I happened to read a fascinating article in Harvard Business Review – it’s a couple of years old but it was part of an email to me by HBS and the title caught my eye – “How Star Women Build Portable Skills”. You can read the full text of the article here. The thesis is that, unlike men, when star women switch firms, they maintain their “star” performance. The author, Boris Groysberg, attributes this to two factors:
- “Unlike men, high-performing women build their success on portable, external relationships – with clients and other outside contacts.
- Women considering job changes weigh more factors then men do, especially cultural fit, values, and managerial style”
In reading this article I was excited to see it start on such a quantitatively solid footing. The “star” women were actually equity analysts so their performance and their company’s performance could be clearly measured. When you get to the factors part I couldn’t help but think – this is a no-brainer. Of course women build external networks – the “old boy” networks internally are typically unavailable to them and similarly knowing that they may have a strike or two against them in a future company culture they will really do their homework. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is true for other minorities as well.
This reminds me of a conversation I had with my grandfather Sam when I was in college. During a visit home my freshman year, he asked me what I was majoring in. When I told him political science he was not too pleased. He encouraged me to be sure to have a “skill” – something “portable” though that was not the word he chose. Doctor was best but accountant was fine, even carpenter would have better than “political scientist” in his view. The reason for his opinion was reasonable for someone who had to make a living as an immigrant. If you have to pick up quickly and move to another country due to persecution – you are better off as someone with a clearly sellable skill than as a liberal arts major. This instinct for self-preservation I think must be present in people who are successful despite a more challenging environment. It doesn’t just apply to choice of major – it applies to how you conduct your career.