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2013: Should more women be corporate leaders?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi. My name is Susan Tilson, and I’m from New York City. I am a long-term shareholder, but this is my first time to Omaha. This is quite the little gathering you’ve got going on here.
You, just a few minutes ago, Mr. Buffett, mentioned that you enjoyed a lot of advantages as a male.
I have three daughters, and I would like them to be able to go as far as their aspirations and hard work take them.
I’ve noticed and applaud the fact that you’ve added women to Berkshire’s board, but both the board and senior management at Berkshire still reflect the reality that in 2013, there are very few women holding the top jobs in corporate America.
Do you see this as a problem? And if so, what should be done about it?
WARREN BUFFETT: Well, I do see it as a problem, and I — (Scattered applause)
I’ve written an article in Fortune Magazine, which if you go to Fortune.com, I guess it’s in front of the paywall. You can click on it. It’s only 1150 words or so. And you’ll see my views on that.
But there’s no question that women throughout my lifetime and, you know, for a millennia before that, have not had the same shot at many things in the world that males have.
I mean, I have two sisters, as I pointed out in this article — both here today, I believe — and, you know, a couple years on each side of me, and absolutely as smart as I am. They’re more personable than I am. They got along with people much better than I did when we were young. Got — their grades were the same, but they did not have the same opportunities at all.
I mean, nobody really wanted to limit them. Certainly the— you know, my parents love them the same way as they felt about me, and they never would’ve dreamt of saying to them that, you know, Warren gets all these opportunities and you don’t. But it just existed.
And, you know, all my teachers in grade school, every one of them was a female. And the reason they were females is because they only had a few occupations open to them.
So, as a result, I had way better teachers than I sort of deserved for the pay level that existed in it because all this talent was being compressed into a few areas.
Well, a lot of improvement has been made, but there’s still a ways to go.
And there is a pipeline effect, so I mean, you couldn’t change it all in one day if you wanted to. But on the other hand, that should not be an excuse for not changing at all.
And then I also wrote about the fact that there’s — that when people are placed in that position, they start believing it about themselves, so they do not set their own objectives as high as their potential would indicate.
And that’s — I use the example of Katharine Graham, who I knew quite well, and she was, you know, she was very, very intelligent. She was very high-grade. She had all kinds of good qualities.
But she had been told by a mother, and she had been told by a husband, and she had been told by society that women couldn’t run businesses as well as men.
And she knew it wasn’t true, but she couldn’t get rid of it. And she saw herself in this funhouse mirror, and it — no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t really get rid of the funhouse mirror. It had just been there too long.
And I kept saying, you know, “Look at yourself in a regular mirror, and you’ll see somebody who’s very smart and very high-grade and just as good as any male you’ll find.”
Her stock went up 40-for-1 when she was CEO. She wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography. And to her dying day, you know, she — at one level she knew she was the equal of the males around her, and at another level, she couldn’t get rid of that little voice inside of her that came from her mother and came from all of society that said, you know, “You should take care of the garden and let the males do all the important work.”
So, both the exterior obstacles— they’re crumbling to a very significant degree and they should. I mean, it only took thousands of years.
I mean, as I point out in the article, we said in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” but they weren’t so self-evident when they got around to writing the Constitution and they used a bunch of male pronouns in describing the presidency in Article II, or when they didn’t get around to putting a Supreme Court—a female Supreme Court — justice on until 1981.
So, the country has come a long way on it. It continues to move. It’s moving in the right direction.
But you know, I hope it keeps moving and moving faster, and I hope that the females that are laboring under these beliefs that were told to them about themselves that aren’t true, get rid of the funhouse mirrors and get regular mirrors. And I say all this in this article if you want to read it in Fortune.com. Thank you. (Applause)