I just spoke at the Woman in Technology Summit in Silicon Valley. My speech was entitled, “Why Women Need to Lead,” and it focused on the data and evidence that women make superior leaders in volatile, disruptive environments where continuous innovation is essential to success. I am also promoting a new movement, A Million SMART Women, aimed at empowering a worldwide community of new women leaders. It’s an exciting time as I’ve been working with innovative education partners to provide mass online and on-site education to ramp up our impact.
Here is why.
For the past 22 years, WITI has honored women in technology by inducting five or six women every year who have made revolutionary contributions in technology and science in ways that improve our quality of life to a Hall of Fame. Last night I witnessed the raw power of six women who are doing things ranging from creating human tissue to heal diseased organs to designing life-saving robots. What makes these women remarkable is not just their brains and grit, but also their motives.
As they passed on their success secrets to over a thousand young female brainiacs, each one spoke of love as being a prime motive for their tireless efforts. It was breathtakingly inspiring.
When I returned to my room and turned on the TV what I saw was an alternate reality. It is the world of the present. The world my generation of baby boomers created.
For the past 15 years, I have studied generational research. It’s fascinating how peoples’ values and attitudes seem to be shaped powerfully by the times they grew up in. Let me be clear, there are a lot of exceptions to the stereotypes I am about to comment on, but what follows reflects my direct experience, as well as the research I have examined over these past 15 years.
OUR FUTURE IS IN BIG TROUBLE…BUT, THERE’S HOPE
I believe our future is in big trouble because baby boomers are in charge. My experience with the generation born between 1945 and1965 is that they are colossally selfish. They’ve taken self-interest to new levels of self-justification fueled by the stupid-idiotic-immoral ideas of the pseudo-intellectuals of the time like Ayn Rand, William Buckley and Milton Friedman.
Rand infected a generation of college students extolling the virtues of selfishness and the immorality of charity.
The ever-snooty Buckley spent years on television telling the Boomer generation that the traditional order of things, which included racism embedded in Jim Crow laws, is all part of the divine order in which people who are successful deserve to be, and people who are poor are simply lazy or stupid.
Milton Friedman convinced the new generation of business leaders that the only purpose of business was to make wealth for the owners, rather than creating value for customers, a good job for employees, and enhancing local communities. His glorification of corrupt self-interest was so complete that he claimed it was irresponsible, immoral, and illegal for business leaders to use any business assets for any purpose other than maximizing immediate financial gains for stockholders. He promoted the idea that company managers have no obligation to restrain pollution, improve worker safety or product reliability beyond the minimum legal requirements. He also maintained that smart corporate leaders should influence lawmakers to minimize regulations, taxes, and any restraints on the naked pursuit of economic gain.
Rand, Buckley and Friedman found a very eager audience among Boomer-age males. You see, Boomer children were raised by parents devoted to protecting them from the harsh realities they suffered in the great depression and World War II. As Boomers entered their teenage years, in the 60s, the entire economy shifted to meet teenage whims and insecurities. It was truly a decade of sex, drugs and rock’n'roll. I know. I was there.
A HISTORY OF BOOMER LEADERSHIP
Sixties Boomers are mistakenly credited with idealism, which inspired the civil rights movement and anti–war protests. But historians note that the civil rights revolution was led by members of the greatest generation … leaders like Lyndon Johnson. The anti-war protests were driven by the citizen draft, making its protest an exercise in self-interest rather than lofty idealism. (Since the military switched to an all-volunteer force we have been constantly sending troops into undeclared wars with little objection since our soldiers come from households living below or near the poverty line.) So, the Boomer 1960s was a mass expression of youth self-indulgence, and that was only the beginning.
By the 1970s, Boomers turned to making money. The 60s lingo of non-materialism and hippie flower power gave way to the pursuit of jobs, homes, and cars. But underlying the quest for adulthood was the siren song of an economy fueled by personal consumption.
Boomers of the 1980s watched the movie Wall Street without seeing the irony of the phrase “Greed is Good.” Instead, they took it literally. Antitrust laws were gutted; Jack Welch pioneered mass employee layoffs of GE’s profitable businesses in order to take profits to fake levels. Meanwhile, paying executives with stock options became legal. This enabled Wall Street to demand that short-term financial tactics replace long-term growth strategies.
In the 90s excessive consumption fueled new levels of social comparison in which the distinctions of rich and poor were obvious to everyone. Our Boomer-led culture embraced the ideal that more is better and much more is much better. In the 1950s almost no one had servants. Nannies were considered an artifact from the 19th century. But now dual career households had re-created the need for personal servants and the ultimate measure of success became a private jet.
Meanwhile Boomer business leaders got serious about becoming lean. Job outsourcing became popular and headcount reductions fueled a new mania in management consulting. Corporate pensions were eliminated in the social contract and employees were torn up. Research and development budgets were continuously cut. Email replaced middle management. And Newt Gingrich launched the idea that governing was ideological warfare rather than the art of practical compromise.
During the first decade of the 21st century the financialization of our economy became dominant. The stock market Internet bubble made millions for professionals, but evaporated savings for millions of every day investors.
In 2005 I sat through a presentation made by Citibank Boomer leaders who claimed to have cracked the code on eliminating debt-risk through mortgage-backed securities. Wall Street pinheads created a fantasyland for materialist appetites by making 5000 ft. McMansions a must-have item. People bought homes with rooms they never used, filled with furniture they never sat on.
Meanwhile, Boomers kept working for the “man.” The man was a new breed of professional CEOs making tens of millions of dollars every year regardless of their competence. These are the idiots who got paid to nearly destroy our entire economy, along with trillions of dollars of middle-class savings. They are still in charge.
A GENERATION OF NEW IDEALS
It is now very clear that the children of Boomers will not pay their dues.
That’s because they don’t want to join the club their parents have built. They have seen what mindless obedience to the “man” buys. It is not the life they admire or value. The accumulation of evermore stuff does not create happiness, satisfaction or even enjoyment. They have discovered that travel can be more enriching when you sleep in a spare bedroom of an AirBnB than a five-star hotel. They were suckered into massive student loans for inadequate educations. They have little loyalty to employers who have no loyalty to employees.
Nearly every new generation expresses ideals contrary to the dominant generation that preceded it. Boomers were wild and selfish, as much as their parents were traditional and communitarian.
The 125 million millennials are mostly inclusive and purpose-seeking.
Of course, they are riddled with their own imperfections, as with all humans. But one thing they are not is timid about creating a world that works for everyone. And the leaders of this ideal are mostly millennial women. They finally get that they don’t need permission to change the world… and they will. These are the women I see at conferences today.
It makes me smile.
What we’re seeing play out, not only in our country but worldwide, is the last distorted blast of Boomer excesses. When an old order dies, its death rattle is grotesque. As long as Boomers lead our institutions, human suffering will increase.
Human trafficking will not stop.
New wars will replace old ones.
Money-laundering of corrupt billionaires will flourish.
Good companies will fail.
Starvation will increase.
Adequate healthcare will be difficult to access.
Harmful products will be sold.
Our air and water will be polluted.
The seas will rise, and
Famines will be commonplace.
Although many of you might disagree, my long life and my decades of experience with powerful leaders tell me that we will turn this around.
We will turn it around because women, especially young women, who see beyond their self-interest in short-term gain, will claim their power.
In the meantime, I will do everything I can to make sure that happens.
That’s why we need A Million Smart Women leaders and men who support them. We need them to change Government, Business, Healthcare, Education, Science, Technology, Finance…everything. We need them to lead with their heads and their hearts. And I believe this new generation of young women has both the guts and the vision to do it.
Stay connected…this revolution is being live-streamed.