committing to invest $1 billion a year to develop technologies that “help doctors and hospitals deliver better health care to more people at a lower cost.”

The tenets of principled leadership give us a “reset” model of leadership for repositioning our organizations successfully in these unprecedented times.

Appeared in September 2009 issue of Women’s Business -Boston

Business Ethics: Back in the spotlight

Business Ethics: Back in the spotlight

Business ethics are back in the business school spot light, yet again. And that light is shining hotly and brightly.

The current global economic crisis, unleashed by the sub-prime mortgage scandal, has made us question what, if anything, we learned from the corporate scandals that grounded high-flying companies such as Enron and WorldCom, just a short eight years ago. Once again, we have been propelled into an economic crisis by executives’ myopic focus on short-term results at the expense of long-term organizational performance, by organizational cultures that tolerate unbridled risk-taking over sound judgment and integrity in decision-making, and by a relaxed regulatory environment that reflects an uncritical faith in the corrective power of the markets. As we experience every day, the cost of these crises to companies, communities, and to each of us as individuals is enormous, reaching all corners of the globe and impacting future generations. To put this in perspective, the $700 billion bailout of the US financial services industry alone is greater than the 2007 annual GDP of 92% of the countries in the world!

And, yet, despite the repeated shocks to the system, we cannot seem to break the cycle. Wharton professor Thomas Donaldson argues that “creeping industry precedents” or bad practices that become institutionalized, are the hidden danger underlying these crises. “People may have ethical doubts about a practice, but after a while if a whole industry does it, you think you can’t compete” and “the danger becomes normalized.” This is exactly what occurred in the subprime crisis. Mortgage brokers minimized the assessment of risk and pushed subprime mortgages aggressively out to households that could not afford them. Then the risk was passed on as larger companies repackaged the mortgages into other complex instruments where the real value and risk was difficult to assess. Does this reflect innovative business practice and a tolerable pursuit of profit and self-interest? Or, does it reflect poor ethical judgment and, ultimately, irresponsible business practice? To me, the lessons from the corporate crises of the past eight years are obvious: maximizing short term gain without carefully assessing and holding oneself accountable for the longer term impact on stakeholders and the organization’s sustainable performance reflects poor business practice and failed leadership.

So what do business schools need to teach to help shape leaders who will integrate ethical considerations into managerial decision-making and not blindly repeat the mistakes of the past? The problem is not trivial for business schools. A recent study by Rutgers University of 54 universities found 56 percent of graduate business students admitted to having cheated – more than in other professional schools in the survey. In 2007, business schools were rocked by a cheating scandal at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business that involved an extraordinary 10% of its graduating class. Positively, Duke University took bold action. Convicted students were either expelled or suspended for a year. Duke’s action set a good precedent. It is up to leaders of business schools and leaders of business organizations to shape organizational cultures that incorporate ethical values explicitly into managerial decision-making and leadership behavior. It is up to us to ensure that a blind eye is not given to ethical malpractice and that such malpractice is not institutionalized to become normal operating procedure as Professor Donaldson has warned. This is critical to what we call “principled leadership” at the Simmons School of Management.

I see our role at the School of Management as equipping students with 1) the judgment to evaluate all businesses practices and decisions through an ethical screen and ensure that bad practices do not become “institutionalized” through complacency; 2) the skills and courage to be able to identify ethical lapses and call them out for critical scrutiny; and 3) the principles to hold themselves accountable for ensuring that the pressure for short term results is not met at the expense of long term organizational performance.

At the MBA level, we have integrated attention to business ethics throughout the curriculum and the co-curricular activities. Our first case in Foundations of Business focuses on an ethical dilemma as does our final case in Strategy and Leadership. Students analyze the causes of the ethical dilemma and develop strategies for addressing it in ways that are good for them and for their organization. While attention to ethical decision-making is woven throughout the curriculum, ethical analysis and decision-making is a primary focus of our capstone course Leadership, Governance, and Accountability and students’ mastery of these skills is assessed in this course. The School of Management MBA Alumnae Association has also instituted a student award for principled leadership.

In the undergraduate management program, required courses for the undergraduate management major include readings, discussions and speakers on ethics in management and principled leadership. Ethics are an integral part of managerial analysis in Managerial Accounting and students’ mastery of the ethical concepts and analytic skills are assessed in this course. Attention to ethics is also integrated into the capstone senior seminar course and electives in corporate ethics and socially-minded leadership are offered on a regular basis.

As we move to the next level in teaching business ethics, we are supplementing our case method approach, which helps students to analyze and understand ethical dilemmas in the workplace, with a new approach to teaching students the skills they need to speak up and to give voice to their values when they observe ethical malpractice in their organizations. We are joining MIT, Yale, and 33 other business schools in piloting an innovative curriculum called Giving Voice to Values in both our MBA and undergraduate management programs. This approach, recently highlighted in the Financial Times, has been developed by former Harvard Professor Mary Gentile in association with the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society program and the Yale School of Management (see article in SIMMONS magazine, Winter 2008).

As dean, I am committed to continuing to strengthen our focus on developing innovative means to educating our students to be effective principled leaders and managers who know how to pursue profitability and success from a foundation of ethical decision-making, not in spite of it.

I am grateful to the EILEEN FISHER company and the MBA class of 2008 for their generous support for our efforts to strengthen our teaching and research in ethics and principled leadership.

Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 21, 2008,; Knowledge@Wharton, Eyes on the Wrong Prize: Leadership Lapses That Fueled Wall Street’s Fall, September 17, 2008,
New York Times, “34 Duke Business Students Face Discipline for Cheating,” May 1, 2007,; Christian Science Monitor, ‘Duke’s B-School Cheating Scandal,” May 4, 2007,

Excellence in Women’s Leadership: The importance of vision

Excellence in Women’s Leadership: The importance of vision

Harvard Business Reviews’ January 2009 issue on “Transforming Leaders” summarized a recent study comparing the leadership skills of men and women executives. The study shows that women are perceived to outperform men in most dimensions of leadership except for one – vision.

INSEAD conducted a global study of 2,816 executives’ 360o assessments of their leadership skills in which 22,244 subordinates, peers, and supervisors evaluated the executives’ leadership skills. Twenty percent of the executives and 27% of the observers were women. Similar to earlier studies, they found that female leaders were rated higher than male leaders in 7 out of 10 dimensions of leadership from both male and female leaders. These findings demonstrate, once again, that women are perceived to be successful in leadership roles.

However, the study revealed one critical area where women were not rated as highly as men — vision. Male peers, in particular, gave women significantly lower scores in vision than they gave men. This perceived deficiency for women leaders is important. First, the research shows that envisioning is perceived by observers as critical to effective leadership and carries more weight than other dimensions when evaluating overall leadership effectiveness. And, second, envisioning is what enables a leader to identify opportunities and obstacles, set strategic direction, and mobilize people to achieve exceptional results.

The researchers conclude that in order to continue to build the ranks of women in leadership, women need to give higher priority to developing their vision and strategy and communicating it more broadly across the organization, particularly to peers and supervisors.

This is an important “wake up call” for all of us in leadership roles.