Friday, 24 June 2011

Number of women, not IQ, determines how smart a group is.

I know I've discussed this before but the evidence just gets more and more fascinating.
What makes a group (such as a board) really smart?
It’s not their collective intelligence but a high level of emotional intelligence. 
Studies show that:
  • Groups that are really effective listen to each other.
  • They share constructive criticism.
  • They have open minds.
  • They’re not autocratic.
  • They have an equal distribution of conversational turn-taking.
When I reported to the Financial Services Research Forum last year that having three women on a company board tripled profitability, I didn’t realise what a huge topic this would become. Since my paper on the topic was published in Significance, more research has come to light that’s even more fascinating.
Imagine that you have a really smart bunch of people in the room. 
How would you measure their collective intelligence? The straightforward answer might to be measure the IQ of each individual, then work out the average to obtain the group IQ.
Not just small and smug-looking....
It turns out that IQ scores tell us nothing about the intelligence of the group.
One other factor does. 
The number of women in the group. 
No kidding.
Professor Anita Woolley of Carnegie Mellon gave subjects aged 18 to 60 IQ tests and assigned them randomly to teams. Each team completed several tasks, like brainstorming, decision making, visual puzzles—and had to solve one complex problem. The intelligence scores of the groups were calculated, based on their performance.
You might expect teams whose members had higher IQs to have scored highest. 
They didn’t.
The teams with more women did.
An amazing finding. When Anita Woolley published this in Science* and was interviewed for the Harvard Business Review she said:
You realize you’re saying that groups of women are smarter than groups of men.
Woolley: Yes… part of that finding can be explained by differences in social sensitivity, which we found is also important to group performance. Many studies have shown that women tend to score higher on tests of social sensitivity than men do. So what is really important is to have people who are high in social sensitivity, whether they are men or women.
As I said in my previous posts, it's diversity not expertise that makes the group effective. I'll shut up now. Perhaps ;)
*Science 29 October 2010: Vol. 330 no. 6004 pp. 686-688 

Monday, 20 June 2011

Could George Osborne scrap higher rate tax relief on pensions?

Simonne updates us on pension changes that could be coming our way:

Yesterday’s Telegraph reported that George Osborne is in talks to discuss scrapping higher rate tax relief on pension contributions.

This means that if you’re in the higher rate tax bracket (earning over £43,875) you would only get back 20p for every £1 paid into a pension, and not 40p if you’re a 40% taxpayer or 50p if you’re a 50% taxpayer (with pre-tax earnings above £150,000).

In April this year, the government cut the amount you can save into a pension each year from £255,000 to £50,000. Scrapping higher rate tax relief would apparently save the government a further £7bn a year, helping towards funding the deficit, or boosting the state pension by up to 50%.

So, should we be taking this seriously? 
It’s certainly not the first time this option has been considered. 
If you would be affected by such a change, you could think about paying more into your pension now before the rules change. Only do this if you can afford to and if you’re happy tying up the money.

Meanwhile, the government is being urged to rethink its plans to increase the state pension age for women to 66. 
A debate is taking place today on the pensions bill.

The time scale for raising women’s state pension age in line with men’s has already accelerated – it’s now due to rise to 65 by 2018 (2 years earlier than originally planned). 
Women born between March 6th and April 5th 1954 will be the worst affected. 
But now plans are afoot to raise women’s state retirement age to 66 from 2020. 
This doesn’t allow women anywhere near enough time to plan for a later retirement age. As you can imagine, there have been major uproars about this and it is being debated today. We’ll find out later on if the vote gets passed by the House of Commons.

You can read the Telegraph’s full report on this here.

Thanks Simonne for keeping us up-to-date with the changes and living up to your name (Wise Monkey)! 
More sensible and topical advice on Simonne's website.

Friday, 17 June 2011


Did you know women buy half their body weight in clothes every year? We're lucky enough to have a guest blog here from Kate Nightingale, Style Psychologist, with great tips on how to spend wisely when adding more weight to your wardrobe this summer! We've also added some extra cheap fashion tips at the end - for those on a strict budget.

Kate recommends:
Kate Nightingale, Style Psychologist

You leave home in the morning and the sun is shining. You look up and feel the warmth of the sunshine on your face and almost instinctively start to smile. Yes, summer’s here!
You smile when seeing the sun but do you smile when dressing up in the morning? Do you think you need more money to achieve the right look? You really don’t need to spend a fortune. I've created 5 summer looks here all under £200, so you don’t have to feel guilty after spending your hard-earned money.

This trend is all about crisp and sharp lines. The clothes are simple and elegant in white with ecru and cream. A cool look for hot city days, though I wouldn’t advice this trend for lawyers, accountants and finance specialist. White, in these professions, still seems to be reserved for informal occasions.
Make this trend work with a white suit that you look good in, accessorised with a simple white top and sandals.
Kate has chosen Mango white Nastacia suit – jacket £89.90 and trousers £49.90, white cotton vest by H&M £5.99 and simple beige sandals by H&M £24.99. 
The total for this look is £170.78.

A fun trend for summer! There are plenty of flowers around at this time of year, why not get some florals into your wardrobe too? A truly perennial trend  that will come back every spring/summer season.
Here I've created an outfit that is simple, elegant and understated. You can wear floral trends on the beach easily, but this shows you how to make it work for the evening. 
Kate has put together Monsoon fusion kew embroidered dress £85, Zara patent sandal with jewel and bow £59.99 with a Monsoon brooch gold clutch £35 and chandelier earrings £12. 
The total for the outfit is £191.99.
A statement a trend for the woman who wants to be seen. The colours are bright and the combinations striking. An elegant and comfortable look for people working in fashion or media, though perhaps only the bravest city workers.
Kate has put together Zara double cloth pink skirt £25.99, red loose top £29.99, satin colour block sandal £39.99, patent red shoulder bag £39.99. 
The total for the look is £135.96.

A trend that adapts easily to any body shape and occasion. It’s ideal for weekends but equally suitable for a summer day in the city.The basic colours are white, navy and red. The dominant patterns are stripes.
This is a weekend look that's casual but still elegant.
Kate has put together Mango white jeans £24.90, Esprit navy striped jumper £14.99, Kurt Geiger red patent pumps £75 and Ted Baker Ikon red handbag £24.50. 
All together £139.39.

A decade of hippies and disco freaks. It’s full of floral and ethnic patterns, maxi dresses, platform shoes and big accessories. The colours are quite natural, browns, oranges, reds, yellows and greens.  Make this look work by sticking with basic garments and investing in accessories. Or get the full look by investing in a pattered garment and adding lot of cheaper accessories.
Kate has combined H&M floral print maxi dress in dirty orange £29.99, Miss KG brown platform sandals £45 and some H&M accessories, ethnic bracelets £6.99, feather necklace £5.99 and faux crystal ring £3.99. 
Definitely the cheapest trend at only £91.96. 

Thank you to Kate,  whose passion is helping women to express themselves through their own personal style.

See her website

Don't be tempted to buy more clothes if you're already in debt or have a bulging wardrobe and a cash crisis. Here are some Sheconomical tips for the cash-strapped fashionista....

  • Trousers getting worn out or too hort can be cut-down into summer shorts - wear  with opaque tights on less-than sunny days
  • Whites, such as blouses and t-shirts, can be given a new lease of life by using a whitener in the wash (try Dylon Ultra Whitener)
  • A cheap length of bright ethnic fabric works well as a sarong, shawl or wrap-round top
  • Jaded or boring garments can be revived by dyeing them bright funky colours 

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Boards and dinner parties.

Boards are a bit like dinner parties.
That’s what I told a group of company secretaries from FTSE 100 companies yesterday, when I was invited to speak at a seminar organised by Capita Registrars. The topic was women on boards, based on a paper I have just had published in Significance, the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society.

I was thinking about a dinner party I gave on Saturday night. Apart from the fact that it was exhausting (I seemed to spend most of Saturday slow-roasting a tomato) I was mindful of a statistic I’d come across in a recent survey. It said:
1 in 10 people would rather go to the dentist than go to a dinner party.
Perhaps they’d been to one of mine.

In fact the evening hummed along nicely, with Mike and Barbara, a lovely couple from work. My friend Jayne who’s a life coach and her husband Neil who works for a charity. Then there was my Geoff, who’s an antiques dealer and his wife Julianne. She’s a counsellor.

The evening was fine. Probably because we’re all quite similar. We share the same values and beliefs. We all prefer Sauvignon blanc to Chardonnay and agree on where to buy the  best Parmiggiano Reggiano in London (at Camisa’s in Old Compton Street).

In short, we’re very comfortable in each other’s presence because we’re all white, middle-class, heterosexual baby-boomers from St Albans.

Not surprising that we all found ourselves around the same table. Psychological studies show that we seek out people who are like ourselves. Research from the University of Chicago even shows we are more likely to fall in love with someone who looks like us. At a social level, hanging out with like-minded people means we can affirm our own beliefs and values. We can confirm that we’re right in what we think.

But it does mean, if we’re not careful, that the conversation revolves around the topics we all know and care about. We’re in our comfort zone – sharing common ground with people who think like us.

But it’s when we do something different and put ourselves in the discomfort zone that growth and development happens.  
I asked myself after Saturday night whether I should have invited a more mixed group. Why, for example, didn’t I invite my neighbour’s son who’s an aspiring poet and unemployed? Or the lovely Indian couple I see every week at Tai Chi?

How on earth am I going to have my own values challenged, and see the world as it is for other people, if I only hang out with like-minded people who are clones of myself?


I think the same is true of boards. They’re a bit like dinner parties (except no-one’s had to slow roast a tomato and probably a little less Sauvignon Blanc gets consumed)….but they tend to recruit members who are just like them.

About ten years ago the Norwegian Trade and Industry manager, Asnager Gabrielsen noted that boards were mostly made up of men with very similar views and backgrounds who went hunting and fishing together.

This meant there was a huge risk of group-think in the boards’ decision-making processes, and a real lack of diverse perspectives. 

Norway brought in laws stating that board membership should be at least 40% female.

Since then Norway has enjoyed 3% economic growth and an 11% budget surplus, while many of its European neighbours were still in the depths of economic recession.

Some boards in the UK probably still resemble those that worried the Norwegians. To borrow a phrase from my friend Alan Newman, they are mostly male, pale and stale.
Let’s look at the stats:
  •          Only 13.4% of FTSE 100 company directors are women.
  •          And 14 of those companies have all male boards.

 Yet the evidence for women on the board boosting company performance is compelling (the recent Lord Davies report acknowledges this) even if you ignore the Norwegian example.

  •          A study by Pepperdine University had shown that companies with just 3 women on the board of directors outperformed the competition on all measures by at least 40%.
  •        Data from Gavurin Intelligence showed that a board that’s 30% female triples a company’s profitability.

      Whilst this is correlational data and doesn’t constitute causality, the evidence from multiple measures now shows that:

  • ·       THE most influential determinant of higher ROE is gender diversity  
  • ·       It is arguably one of the most cutting-edge business improvement strategies available today
No wonder other countries are following suit and advising boards to appoint more females, with the threat of introducing quotas if they fail to do so.

A supply Issue? Those opposed to quotas always point to a shortage of women with the necessary credentials.

I would argue that there's no shortage - just a short-sightedness on the part of those doing the selecting. I would also cite research from Harvard, MIT and Carnegie Business School showing that diversity is more important than expertise when creating the best groups.

And there is a lot of psychological research showing that adding women to a group ensures that
  •          more diverse opinions and attitudes are expressed
  •         decisions get questioned when information certainty is low (something that females are found to do more frequently)
  •          discussions get broadened
  •          the groups’s overall level of social sensitivity is increased

-     To quote Thomas Malone from Carnegie Mellon:
"Having a bunch of smart people in a group doesn't necessarily
 make the group smart”.
It’s having different people that makes the group smarter. 
Like inviting really different people to the dinner party, the group dynamic gets changed for the better. There’s more growth and development in the discomfort zone. 
Yet we all tend to hang around with people who are just like us.

Perhaps it’s time we all invited someone new to the party?

Thursday, 2 June 2011

"There should never be too much testosterone in one room"

Why Christine Lagarde should be president of the IMF
1.     For saying “I honestly think that there should never be too much testosterone in one room."

2.     Because she speaks fluent French. OK she is French. But she also speaks fluent English. How brilliant is that?
3.     For being ballsy enough to state that “Gender-dominated environments are not good... particularly in the financial sector where there are too few women,"
4.     She says this about cooking: “Cooking is about giving”. Don’t you just love that?
5.     And for saying: "In gender-dominated environments, men have a tendency to... show how hairy chested they are, compared with the man who's sitting next to them.”

6.      And also for saying the 2008 financial collapse was driven by the aggressive, greedy, testosterone-fuelled mood of male-dominated, hi-tech trading rooms.
7.     For being hugely ambitious but wanting to spend more time cooking for her family or making apricot and quince jam. (That’s not strawberry or raspberry jam. It’s bloody apricot and quince I tell you.)

8.     For being reluctant to say there are female and male ways of dealing with power… “but based on my own experience, women will tend to be inclusive, to reach out more, to care a little more."

9.     A man said about her "Her lightning-quick wit, genuine warmth and ability to bridge divides while remaining fiercely loyal to French interests have been a source of admiration." 
(Timothy Geithner, US Secretary of the Treasury, Time, April 2009)

10.   Hotel chambermaids can feel totally safe in her presence.