Here we are, three dozen years into the feminist era, and only 1.6% of chief executive officers of Fortune 500 firms are women. The NYT runs a long article entitled "How Suite It Isn’t: A Dearth of Female Bosses" complaining about that fact. One vignette in it, however, might reveal more than the journalist thinks:
"Carol Bartz, the former chief executive of Autodesk, said that it was not uncommon for men in business meetings to assume that she was an office assistant, not a fellow corporate executive."
Of course, the NYT interprets this as proof of male bigotry. But another interpretation would be that Ms. Bartz, and possibly many another female executive who otherwise has the requisite smarts and work ethic to make it to the top, lacks what the Marines call "command presence."
Some men and a few women have the kind of personal bearing that advertises to others that you are in charge and that they should follow your lead.
This reminds me of when I was applying for a job in 1982 at the new marketing research firm I ended up working at for a decade and a half, on and off. The vice-chairman was a professor of marketing, so the HR department gave me his Marketing Research 301 exam as a job qualification test, which turned out to be quite difficult. While I was struggling over it, a man walked in and said, "Hi, I'm John M." I had never heard the name before and my first reaction was annoyance at his breaking my concentration. But, my second reaction, a tenth of a second later, was that whoever this guy was, judging just from how he said those four words, that he absolutely radiated power and leadership. He is obviously a Big Man. So, I'd better give him all the time he wants. Not surprisingly, he turned out to be the founder and chairman of the board, perhaps the most important figure in the marketing research industry in the 1980s, and my boss for many years.
Now, if Ms. Bartz was the CEO and she had walked in on me, yes, I might have assumed she was from HR and wanted me to fill in some forms, so the whole encounter would have gone differently.
A minority of females do have command presence. Mrs. Thatcher has it in spades. Vanessa Redgrave can turn it on any time she wants (for example, in her fairly minor role in "Howard's End" she completely dominates the screen for the few minutes she's on, quite unbalancing the story). It just another trait that's distributed stochastically, with some demographics groups having more than others. Unfortunately, contemporary intellectuals are completely befuddled by how to think about the omnipresent reality of probability distributions that aren't identical.
A majority of males lack command presence. God knows, I don't have any at all. Indeed, one reason I've become rather reclusive since ending my corporate career in 2000, and now prefer to deal with people in cyberspace rather than in reality is because my real life nice guy personality means I get pushed around by other people more than I prefer. Mental quickness is important for command presence, but I'm not quick in interpersonal situations. I'm more interested in how deep I can push my thinking, which means I'm unimpressive in real time. So, I greatly appreciate the asynchronous nature of cyberspace, since I can take whatever time I require to think through an idea. (Which is why I hate instant messaging.)