December 18, 2006

A clue as to why there are so few women CEOs

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.)

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

I'm British with US connections. Something I've noticed about female command presence, and your two examples Thatcher & Redgrave demonstrate, is that fcp seems to be far more common in Britain than in America. There seems to be a major cultural difference at work here - I often describe the US as "patriarchal" where Britain is "matriarchal", but that's probably simplistic, it's not just simple sexism. I don't think women are taken seriously in leadership positions in the USA, and I think there is a difference from the USA. Some other countries also seem relatively accepting of female leadership, eg India.

Unlike the USA, Britain has traditionally been tolerant of eccentricity, and that may give women more space to show masculine virtues. Britain may however be becoming more like America; since New Labour took power women politicians here are increasingly expected to be 'soft'; emotional and feminine, rather than doughty Thatcher-style battleaxes, and this means they're taken less seriously as potential leaders.

Anonymous said...

Here's a Guardian (boo! hiss!) article on 'alpha females':,3604,1046938,00.html

Sorry, I haven't mastered html yet.

Anonymous said...

Height is a factor in command presence.

Ted Heistman said...

Does Hillary have command presence?

Seems like all the successful women on t.v. Oprah, Martha Stewart...irk me.

Maybe Guys just don't like taking leadership queues from women period.

At most I think women can have a great level of expertise and if accompanied by a gracious attitude, men will respect their opinion. As far as commanding women, I think only weak men would be drawn to their leadership.

Vol-in-Law said...

The Guardian article seems pretty hostile to the alpha-female concept, being cultural-Marxist in tone, but I think it's example of Dolly Parton is about as close to a true alpha female as US culture is likely to produce. The Hillary Clinton model certainly doesn't work.
I think this is a problem for the US military in particular - Dolly Parton is a successful businesswoman, but she's probably not a realistic model of leadership for a military officer. That said, Elizabeth I did have some Partonesque features in her leadership style...

In fact I think the male-female antagonism in US society is disastrous for female leadership; the US military overcame the US's racial antagonism but I don't know if that can be repeated re gender. I guess holding everyone to the same physical standard in basic training would eliminate the "women are weak" meme, just as the military's use of IQ testing eliminated the "blacks are less intelligent" meme, so that might be a way forward.

Vol-in-Law said...

"Maybe Guys just don't like taking leadership queues from women period."

I think though that's far more true of the USA, and US men & women, than it is of the UK.

It's not just that US men are more sexist, US women in positions of power seem different too. I'm British, I wouldn't want to take orders from Hillary Clinton or her ilk, but I'd take them from Thatcher & her ilk. Australia BTW seems more like the UK, the strong woman leader seems far more acceptable there.

Jewish Atheist said...

I think Hillary has it more than Kerry, Gore, Mondale, Dukakis, Kucinich and those guys. I posted my plea a while ago: Democrats, Stop Nominating Pussies!

I think Obama's got it, Gore is learning it, and Edwards may have enough.

Anonymous said...

Life as an intelligent nice guy is only about 2/3 lived. "nice guy" isn't the opposite of presence, it's the opposite of "malehood": physical confidence in confrontations, inner toughness, at least a moderate disregard for consequences. At the end of Bonfire, Sherman McCoy is sucked down and begins behaving like the street people he had feared. But at the same time he acquires a bit of admirable malehood and seems infinitely happier stripped of the good life but knowing he's a man (with nothing to lose but his character, which couldn't be taken away). There is just something satisfying about stretching out and exercising the malehood. I know a female CEO with oustanding personal presence (she has the Bill Clinton variety: collagen filled face, extroversion, high energy), but her occasionally girlish behavior causes people to lose respect for her. It may be that leadership often (though not always) requires a bit of male swagger, and women don't have this.

Anonymous said...

Command presence. That is an interesting concept to look into further.

Also, correlations between command presence and IQ. Blacks seem to have more command presence on average than whites do, who in turn have more than Mexicans or Asians. Not too much IQ correlation from what I can see. This does, however, seem to dovetail perfectly over what race tends to get more of what other race's women.

Personally, I only really have it if I know exactly what I'm doing or it's a subject I know really well. Otherwise, I'm more passive and quiet.

Anonymous said...

as an addendum to my malehood comment, I also know a male CEO lacking in external presence, but who, among other qualities, inspires a great sense of respect. Everyone knows, for example, that he will fire a more or less indispensable employee if given what most would consider a below average level of cause. It's a combination of greater than average anger at the cause and "damn the consequences" attitude. I've never seen a woman exhibit this kind of behavior.

Anonymous said...

There is just something satisfying about stretching out and exercising the malehood.

Yes, quite.

Ted Heistman said...

Could having a Queen as a symbolic leader be a factor in the UK?

With a Queen in power a female prime minister is not incongruous.

Anonymous said...

Voice training with an acting coach might be an effective means of acquiring Command Presence. One common characteristic I've noticed in leader types is the ability to project one's voice without having to speak loudly. It may be theorectically possible to be soft-spoken yet have Command Presence, but it surely isn't likely.

Iron Rails & Iron Weights

Tom Merle said...

No one has mentioned the impact of testosterone, whose effects can be summarized as ~command presence~, plus a few side effects like bouts of rage and higher levels of horniness.

Though SS is somewhat dismissive, have a look at Andrew Sullivan's illuminating NY Times Magazine essay The He Hormone

Anonymous said...

an interracial comparison of testosterone levels would be interesting. I can guess why asians are generally smaller and thinner.

Steve Sailer said...

The suggestions about voice training is interesting. The British "public school" system of private schools had as one of its major objectives the production of graduates with voices that elicited respect and subordination. There's not much of that going on in U.S. education, but if you could tutor your kids to have an impressive voice, they might go farther.

Anonymous said...

How can you tell that Thatcher has command presence if you have never experienced her without knowing who she is? If your only experience of Margaret Thatcher is that you have seen her as a Prime Minister then doesn't your knowledge of her position influence your perception of her?

And how can you suggest that an actress playing a role is a person with command presence?

I disagree with your entire thesis on the relationship between command presence and corporate success but I'm even more appalled by your examples. Very fluffly stuff.