Interview with Charles. A Male Perspective

posted October 25th, 2011 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

I asked Charles to describe his impression of the difference between the experience of a male and a female in the corporate world. He said: “I’m not quick to distinguish by gender, but my experience is that a male tends to be more uni-dimensional in their approach to a problem whereas a female executive is more likely to consider tangential concerns which are relevant to the decision.  Women tend to have a broader focus taking into account factors like the emotional issues related to a decision and how it may affect other people and relationships and whether there are other business considerations.”


In terms of whether he thinks women face obstacles, difficulties and roadblocks in the corporate world which are different from those faced by men Charles said: “I think the evidence speaks for itself.  Women have achieved equal numbers in the professions: law, accounting, and medicine but there are fewer in general corporate leadership, so you have to ask yourself why?  There was a time when I felt it will just be time. Law firms are going to be 50-50 if they’re not already, medicine’s 50-50, so women are in the rightful proportions in those areas, why not in business leadership.  I don’t have a good answer for that.  In my mind, there must be some invisible barriers like some of the networking opportunities that are more difficult for women, some of the private clubs, golfing, stuff like that.  I’ve gone out of my way to encourage women executives but you could look around and ask where they are.  This office is 50-50, male and female, but the executive team is mostly male.  On the general management side, progress has been made but there is much more that needs to be done.”


I asked Charles what he thinks accounts for the lack of progress by women in the corporate world. He said: “I don’t know the answer.  I think there may be a tendency for women to be more consultative and looking for more compromise which lends itself to a 2 i/c and not an i/c position because to some degree the lead dog’s going to have to make the tough decisions and drive on.  Perhaps, whatever physical differences there are between the sexes can explain some of it but I am not certain.”


I asked Charles whether he saw himself as a mentor and if so, how his mentoring relationships had developed and whether he had ever mentored a woman. He said: “I’ve mentored one woman who is a senior financial executive when she was in her thirties.  She was debating whether or not to have a family and I encouraged her. She has a family and she has continued to build a very successful career – now as a CFO.”


I asked Charles what advice he would give to women in the corporate world, in particular young women. He said: “The advice I’ve given to many is not to make it a gender issue, do the job to the best of your ability. I think women sometimes process messages more intensely than men do and sometimes men send a message that’s not intended to be a message, it’s just a statement, and sometimes a woman will look for ancillary meaning in that.  There are some communication differences.  I think you have to be more aggressive in clearing those things up.  If there’s something that is festering, deal with it fast.  In broad generalities, I think men carry grudges less and men don’t think about things as much as women do.  Women are better at feeling and sensing and perceiving than men are generally, but I think it’s all about focusing on the job, because businesses really don’t care whether you’re male or female, it’s about getting the job done, and it’s about getting today’s job done.”


I asked Charles whether he would advise a young woman to establish alliances with other women at their own firm or company or elsewhere. He said: “I think building relationships with other women that are your age and older is a good thing.  It provides you with an interesting support network. Your female network can help you interpret things but it should definitely not be a substitute for building relationships with your male colleagues.  Focus on coffees, lunches, etc and if you must do dinner, be sure there are three of you. It’s not about building a personal relationship, it’s about building a business relationship and you never want that issue to be confused. Networking is really important and I think most successful leaders network aggressively. I focused on breakfasts, coffees and lunches.  I never did dinners or hockey games, as evenings were always my family time, but I did see a lot of people during the day and I would encourage any young person, regardless of gender, to do that.”


I asked Charles what motivated him to see people and continue to network at this stage in his working life. He said: “Any business leader’s job is mostly sales because you’re always selling your idea, your business, your product, yourself.  You’re always communicating – selling or soliciting ideas and you can’t do it over the phone or on the internet. You have to see someone in person and tell them what you’re doing. You should be out and about as much as you can. I don’t care what you do.”


Charles continued: In my current CEO role, I spend as much time as I can out talking about what we do and what we’re looking for.  I’m always trying to pitch the business but invariably you talk about yourself, you talk about the person you’re meeting with, you learn something, you hear something. The successful female executive is no different from the successful male executive. She should be out and about.  I think there’s a high correlation between the ability to meet other people and success.  It’s just getting out.  It’s not dinners and it’s not going away on golf weekends.”


I asked Charles whether his advice to a young man would be different. He said it would not. He said: “My advice to young people these days is all the same.  Everybody I talk to seems to want to talk about what they’re going to be doing five years from now or when do they get to become a Vice-President or when do they become whatever and I think people forget the core job is to show excellence at what you’re doing this week. I think too much time is spent thinking about the future, to the detriment of people thinking about the job at hand. In my opinion, many in this generation feel more entitled than the previous one and seem more concerned about whether they are getting ahead fast enough. I think whether you’re 24 or 40, if you do what you’re doing with passion and you succeed at what you’re doing today, everybody knows. Those are the people that get ahead, not the people that want to get ahead or feel entitled to get ahead.”


I asked Charles what he thought I was going to ask him that I hadn’t asked. He said: “It is a disappointment to me that there’s not more women in general management.  The core success factors of business are common sense and some sales ability.  I always felt, and this shows my bias, that women make exceptional managers as they tend to have a broader ability to understand the environment which means dealing with their customers better. The vast majority of business leadership today would love to see more women at the top.  If there’s a silver bullet that would allow more women to succeed, we’d use it. I think it’s a lack of understanding as to what, if any, institutional barriers women face and how to get rid of those barriers which is part of the problem.”


I asked Charles what he would want me to know on this topic that he hadn’t talked about. He said: “I am hopeful in time that we can encourage more women to make their careers in business leadership.  I don’t want to play with half the team because we want to have the best and brightest.  I don’t care whether they’re male or female. It makes no difference to me at all. We want the best people, the most effective, most innovative, etc, and if there are obstacles in the way, I’d like to know what those are, and do our best to fix them!”


What Strikes Me?

Women tend to have a broader focus when making decisions and solving problems


Have women achieved equal representation at the leadership level in the professions of law, accounting and medicine?


Do women have the strength and toughness to make the type of decisions required of corporate leaders at the top of the house?


Focus on the job at hand, not your gender and gender issues


What are the differences between the sexes, in terms of communication, problem solving and leadership styles, if any?


Networking is critical


Building relationships with other women cannot be to the exclusion of the main game which is building relationships with the people in your business


What Strikes You?


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