When you hear the name Warren Buffett, terms that usually come to mind are "billionaire", "business mogul", and "one of the wealthiest people in the world". The word "feminist’" doesn’t usually make the cut. However, in an essay written for Fortune Magazine, Buffett urges businesses and employers to stop fueling women’s inequalities in the workforce, citing women as the key to America’s prosperity.
Buffett opens his essay with a discussion of how, upon his birth his life’s possibilities dwarfed those of his sisters merely because of his sex. He writes, “My parents would love us equally, and our teachers would give us similar grades. But at every turn my sisters would be told – more through signals than words – that success for them would be “marrying well.” I was meanwhile hearing that the world’s opportunities were there for me to seize.”
Buffett notes that the structural barriers for women, thankfully, have changed since the 1930s and 40s in which he was raised. However, for Buffett, they still haven’t changed enough. And one of the key problems Buffett sees is that women themselves are influenced by workplace limitations and, thus, often talk themselves out of achieving their potential.
Here, Buffett discusses his experience with the late Katharine Graham, the past shareholder and CEO of the Washington Post Co. Meeting Katharine Graham (whom Buffett refers to as Kay throughout the essay) in 1973, Buffett was struck by her intelligence, inner strength, and unusual ability and character. However, Buffett states that Graham was faced with the problem of seeing herself in a “fun-house” mirror. It reflected her self-doubt inflicted by male judgment in the workplace rather than the reality of her strength as a CEO. Despite the fact that Washington Post stock increased over 4,000% during Kay’s leadership, she was still greatly impacted by male-dominated working world that told her she was inadequate.
Luckily, this “fun-house mirror” effect is no longer as prevalent today, as Buffett notes – just look at Sheryl Sandberg. However, Buffett argues that there is still room for change and appeals directly to male workers and employers. “If obvious benefits flow from helping the male component of the workforce achieve its potential, why in the world wouldn’t you want to include its counterpart? Fellow males, get onboard. The closer that America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater its output of goods and services will be.”
Read Warren Buffet’s full essay here.