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Declare independence

Violet finds an amazing article in the Guardian; turns out men broke everything and now women are taking the lead in fixing it all (haw; and haw). I'm going to cut to the chase on values, and then give the background. On values, green venture capitalist Halla Tómasdóttir:

"We have five core feminine values. First, risk awareness: we will not invest in things we don't understand. Second, profit with principles - we like a wider definition so it is not just economic profit, but a positive social and environmental impact. Third, emotional capital. When we invest, we do an emotional due diligence - or check on the company - we look at the people, at whether the corporate culture is an asset or a liability. Fourth, straight talking. We believe the language of finance should be accessible, and not part of the alienating nature of banking culture. Fifth, independence. We would like to see women increasingly financially independent, because with that comes the greatest freedom to be who you want to be, but also unbiased advice."

Violet notes that these are not traditional left-right values, which is interesting. On the background:

[Iceland], with a population of just over 300,000 people, has been overwhelmed by an economic disaster that is threatening its very survival. But for a generation of fortysomething women, the havoc is translating into an opportunity to step into the positions vacated by the men blamed for the crisis, and to play a leading role in creating a more balanced economy, which, they argue, should incorporate overtly feminine values.

The ruling male elite is scarcely in a position to argue. The krona has collapsed; interest rates and inflation have soared; companies and households which have borrowed in foreign currency are overwhelmed by their debts and unemployment is at record levels. ...

The idea that Reykjavik, an attractive, low-rise provincial place, could be a financial nerve centre on a par with the gleaming skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and Wall Street now seems utterly absurd. Over the past 10 years, however, little Iceland became a test-bed for the new economic order. Led by businessmen such as Baugur boss Jón Asgeir Jóhannesson, a nation previously best known for cod and hot springs reinvented itself as an Atlantic tiger. The Icelanders bought stakes in huge tracts of the British high street, including House of Fraser, Whistles and Karen Millen. Their banks were equally buccaneering, adopting free market reforms with gusto and moving with relish into financial engineering. The upshot: they now owe at least six times the country's income for 2008 and have been taken into state hands.

Unlike in the UK, Iceland's women are at the forefront of the clean-up. The crisis led to the downfall of the government and the prime minister's residence - which resembles a slightly over-sized white dormer bungalow - is now occupied by Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir, an elegant 66-year-old lesbian who is the world's first openly gay premier. When she lost a bid to lead her party in the 1990s, she lifted her fist and declared: "My time will come." Her hour has now arrived - and the same is true for a cadre of highly accomplished businesswomen.

Prominent among them are Halla Tómasdóttir and Kristin Petursdóttir, the founders of Audur Capital, who have teamed up with the singer Björk to set up an investment fund to boost the ravaged economy by investing in green technology. ...

Tómasdóttir says: "Our Björk fund is to focus on sustainable growth. Iceland was the first in the world into the crisis, but we could be the first out, and women have a big role to play in that. It goes back to our Viking women. While the men were out there raping and pillaging, the women were running the show at home. ...

Even before the credit crunch, Iceland scored highly on measures of sex equality, coming fourth out of 130 countries on the international gender gap index (behind Norway, Finland and Sweden). The rate of female participation in the labour force runs at more than 80%, compared with just over 90% for men; there is generous maternity and childcare provision from the state, along with paternity leave. Most Icelanders remain geographically close to their extended families, making childcare easier, and the distances in Reykjavik are small, so mothers can easily get to their children's schools in a crisis. ....

This egalitarian backdrop has given Icelandic businesswomen a self-confidence their equivalents in the UK quite simply lack, according to one senior British female executive who frequently does deals with Reykjavik.

Not everyone in Iceland has bought into the idea that women will revolutionise capitalism. "Women would like to think it's their turn now, but it won't be - there will be a bit of fuss for a while but men will keep the real power at the top," said a local taxi driver in his sixties. "I'm not giving you my name, though, because my wife speaks English and she would kill me if she read that."

That is not a view that gains much traction with Halla Tómasdóttir. "If the institutions are under the control of a single group - and now it is men - and they all think the same way, we are not going to make positive changes. For the first time in 100 years we have the chance to create a company, a society, a country, and hopefully a world that is more sustainable, more fair for men as well as women. If we are not going to do that now, then when will we?"

Interesting. Can we learn from Iceland?

UPDATE At least in finance, "men broke everything" might not be the right formulation, since not all men are crazy baldheaded banksters. Perhaps "alpha males" would be better. Though there are plenty of other things all men maybe considered to have broken, the banking system might not be one of them. Dunno. It's also true the feminist values quoted don't come from the Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir, but from a VC, Halla Tómasdóttir. Whether that makes a difference or not, I'm not sure.

UPDATE Yves remarks on the Guardian article:

I actually find this sort of gender stereotyping annoying, and worse, the women here are playing it up. Women are not paragons of virtue. The reason that women can be useful reformers is they are typically only marginal players in the power structure, and they therefore have little to lose and much to gain by taking high-profile cleanup roles.

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Submitted by lambert on

How?

Card-carrying_Buddhist's picture
Submitted by Card-carrying_B... on

"We won't invest in things we don't understand" = "risk awareness"?

Sez who?

Oy.

Not this feminist.

Submitted by lambert on

... is that they were so complicated -- or, if you believe with William Black, as I do, that accounting control fraud was a key driver in the financial crisis, so obfuscated -- that nobody could understand them, quite literally. So I think that makes senses

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

alas, there are way too many women with Bankster mentality. Look at Karen I. of AHIP, and Angelina Braley, or whatever her name is who heads Wellpoint. Indeed, I am thinking about writing a post about female collaborators, about how all this misogyny would not be possible without collaborators.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

I think that's the big issue to me, not men v women. Of course, I'm not a woman so I have a different perspective. Then again, I'm not a bankster either so I can see the aristocracy, which is gender neutral to me. They want me to fail and be part of a servant class just as much as they want my sister to fail and be part of a servant class.

jjmtacoma's picture
Submitted by jjmtacoma on

So that we are distracted while "they" move the shells around.

I'm pretty sure I'm already part of the servant class, so there is not worry about making me fail ;)

Card-carrying_Buddhist's picture
Submitted by Card-carrying_B... on

In that context, a vote for transparency, perhaps?

I withdraw my prior raised eyebrow.

Card-carrying_Buddhist's picture
Submitted by Card-carrying_B... on

re your update comment on "alpha males" -- them bankstas sure ain't my notion of alpha males.

Submitted by lambert on

... is that all women are good because they are women and not men.

Rather, it is that a useful and interesting set of values that many may choose to adopt emerged from a feminist context. Granted, the context is a female faction of Iceland's ruling class, which took over after a male faction of the ruling class totally screwed the pooch? Shat the bed? Pick your metaphor.

HeroesGetMade's picture
Submitted by HeroesGetMade on

I read this one about the same time as the one Violet linked to. It's much longer, but the hilarity that ensues as Lewis gets into Icelandic culture is worth it just for the laughs:

I try to think up a metaphor for the world’s expanding reservoir of defunct financial corporate sponsorships—water left in the garden hose after you’ve switched off the pressure?—but before I can finish, the man in the seat behind me reaches for his bag in the overhead bin and knocks the crap out of me. I will soon learn that Icelandic males, like moose, rams, and other horned mammals, see these collisions as necessary in their struggle for survival. I will also learn that this particular Icelandic male is a senior official at the Icelandic stock exchange.

I think we can learn much from Iceland, especially about gender differences wrt economic value systems precisely because Iceland has a much more homogenous culture than we do. Also, the difference in scale compared to the intensity of their financial collapse means things will happen much faster there than here. We can learn lessons from what works or doesn't work for them.

Lewis points out here that as far as gender equality, female Icelanders may not be particularly oppressed, but that still didn't mean they were in charge of things:

For the fifth time in as many days I note a slight tension at any table where Icelandic men and Icelandic women are both present. The male exhibits the global male tendency not to talk to the females—or, rather, not to include them in the conversation—unless there is some obvious sexual motive. But that’s not the problem, exactly. Watching Icelandic men and women together is like watching toddlers. They don’t play together but in parallel; they overlap even less organically than men and women in other developed countries, which is really saying something. It isn’t that the women are oppressed, exactly. On paper, by historical global standards, they have it about as good as women anywhere: good public health care, high participation in the workforce, equal rights. What Icelandic women appear to lack—at least to a tourist who has watched them for all of 10 days—is a genuine connection to Icelandic men. The Independence Party is mostly male; the Social Democrats, mostly female. (On February 1, when the reviled Geir Haarde finally stepped aside, he was replaced by Johanna Sigurdardottir, a Social Democrat, and Iceland got not just a lady prime minister but the modern world’s first openly gay head of state—she lives with another woman.) Everyone knows everyone else, but when I ask Icelanders for leads, the men always refer me to other men, and the women to other women. It was a man, for instance, who suggested I speak to Stefan Alfsson.

It seems that many of Iceland's investment bankers were first fishermen. Stefan Alfsson explains the relevance of this wrt risk-taking:

He then explained why fishing wasn’t as simple as I thought. It’s risky, for a start, especially as practiced by the Icelandic male. “You don’t want to have some sissy boys on your crew,” he says, especially as Icelandic captains are famously manic in their fishing styles. “I had a crew of Russians once,” he says, “and it wasn’t that they were lazy, but the Russians are always at the same pace.” When a storm struck, the Russians would stop fishing, because it was too dangerous. “The Icelanders would fish in all conditions,” says Stefan, “fish until it is impossible to fish. They like to take the risks. If you go overboard, the probabilities are not in your favor. I’m 33, and I already have two friends who have died at sea.”

The following exchange between Lewis and Alfsson describes the transition from fisherman to investment banker:

“You spent seven years learning every little nuance of the fishing trade before you were granted the gift of learning from this great captain?” I ask.
“Yes.”
“And even then you had to sit at the feet of this great master for many months before you felt as if you knew what you were doing?”
“Yes.”
“Then why did you think you could become a banker and speculate in financial markets, without a day of training?”
“That’s a very good question,” he says. He thinks for a minute. “For the first time this evening I lack a word.” As I often think I know exactly what I am doing even when I don’t, I find myself oddly sympathetic.

I find the above exchange refreshing, along with the other admissions of the Icelandic banking community, due to the unusual lack of obfuscation surrounding the fact that they simply did not know what they were doing. I would trade in Larry and Timmy in a heartbeat for these guys, just as long as they were in no position to body slam me into the next county on their way to the bank or fishing or whatever.

Submitted by hipparchia on

i has achieved it.

and yves has a good point on the cleanup.

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