Women Need To Excel At Playing Men’s Games

IE Business School leadership professor argues that having kids makes women better at facing corporate challenges

BusinessBecause recently welcomed IE Business School professor and leadership expert Pino Bethencourt to our office on a wintry London afternoon.

The glamorous Bethencourt was surprisingly at home in our modest start-up surroundings, and it’s a down-to-earth attitude that informs much of her work, it seems

While she is an expert on the lofty areas of leadership and executive development, Bethencourt’s advice to women who want to make it in the business world is realistic and practical. Think of a one-sentence slogan for why you would make a great CEO, she suggests.

“Capture more and nurture less”, is another piece of advice, referring to a female tendency to give in, in the interests of maintaining harmony, rather than taking as much as they can and dealing with the consequences later. On this, more later.

Mexico-born Bethencourt is one of the key people behind IE Business School’s extensive programs for women in business. The School has a relatively high percentage of female students: about 30 per cent, compared to an average of about 25 per cent at the top 100 schools worldwide.

She studied engineering in Madrid for her first degree, and then joined Deloitte as a management consultant working with multinational teams in Paris, San Francisco and Madrid. She says she “loved” resolving conflicts within teams and proved to be great at it.

In 2004 she launched her own management consulting firm with the help of venture capital funding. At any one time she had up to 40 consultants working for her and she is honest about the “perils, difficulties and battles” she faced day after day.

After closing the firm down she headed to IE Business School for an Executive MBA, and it is here that she began to turn some of her experiences into knowledge.

Bethencourt showed us an interesting framework showing the clear differences between male and female behavior. For example, women are more likely to “nurture” while men are more likely to “capture”. To illustrate this she gave the example of taking a cab ride. When the cab ride comes to an end and the driver doesn’t have the right change, who is more likely to take a hit? If it’s a female passenger, suggests Bethencourt, she’ll back down and let the cabbie short change her. If it’s a guy, he’ll insist on paying less for his ride.

Bethencourt has plenty of other ideas about women in business. Here are two intriguing ones:

1. Women need to play the game like a man, but be conscious that they’re playing it. Once they make it to the top they can change the business world from within.

2. As the business and financial world becomes more uncertain, it becomes more woman-friendly. Why? Because in the level of undertainty, the world has drawn close to the pre-agricultural days of Homo sapiens, when we were living a nomadic life and foraging for berries. Women and men were broadly equal in terms of influence, valued output and decision-making.

With the arrival of settled agriculture, food security improved, as did the need to be physically strong, to protect your own land and invade others’. Men grew dominant, leading to a long era of male gender-biased decision-making.

In today’s world, where the uncertainties of globalistion, migration and climate change are changing the environment rapidly, the time is ripe for women to make a comeback.

Bethencourt is also a firm believer that women should picture themselves succeeding at work and at home, and they should also be more active about coming up with solutions and making that vision a reality, for example by getting their partners to chip in more with child-rearing.

She also points out that having children prepares women, in particular, for all kinds of other challenges in life and work.

Watch the video to hear more from Bethencourt.

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