Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Morris Number - A Few Questions and Answers (Morris Number 02)

Here are answers to some questions that came up during early discussions of the Morris Number.


Q. How do you define "in a perfect world"?

A. In a perfect world, we can assume that
        1.  men and women receive equal treatment in education and employment,
        2.  the pool of people qualified for top-ranking jobs is half men, half women, and
         3.  women and men are equally likely to hold the top position in any organization.

Q. Why would the average Morris Number in a perfect world be 4.5 rather than a whole number?

A. I state the average Morris Number as 4.5 rather than a whole number to highlight how the number changes depending on Assumption 3. Assume that men and women alternate. If the top person is a woman, the fifth highest ranking woman is at position 9 and the Morris Number is 4. If the top person is a man, then the fifth highest woman is at position 10 and the Morris Number is 5. The average of many companies in the perfect world would be 4.5.

Q. What if the applicant pool is not 50-50?

A. If the applicant pool for top-ranking positions has more men than women, then we would expect the average Morris Number for a group of perfectly non-discriminatory entities to be more than 5. But there is no reason for the applicant pool to be other than 50-50 because in a perfect world there is no sex discrimination: men and women have equal educational and employment opportunities.

The Morris Number was created as a way to measure
        (a) the imperfections of the world, or some subset of it, with regard to gender neutrality, and
        (b) the progress toward perfection as the years go by.


Q. Why look for the fifth highest woman, not the third, say, or the tenth?

A. I hope that the choice of five follows the Goldilocks principle: neither too few nor too many but just right. Using two or three might be affected by the Indira Phenomenon: there might be as many as three women at the power table in some organiations, but the rest of the women would be in the bottom ranks. A number like eight or ten might be a problem in smaller organizations. A metric based on five will, I hope, give useful information about almost all employers.

Q. What about employers with less than five women employees?

A. Employers with less than five women employees and more than ten total employees have a Morris Number of infinity. (Below ten total, we can skip that employer until there are a few more hires.)


Q. Where do I expect to find lower Morris Numbers?

A. Not in Silicon Valley, I'm afraid. Some of the reasons for my low expectations for tech companies are here.
I recently came across the phrase 'homosocial reproduction.' It fits Silicon Valley to a T, or rather it fits Silicon Valley's HR practices to an HR.
My guess is that the best (lowest) Morris Numbers are to be found in companies whose products in the bad old days would have been featured on the women's pages of newspapers: cosmetics, fashion, food, things for children. For a century or more, women started their own companies in those industries. 
         Coco Chanel opened her first shop in 1910.
         Madame C J Walker began her own hair products business in Indiana in 1910.
         In 1945 Ruth Handler co-founded Mattel, a picture-frame company that became a maker of doll-house furniture a year later and then a toy company (and, yes, introduced Handler's invention, the Barbie doll, in 1959).
        Estee Lauder founded the company that bears her name in 1946.
   In the "women's pages" industries, as compared to "man's world" industries (finance, heavy industry, agribusiness) and regardless of the gender of the founder, women were hired more often and more readily, and that, in turn, improved the odds that a woman could rise to a higher position.
In 2013 there were 23 companies in the Fortune 500 that had female CEOs. See below. By my count, six of those companies are in women's pages industries (four in food, one in cosmetics and one in fashion). Five are in tech (software, hardware or both). In 2010, there were 15 companies in the Fortune 500 with female CEOs; by my count, four were in women's pages industries and two in tech. In 2000, the Fortune 500 companies with female CEOs numbered two, three or four, depending on when the count was made, and five different women were involved. Three of them headed companies that make products heavily marketed to women: Mattel (toys: Jill Barad), Avon (cosmetics: Andrea Jung) and Walmart (retail: Jeanne Jackson). The other two were Carly Fiorina at HP and Marion O. Sandler at Golden West Financial.
Second, among the "man's world" companies, the best (lowest) Morris Numbers are more likely to be in older, rust-belt industries rather than 21st century ones.  The older companies, after all, have spent the last half century with the threat of affirmative action lawsuits forcing them to discriminate a little less and a little less openly. Those companies also hire from top business and law schools, and those schools have graduated plenty of women by now. Tech companies may hire fewer lawyers and B-school grads. I have heard that the tech world excuses its failure to hire women on the grounds that women don't get degrees in computer science. Assuming they are correct that women haven't pursued computer science in large enough numbers to make a dent in the Boys' Club culture of Silicon Valley, I can think of some solutions that the biggest employers - Google, Apple, Facebook - could easily afford that would make a dramatic difference pretty quickly. Just ask.

In the post that led to my developing the Morris Number I wrote:
We all know about Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman at HP, and Marissa Mayer formerly at Google now at Yahoo, and Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook. What happens, though, if you look in those companies for the next highest ranking female? How many men do you pass on the way down?
Q. Do you mean that women who get to the top do not help other women?

A. No. That was not my point. The only reason I referred to those famous ladies is to illustrate that a female in the top position does not prove that the company is an equal opportunity employer.

Women do not have to hire and promote *only* women. And the fact is that any new leader has only limited opportunity to create new positions or to replace incumbents. It takes time to create an optimal management team. Sometimes, too, filling positions with outside candidates may not be an option for corporate-cultural reasons. If the company has not promoted women into positions within a few levels of the top, then the internal candidates will all be male.
The 23 Fortune 500 companies with female CEOs, see, last updated December 10, 2013, would be interesting to study with regard to the blame question. See number 13 of my PhD ideas. We do not know those companies' Morris Numbers but we can come up with a Morris-style Number that tells us something about the Fortune 500. If we consider the CEOs of the Fortune 500 as part of a single organization and give them their companies' Fortune 500 rankings, the Morris Number is 38: you pass 38 men on the way to finding the fifth highest company with a woman CEO, 43rd ranked Pepsico's CEO Indra K. Nooyi.
Maybe some women who get to the top are as blind as the men around them to the excellence of women. Maybe not. But until those female CEOs have had their titles for several years, and until the top women are at companies that in the past have consistently promoted women into upper management, the presence or absence of women in other important positions does not prove much about whether women help women.
March 19, 2014; rev 1 20140328,0401; typos fixed 20150223

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