Women, in groups of 3, can wield a lot of power

February 15, 1993|By Carol Kleiman | Carol Kleiman,Chicago Tribune

WORKING WOMAN — The Rule of Three.

HTC That's a term recently coined to describe a theory of the balance of power in the workplace.

It suggests that when a company has three women in top-level management positions, changes that are helpful to female employees are more likely to take place.

The Rule of Three, according to the New York Times, was born at a brainstorming session of 18 high-ranking female executives sponsored by the Center for the New American Workforce of Queens College in New York.

The Rule of Three simply is about power, and, similar to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, it's about balance: How many women executives does it take to make changes in the company's work/family policies that might keep women from dropping out, help them crash the glass ceiling and bring equity to the workplace?

The theory that a trio of women can turn things around is based on the belief of the 18 executives that while one or two ranking women at any firm are viewed as tokens, three female honchos could constitute a bloc.

"You need more than one woman executive so that the burden of bringing about change is not borne by just one person," said Judy B. Rosener, professor and former assistant dean of the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Irvine.

Ms. Rosener is author of "Ways Women Lead," published in the Harvard Business Review, and co-author of "Workforce America! Managing Employee Diversity as a Vital Resource" (Business One/Irwin, $22.95).

Though there's supposedly safety in numbers, as Ms. Rosener suggests -- it's a basic tenet of the Rule of Three -- sometimes it still isn't enough protection.

"I previously was a partner in a large law firm that was entirely male until the late 1980s," said Judith E. Cahan, assistant counsel for investments in the legal department at Great-West Life Assurance Co. in Englewood, Colo. "By 1990, some 20 percent, or 18 women were partners.

That was a significant number."

But the firm began having economic problems, and a group of male partners suddenly charged that five women -- Ms. Cahan was not among them -- were acting as a bloc, influencing partnership votes to keep out men.

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