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Woman on Top; Only with the Man’s Consent!

If this headline appears sexist, that’s because it is so. And sadly, this would remain so till such time that women stop looking up to men to create suitable conditions for their growth in the hierarchy or accept to become a part of a diversity requirement that the man creates.

The latest affront comes from none other than Goldman Sachs whose CEO David Solomon proclaimed that his investment bank will take only those companies public that had at least one “diverse” board member with a focus on women. That he doesn’t address the complexity of diversity which includes race, community etc. is another story.

After indicating that performance of public offerings of US companies with at least one lady director had been “significantly better” over the past four years, Solomon announced that “Starting on July 1st in the US and Europe, we are not going to take a company public unless there’s at least one diverse board candidate, with a focus on women.”

Nice try David! But why this tokenism?

Is Solomon suggesting that he would walk away from a bright idea just because there’s no woman on the board? Pigs might fly! For, Solomon and his ilk are bound to have their own list of eligible proxies who can be brought to the table when such companies need the diversity plug.

Even if we perish that thought for now, what exactly is the reason behind Solomon’s sudden position regarding the requirement of diversity? We haven’t forgotten the WeWork IPO imbroglio of last September where the co-working space provider sought a woman on the board at the last minute before going public and how Goldman Sachs millions of dollars.

Of course, there were others such as AirBNB which brought its first lady board member two years ahead of a possible IPO after not having any diversity for close to a decade. Same was the case with Slack which had Sarah Friar joining the board two years before the company went public. Now, if this isn’t tokenism, what is? It must be said though that both these companies had adopted diversity as a core value several years ago.

At the other end of the spectrum is someone like Jack Ma for whom diversity means having women across positions and roles. More than five years ago, Alibaba’s founder had announced that women were the “secret sauce” of his company. “I feel proud that more than 34% (in 2015) of senior management are women. They really make this company’s yin and yang balanced. Women balance the logic and the instinct,” he had said then.

The question now is to which constituency was Solomon appealing when he made this statement on CNBC’s Squawk Box. Was he speaking to the women who deserved to be on decision-making chairs, perhaps including his own? Or was it targeted at men who chose diversity candidates from a list of women who have already served as CXOs?

Maybe neither! For inadvertently Solomon did let it pass that Goldman Sachs would use its far-reaching network of corporate executives to help clients find lady candidates for their boards. Oops! Now is this what diversity is supposed to mean? Merely finding a lady candidate or finding the right candidate?

By the way, Solomon has four women on Goldman’s 11-member board.

Talking of diversity, how many of us recall the probe that got initiated last November against Goldman Sachs after social media users including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak called out the Solomon’s credit card practices that gave much lower credit limits to women? Of course, at the forefront of the attack was Apple, which owned the card.

These tweets drew the attention of the New York Department of Financial Services which sought to check Apple’s algorithms. At that time Goldman Sachs had issued a statement claiming that its credit decisions were solely based on “creditworthiness” and had nothing to do with gender, ethnicity etc. Of course, the statement side-stepped Wozniak’s dilemma.

On a broader level, one wonders how having a lone lady in a male-dominated board is going to make any difference to the company’s culture or profitability? The board usually meets once in a quarter and hardly gets any visibility for the rest of the year. As against this tokenism, couldn’t Solomon have called for a broader diversity in the company itself?

Maybe no, because how many men can take Jack Ma’s position and seek to balance the yin and yang in their companies?

Finally, let’s also take note of the fact that it was the very same Goldman Sachs that got fined $5 billion for its shenanigans that led to the 2008 financial meltdown in the United States? Or that but for a $10 billion bailout by the US government, the company would have collapsed and possibly taken the entire financial system with it.

Stop preaching David! It’s high time Michele Burns takes over your corner office.

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