The Plague-Ground – Monopolies and Men

“When you’re used to having 100% of the market and someone comes along and takes 1% of your share, this can turn your world upside down.”

That was how a highly-perched woman viewed the real reason Canadian women can’t seem to break the last glass ceilings of corporate power around board positions, compensation and C-Suite careers.

Monopolists aren’t into power-sharing because they’ve never had to.  That’s not who they’ve been for hundreds of years. Just ask GoogleFacebook and Amazon how they like to share.

So it’s no surprise that powerful white men, who not long ago enjoyed a virtual monopoly on power pretty much everywhere, are prepared to fight like hell when that monopoly is threatened by hordes of non-white, non-men seeking power. Even for a tiny share of the power market.

How do they do that?

They speak softly and carry a big stick.

Their words create a fog of civility and a hope of equality for those thinking that reason, fairness and expertise will prevail. So when the Globe and Mail revealed that women hold just 24% of C-suite jobs, or that the big law firms pay their women partners 25% less than their male partners, whose voices do we hear in crying: “Unfair!” “This must change!?”

Men.

As for the big stick, it only gets used when the threat to their power is clear and present. Here are just two examples of how that works:

Back in 2002, the Norwegian government was impatient with companies who refused to put women on the boards of their public companies. The percentage of these woman had been growing by less than 1% a year. It would take 200 years for them to get to 40%. This is a key number because that’s what the government mandated all public companies do, ensure that 40% of its board members are women. Not by 2002 when they passed this bill, but six years later in 2008.

There was the time-honoured “We can’t find enough qualified women”, plus the inevitable “We’ll have to recruit escort girls to meet the target.” But that was just Big Talk. Not Big Stick.

What happened next? Just weeks before the 2008 deadline, 384 of Norway’s 563 publicly traded companies took themselves private in order not to comply.

Now that’s feeling threatened!  Not in some kakistocracy or Nation of Kazakhstan. But in Norway, the most egalitarian nation on earth.

Let’s now move to the “greatest democracy on earth.”

Last December 1, New York’s Nasdaq Exchange asked the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to authorize the 2,500 companies it lists to make diversity a priority on their boards. It didn’t mandate quotas for women, let alone 40% quotas. It just asked to have at least one director – one! – in the coming years  be a person “who identifies as a woman and another who is Black, Hispanic, Native American, LGBTQ+ or part of another underrepresented community.”

And how will companies who don’t comply be punished? With fines? De-listing? Public flogging?

No, all they’ll have to do is explain why they’re not complying, which is pretty much the “comply or explain” regime we have with the Ontario Securities Commission.

Their punishment is to explain their crime.

But even that is too much for some powerful people. Last Friday, all 12 Republican members (10 white men, one Black man, one white woman) on the US Senate Banking Committee wrote the SEC to urge them not to approve Nasdaq’s initiative. “It is not the role of Nasdaq,” said the letter, “to act as an arbitrator of social policy or force  a prescriptive one-size-fits-all solution upon all markets and investors.”

So if women want to tear down the vestiges of what used to be a monopolistic system run by men, and if the forces of social engineering like quotas are slow in changing that, I have an idea: let’s publish their explanations and excuses in the public square for all of us to see.

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