- Barclays Capital congratulates its 72 newly promoted Managing Directors, 8 of which are women — 11%.
- Lehman Brothers congratulates its 158 newly promoted Managing Directors, 21 of which are women — a little over 13%.
Catalyst 2013 census of Fortune 500 boards found there’s still no progress after years of no progress.
But this post is not about why these organizations and many others still have so few women in their top ranks, a subject visited by many over the years. The information is useful in answering the question of point of view and in helping us understand mental models.
The way we see the world and the problems we face in business is based on our cultural and personal background, which include the types of experiences that influence how we think, what we say, and how we go about doing things.
For this reason, I’d like to interrogate the reality of thinking like a woman by visiting with Italian writer Margaret Mazzantini, winner of the prestigious Strega Prize in 2002 for her novel Don’t Move. The prize is the highest recognition for the best work of prose fiction by an Italian author. The book has sold more than 1 million copies — Umberto Eco is at this level of success.
For example, as part of his observations on the cultural significance of list, Umberto Eco says:
“The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible.
It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity?
How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.
There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte.
We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.”
Hence the Italian expression that someone who enjoys lots of brief romantic encounters is “a Don Giovanni.” We might find attention and focus shifting to different kinds of data points if we were to canvass the point of view of a she-librettista. Taken together, we would form a stronger storyline.
Don’t Move has since been made into a movie by actor turned director Sergio Castellito, Mazzantini’s husband. Thus injecting a different point of view on the plot, the story of a tragic romance a surgeon confesses to his comatose fifteen-year old daughter.
In the book Mazzantini plays with the choices people make as they construct narratives, especially what they remember and tell in times of crisis. The book and the movie have received very passionate reviews from both ends of the spectrum — very little in between. The language and the story are memorable, and so is their interpretation. As one of the reviewers put it:
“Penélope is heartbreaking, she’s as great as [Federico Fellini’s wife] Giulietta Masina [in the movie La Strada], what she did for this movie is amazing: a lesson of humbleness, passion and courage.
But beware! Her act of courage is NOT the fact that she became ugly, this is a silly thing which you use to read everywhere, but it’s wrong; to become ugly for a movie, for an actress like her, who then comes back to her natural beauty, is actually a privilege. Her act of courage, instead, was how she succeeded in building her character’s misery: she got on this horse and she did ride on it, without any radar equipment, with a total faith, asking just for one thing: ‘I want to act with my own voice, at any cost’.”
“this is primitive absolution fantasy reasoning. the drama of the story never actually forces the surgeon to transform — or confront himself. everything happens to him, so his pure narcissism (and the audience’s) is never disturbed. his daughter survives so he can put away the bad memory of his crime, and go on and do whatever he wants.”
We likely forget how it was before the popularity of social networks. Now, marketers and business people talk about “consumer generated content,” “crowdsourcing,” and “collaboration,” and are still working out what those terms mean when it comes to the reality of execution. We forget why good disagreement is central to progress.
Mazzantini’s linguistic choices as she represents life stories provide direction. They reveal much of the way of thinking and seeing reality as a woman would — daughter, mother, and wife, etc. [The translations that follow are all mine.] “My gaze,” she says, “is always directed to the human dimension, I see its depth.”
- Living success is like a very long caress — Mazzantini’s ambition is for everyone to read her work, that’s why she was thrilled recently when she discovered that the paperback edition of her famous book was available for 5 Euros. A democratic and all-inclusive way of thinking. Qualities like empathy, perception, intuition, and emotion are still undervalued by businesses. So are imagination and creativity, yet they are the stepping stones to get to innovation.
- Being close to people is better than being recognized — when asked what she was most interested in, she replied that it was mixing up with the world. Piling up in crowded buses and talking to a homeless person are preferable to people pointing her out on the street. In her books, Mazzantini “goes down to hell with her characters and returns after having saved herself along with them.” What’s the best way customer love can help a brand? Engaging with customers is helpful when it helps make products and thinking better.
- Letting things emerge — a writer writes by observing, that’s when they perceive the things of the world so they can write about them. By creating the space to be less busy, we give ourselves to the possibility that answers will emerge. When we deny this possibility we miss important clues. Getting out of the office, taking the time to look and letting what we see inform our thinking do help reality-test our assumptions.
“It takes courage to love. Love today is a battle of an individual against themselves, something that throws you far away from your self… that is capable of throwing your whole existence upside down. Who wants to risk that?”
Women — businesspeople, consumers, stakeholders, advisers, etc. — contribute a valid point of view, and they are looking for places to make a difference beyond influencer programs. In many organizations, we are still alone, together.