Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

Thinking Differently

          … and Feeling Alone

Ever sit in a meeting or class and wonder why everyone else thinks true and you think false?  Or, everyone else says hire this person and you think “ick”?  Or, everyone else says “great idea” boss and you see many downsides to the argument that are just not being addressed?

This one used to hit me often.  I could look around a boardroom of people and wonder how I could think so differently than everyone else.  Sometimes I would just go with the flow figuring it want worth the battle.  Since I was usually the senior woman in the organization, I was nervous that I would get the “Only a woman would say that” comment. I tried to pick my battles carefully and curb my tongue when I wanted to say, “I told you so”.

Last Woman Sitting

Recently episode 421 of This American life on PBS brought this home for me.  It was called “Last Man Standing” and the prologue was the story of the corruption trial of Rod Blagojevich and JoAnn Chiakulas, a juror who believed that he was innocent.  She told how she listened to the whole tape of him presumably pondering the sale of a Senate seat.  The individual words were incriminating but in the context of a man with grandiose thoughts and schemes, she did not see any real evidence that he would really sell the seat.  But, the other jurors, the press and much of the country had already found him guilty.   Other jurors made derogatory comments (including anti-women comments) and made her doubt herself.  It would have been easier to go with the flow and vote “guilty”, yet she did not.

The jury agreed that they would not talk about the voting process or identify individual voting positions that led to the hung jury.  But, no sooner was she home than the press attacked her on all fronts and her life became a nightmare.  When you listen to this rational, thoughtful person give her opinions, you start to wonder about how all juries work in this country.

Three’s Company

The PBS episode also made me think about women on corporate boards.  There is very good research that boards need to have at least three women (or any other minority) before women/minorities feel truly comfortable speaking out –particularly if they make a “non-standard” comment.  If there are only one or two women, they must pick their battles carefully as they worry about making a comment that will be put down as “a women’s comment”.  We all hate being other. On boards, with three or more, it becomes rational, even if all of the women do not agree.

Think of brave JoAnn Chiakulas when you are in a group evaluating a decision.  Listen to the minority view.  By not going with the flow, you may learn something.

Christine Jacobs is an experienced corporate executive and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

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