Keynote Address

When Laura asked me to speak with you today, she told me that she wanted me to talk about women’s issues, rather than the PCAOB.  To say that I was thrilled would be putting it mildly.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy talking about the PCAOB, am proud of our work, and I’d certainly be happy to answer any questions you might have in this regard.  But I am truly excited about the opportunity to talk to you about experiences that we, as professional women, share; experiences that go far beyond issues concerning quality reviews, internal control, or options backdating.

Before I begin I must remind you that the views I express today are my own, and not necessarily those of the PCAOB, my colleagues on the Board, or our staff.  Please understand that this disclaimer is to protect the PCAOB, not me.  I own my words, and I urge you to hold me accountable for them.  I simply ask that you not hold the PCAOB accountable.

The most important thing that you need to know about me is that I come from a female-dominated family.  The men in my family – my father, brother, uncles, cousins and nephews – are all wonderfully intelligent and talented people, with strong and independent characters.  However, they are significantly outnumbered by equally smart, talented, strong and independent women who (coincidentally I hope) also tend to live longer.  Let me illustrate my point: my grandmother, in referring to my relationship with my husband, gave me important words to live by.  She said, in her straight-talking Kansas farm-wife way, “Don’t get too attached to him; they all die before you do, you know.”  The fact that she imparted this wisdom to me on my wedding day makes the warning all the more … tender? 

In my matriarchal family, we place women into two categories.  (I know; stereotyping is bad.  But, as I’m among friends, please allow me this indiscretion – just for today.)  In my family, women are either “broads” or they are “chicks.”  Sometimes, the category of broads is alternatively described as “dames,” but I see this more as a regional choice than a true distinction.  Also, young “chicks” are sometimes referred to as “chick-lets,” but I assure you that none of these terms are intended to convey any disrespect.  Both broads and chicks play important roles in both my family and our society; neither is more significant or “better” than the other.

Broads, broadly speaking, care more about being right than being liked.  Broads work to win, even if they sometimes pay too high a cost to do so.  Broads can see far into their future, and they work hard to achieve the goals that they set for themselves.  They are perceived as not needing, to any significant extent, the emotional support of others.  We (and if you haven’t guessed by now, I am a broad) are often seen as the bulls in a china shop.[1]

labrynth symbol

Let’s look at some broads from history.  The first that comes to my mind is Medusa.  No, a broad is not always signified by serpent hair and the ability to turn men into stone simply by having them peer into her face.  In truth, Medusa first appeared in the Stone Age (or between 40,000 and 10,000 b.c.) ; her name means “sovereign female wisdom,” and her power was originally represented in the labyrinth (the symbol of complexity), and by other designs depicting female physical attributes.[2]

Medusa

It wasn’t until first millennia Greece, as the concept of a Supreme Father replaced that of a Sacred Mother Deity, that poor Medusa was re-characterized into the horribly ugly figure that we recognized today. The image of female wisdom (and the potential of women) was silenced by Perseus. Ironically, Perseus was only able to defeat Medusa with the help of another broad – Athena – who used Medusa’s decapitated but still-powerful head to fight her enemies.[3]

Miriam

Moving along in history, the Bible describes at least two women who were definitely broads.  It took the courage and ingenuity of a young woman – Miriam – to save her baby brother Moses; Miriam later became a leader among the Jews during the Exodus. [4]   Unique among all of the women of the Bible was Deborah who was “prophetess, judge and military leader all into one.”[5]  Such a triad of power was even unusual for biblical men.

Deborah

More recently, is there any doubt that Eleanor Roosevelt, Barbara Jordon, Barbara Bush or Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton are (or were) broads?  And of course, my Grammy will always be my ultimate broad role model.

Grammy

Chicks are different.  Chicks look to others to help them achieve their goals; they don’t rely on others to solve their problems, but they leverage off of a strong support group.  They see “winning” as a complex integration of multiple factors (such as attaining a consistently loyal network of friends and colleagues), rather than a single act or event (such as a promotion or new account).  Chicks tend to be “liked” more than broads, not necessarily because they seek it but because they are perceived as more likeable.  They are also perceived as needing the emotional support of others.  Rather than a donkey in Pottery Barn®, they are the graceful dancers in life.  One of my nieces – a very tough and disciplined young woman – is a chick, and her mother describes her as “sucking the energy out of the room when she enters.”  She does this not through any conscious effort, but simply by being

 

The Muses

Consider important chicks from history.  Contrasting with the mythical Medusa are the muses, the nine goddesses of inspiring springs.  They ultimately became known as the representatives of poetry (both pastoral and erotic), the arts and science.[6] 

But, of course, even the beauty of the muses changes with age.

And while Miriam and Deborah were broads, Esther was definitely a chick.  Esther, whose husband divorced his first wife because she was disobedient, became Queen of Persia.  She appears in the Bible as a "woman of deep piety, faith, courage, patriotism, and caution, combined with resolution; a dutiful daughter to her adopted father, docile and obedient to his counsels, and anxious to share the king's favor with him for the good of the Jewish people. There must have been a singular grace and charm in her aspect and manners, since 'she obtained favor in the sight of all that looked upon her' (Esther 2:15)."[7]

 

Worn statues of the Muses.

The chicks of more recent times include Dolley Madison, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Senator Blanche Lincoln, and Laura Bush.

Esther

It is clear from this list of women – and from all of the important women that time prevents me from listing – that dancers are indeed tough and that donkeys also have feelings.  All of these women were and are important to their times and all of them were (and are) unconventional in some way.  It’s also clear that none of us are wholly either a broad or a chick.  Due probably to both nature and nurture, we are each a unique combination of characteristics.  While broads and chicks do interact with people differently, as women we are more similar than we are different.  We share the common experiences of having gender-related obstacles put in our way, and of having to overcome those barriers.  The type of woman that we are influences how we approach and deal with barriers, but not the fact that the barriers exist.  As women we also share the common goal of a world where gender, at least in all income-producing activities – is a neutral factor.  To respectfully borrow from Martin Luther King, Jr., we share a dream in which our daughters are not judged by the absence of a Y chromosome, but by the content of their character.  This dream cannot allow us to fight among ourselves, simply because of differing personality traits.

"I am not an expert on breaking the so-called “glass ceiling."  But I have enough experience to believe three things.

First, I believe that today – almost a century after the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote – this ceiling continues to exist.  While 6 out of every 10 adult women work at least full-time,[8]the majority of these women are still in traditional “female” occupations.[9]  As such, women continue to be much farther removed from the higher paying jobs.[10]  In 1960, women earned only 61 cents for every dollar earned by men.  In 2003, that number had increased to 76 cents.[11] 

Bar graph from Wage Gap showing men just under $40,000 and women slightly over $30,000.While it is gratifying to see the gap closing, we must not lose sight of the fact that it took 43 years for women to gain another 15 cents. Two additional facts place these statistics into an even more somber perspective. First, the narrowing of the wage gap is not due solely to an increase in women’s salary; it is due also to the deterioration of men’s salaries. Men’s wages peaked in 1973 at $38,630 (in 1998 dollars) and (at least through April of last year) have been lower ever since.[12] Second, and all the more sobering, is the realization that at our current pace, we will not gain the 24 cents necessary to close the gap for another 90 years.

Closer to home, women corporate officers and accountants still have far to go. In 2005, women held 16.4% of corporate officer positions in Fortune 500 companies, representing only seven-tenths of a percentage point increase from 2002.[13] Another distressing thought: in the last three years, the average growth in the percentage of women corporate officers fell dramatically to less than a quarter of a percentage point per year, the lowest yearly gain the past ten years.[14]

Change in Percentage of Corporate Officer Positions Held by Women, 1995-2005

Year % of Corp. Officer Positions Held by Women Change in Percentage
1995 8.7%  
1996 10.0% 1.3
1997 10.6% 0.6
1998 11.2% 0.6
1999 11.9% 0.7
2000 12.7% 0.6
2001 n/a 1.6[15]
2002 15.7% 1.6
2003 n/a 0.23
2004 n/a 0.23
2005 16.4% 0.23

In looking at the percentage of women in leadership roles within Corporate America, we can see that women still have a long way to go.  Women occupy only 1.6% of Fortune 500 CEO positions, and only 14.7% of board seats in these companies.[16] 

Your profession reveals equally chilling statistics.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau (and based on 1999 data), women between the ages of 35 and 54 with a Bachelor’s degree or higher who work as accountants or auditors represent 42.6% of the profession and earn only 72.9 cents of every dollar earned by their male counterparts.[17]  According to a recent study conducted with the support of the AICPA’s Work/Life and Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee, women make up 19% of all public accounting firms’ partners; while this is up from 12% a decade ago, the pace of advancement – 7 percentage points in 10 years – is disheartening.[18]

My second fundamental belief is that the glass ceiling – despite our shared dream – is unlikely to ever be completely shattered.  Women and men are inherently different, physiologically and psychologically.  Just as more women than men will likely always think that they eat too much[19], men will likely always dominate occupations requiring significant physical strength.[20]  Moreover, although I began our discussion by stereotyping women into two broad categories (which I hope I later clarified was more for the purpose of showing similarities than differences), one of the biggest weight-bearing beams supporting the glass ceiling are old stereotypes regarding the differences between men and women.  In a study published in 2005 by Catalyst, and sponsored by General Motors Corporation, researchers concluded that:

Pyramid diagram showing stated text figures.

“Even though analyses of more than 40 studies of leadership, spanning more than 15 years, fail to support their perceptions, women leaders are still judged better at ‘caretaking’ leader behaviors and men better at ‘take charge’ behaviors.”[21]

These perceptions (which, if we are completely honest with ourselves, many in this room may believe are generally accurate) are further complicated by the fact that men and women communicate differently.  Research by Deborah Tannen, a Georgetown University Professor of Linguistics, suggests that men typically communicate in a style that reinforces their dominance, while women typically communicate with a goal of cooperation.  She calls these styles “report-talk” versus “rapport-talk.”[22]  My own personal conclusion is that the manner in which men and women communicate is a factor, perhaps along with others, that is embedded in our culture; it’s not something that can easily change, even from one generation to the next.

What can change, however, is our culture’s perception as to what makes an effective leader.  We can change our perception that a “rapport-talker” is inherently inferior to a “report-talker.”  Let us return to the 2005 Catalyst/GM report, which notes that:
            “We often think of leaders as dominant and ambitious – as embodying qualities that closely match the stereotype of men.  On the other hand, the traits that make up the feminine stereotype (e.g., friendliness and sensitivity) are seen as less vital to leadership.  These stereotypes result in women being evaluated less positively than men for leadership positions.”  [Citations omitted.][23]

This leads me to my third fundamental belief.  While the inherent differences that exist between men and women may – at least for my lifetime – support the continued existence of a glass ceiling, we – today and now – can take steps to weaken it.  Incrementally we can move the ceiling ever higher, with each generation getting closer and closer to our shared dream. 

How?  Those women who have attained high leadership status can provide us with insights.  Anecdotally, we can probably agree that the broads and the chicks that we discussed earlier were all unconventional women for their time.  They were provocative, even if their challenge of norms was so subtle that we can only recognize it with the benefit of hindsight.

From a more empirical perspective, in 2000 The Winds of Change Foundation collaborated with the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley to study the experiences of well-recognized women leaders.  Sixty prominent women were interviewed, including elected officials, college presidents, authors, artists, and leaders in various professions.  The study found that all of these women were tenacious and optimistic.  They paid little attention to the obstacles placed before them in their work life.  Whether they stuck to their original plans in the face of obstacles or charted a new course, optimism and a sense of mission propelled their actions.  They had the capacity to identify their strengths, and the ability to capitalize on them.  They embraced the comment that “modesty does not create opportunity.”[24] 

Pay it forward diagram

With this in mind, I leave you all with a challenge.  How many of you have seen the movie, “Pay it Forward”?  For those of you who haven’t, it’s the story of a remarkable young boy who, as part of a civics class lesson, decides that the world would be better if every person who has some important favor done for him commits to “pay it forward” by doing an equally important favor for someone else.  I propose that each of us in this room commit today to do one thing this year to push the glass ceiling a little bit higher.  Agree to serve on a board, whether it’s for a public for-profit company or a non-profit one.  Work to increase the women in your partnership ranks, and on your executive or management committees.  Look for ways to increase access to college and post-graduate studies for younger women with fewer means.  Strengthen your own leadership skills.  But, if you agree to do this, one year’s worth of work will not be enough.  Make a similar commitment next year, and the year after that.  Let’s make our own version of an annual “pay it forward” for our sisters, our daughters, and our granddaughters.

Experts advise that one should end a speech with a memorable or inspirational quote.  My first brings me back to Grammy, who often said “Quit whining and get back to work.”  This may be memorable, but I never found it particularly inspirational.  So let me instead quote Dr. Freeman Hrabowski (the President of the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus), who urged graduating students to:
"Remember to watch your thoughts, for they become your words.  Watch your words, for they become your actions. Watch your actions, for they become your habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, because it becomes your destiny."[25]

Thank you.


[1] I realize that this idiom is not exactly gender appropriate.  When I searched for an alternative, I learned that the phrase comes from Aesop’s fables.  This particular fable started out as a “donkey in a pottery shop,” and was later changed when fragile china was introduced to Europe.  Since learning this, I’ve been struggling with whether to refer instead to a broad as an “ass in Pottery Barn®,” but I’m not sure that is any better. 

[2] See http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/classes/finALp.html.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Exodus 15:19-21.

[5] See http://www.keyway.ca/htm2000/20000514.htm. See also Judges 4:4-5.

[6] See http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/bl/bl_myth_europe_grecoroman_muses.htm.

[7] http://christiananswers.net/dictionary/esther.html.

[8] Women and Men in the United States: March 2002 (U.S. Census Bureau, March 2003), p.1

[9] Id. at p. 3.  See also Fighting the Wage Gap – A Women Work! Initiative (April 2005), p. 4 (concluding that almost 25% of all working women are in office and administrative support jobs; another 25% are in “professional and related” occupations, over half of which are nurses and teachers); and Evidence Form Census 2000 About Earnings by Detailed Occupation for Men and Women (U.S. Census Bureau, May 2004), pp. 10-11.

[10] Women and Men in the United States, supra at p. 4.

[11] See Fighting the Wage Gap, supra at p. 3.

[12] Ibid.

[13] 2005 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earnings of the Fortune 500 (Catalyst, 2006), p. 6.

[14] Ibid.

[15] In 2001, 2003 and 2004, Catalyst did not conduct a census of corporate officers.  The 2001 and 2002 change in percentage was averaged over two years as (15.7-12.5)/2.  The change in percentage for 2003 – 2005 change in percentage was averaged over three years as (16.4-15.7)/3.

[16] 2005 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners of the Fortune 500, Executive Summary, p.5.

[17] Evidence From Census 2000 About Earnings by Detailed Occupation for Men and Women (U.S. Census Bureau, May 2004), p. 16.

[18] See http://www.webcpa.com (June 29, 2006).

[19] According to a 2006 survey by the Pew Research Institute, 61% of women report that they often or sometimes eat more than they should.  (http://pewresearch.org/social/pack.php?PackID=9).

[20] Evidence From Census 2000, supra at p. 10.

[21] Women “Take Care,” Men “Take Charge:” Stereotyping of U.S. Business Leaders Exposed (Catalyst, 2005), p. 12.

[22] Deborah Tannen, PhD, You Just Don’t Understand Me: Men and Women in Conversation (Morrow, 1990), pp. 24-25.

[23] Id., at p. 7.

[24] See http://www.wcwonline.org/archive/womenleaders-se.html.

[25] Commencement Speech by Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III, at Brooklyn College (May 30, 2002).