A small but significant study released by consulting firm Ernst & Young has found that the most powerful women in the business world are jocks. Freaks and geeks everywhere feign surprise.
The study, looking at women from middle management- to Chair-level positions reported that the closer the women sat to the head of the boardroom table, the more likely it would be that she had participated in, or continues to participate in, competitive sports.
In reporting on the study, FT writer, Gillian Tett, says that this correlation may exist because sports teach young girls that it is acceptable to compete aggressively, without peer criticism.
And while Tett makes the point that team athletics teach girls important skills like stamina and how to work well with a group, she also suggests that being sporty can be the antidote to falling prey to Hollywood’s influential message that a girl must look good in order to be of value.
Either way, the bottom line for women still seems to be that success comes only to the most aggressive, or to the prettiest.
That’s not to say that the women who have made it to the top are not also highly intelligent and qualified for their positions – as the FT piece mentions, Condoleeza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Dupont CEO Ellen Kullman, and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg cannot be disregarded as brilliant just because they are also jocks. And pretty.
And while this might be bad news for those that prefer painting to punting, the argument can be made that really, success in business has more to do with good old-fashioned privilege than anything else. Extra-curricular sports cost money, and with (free) public school athletic budgets constantly being slashed, wealthier students and those in private school will continue to have greater access to competitive sports programs.
And without access to sports, the competitive, aggressive edge apparently mandatory for business success cannot be cultivated. So the smart girls from underprivileged beginnings get pushed right off the corporate ladder as their sportier, richer, just-as-smart peers ascend it with their competitive, aggressive edge intact.
This of course, cannot apply to all successful women – there must be one or two who rose from modest, sedentary beginnings. Perhaps the sampling must be taken from a larger pool of women in business to see if the sporty hypothesis is truly accurate. Unfortunately, the study was about as big as it could have been.
Because sporty or not, the boardroom – like the locker room – is still predominantly the realm of men.
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