Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Women as Confident Askers

A just-published study by Scott Taylor, an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico, shows that women tend to underrate themselves substantially (11%), while men tend to overrate themselves slightly when asked how they think their bosses would rate them. Furthermore, the older the woman, the more she may underrate herself. I wonder if the findings might carry over to the level of confidence that women feel going into a solicitation. Is a woman a bit more likely to underestimate the effectiveness of her presentation in a face-to-face encounter? or less likely to speak up at a board meeting on behalf of her point of view? It's worth a little introspection.

I recall a formative moment early in my development career, perhaps a rash moment, in which I attemped to emulate the way I thought a man might handle a situation. I was visiting the head of PG&E in San Francisco with my boss Frank Oppenheimer, the Director of the Exploratorium. Our goal was a program grant for $5,000 - a good sum from PG&E in those days. The CEO and Frank made pleasantries. The CEO was an admirer. Frank referenced a new book the museum had just published entitled "Looking at the Light," a copy of which was in my hands. The CEO said he'd like to see it. Something came over me, and I tossed it on the table toward him saying lightly, "Sure, but it'll cost you $5,000." The CEO laughed, thumbed through the book, and gave us $5,000.

That moment set me up for the rest of my career. And yet, it did not instantly create a new, confident core. I was a girl from the beforetime, afterall. While I could act with confidence, I was ginning it up. Well, that's good, and practice matters, but what this new study reveals is that there is still more to gain. AP reporter Heather Clark writes, "The exercise was a confidence booster, Walker said. Now, she takes five minutes during weekly meetings with her supervisor to discuss what she's done on the job, something she thinks men do more easily than women."

Stepping out with more confidence that others may regard us even better than we regard ourselves may even lead to better health. Who knows?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Affirmative Action

A major donor to his alma mater showed up for a football game and as he entered the arena asked the usher where the 50 yard line was. The reply was "sir wherever you wish."

It seems the board and top leadership of the University of Illinois are all for affirmative action. They kept a private list of "connected" individuals to whose children, other relatives or friends admissions preference would be given. I am not rushing to judgment here because I really don't have anything except what I read. But this business of preference comes up all the time in every type of charity. Human character being what it is there is no doubt that the wink-and-a-nod approach to admissions, orchestra seats, elite health care, or for that matter the "right" restaurant table is a clear and present danger.

Development officers rattle on about how building "relationships" with donors is the essence of their work. The donors would more likely call it "connections." Indeed there is absolutely nothing egalitarian about philanthropy and moreover people slip off the ethical cliff all the time. There are major tertiary health care centers with special telephone numbers for key donors; there are theater companies with green rooms for "patrons;" CEOs swig tea with LOLs (no, not laugh-out-loud); "call-me-anytime" privileges attach to those whose importance is digitally enhanced.

A former Oram colleague became development officer at a symphony orchestra in a deep south city whose season opened in early September when even at 7p the temperature was still in triple digits. The women liked to wear their furs on opening night. Forget tote bags, coffee mugs and all the other tchotske "premiums" of the fund raising trade. His best gift to major donors was letting them park their Bentleys in immediate proximity to the front steps of the auditorium. Or as Marilyn Shapiro former major gifts at the Metropolitan Opera put it to me one time: "the ones who give the most get the most!"

I'm for affirmative action. Aren't you?