Maybe Sheryl Sandberg really is building a new feminist movement.
Following the Facebook COO’s PR extravaganza around her best-seller Lean In, the first mega-mover and shaker to join the conversation about women and work was Warren Buffett. The Berkshire Hathaway chief wrote an enlightening essay in the Fortune 500 issue, did his first-ever interview about women (with me), and joined Twitter to help spread his word globally.
This week, Sallie Krawcheck bet her own money on women–by buying 85 Broads, a community of businesswomen that began 26 years ago with alums of Goldman Sachs (GS). Krawcheck acknowledges the irony of her leaping on the female empowerment bandwagon. When she was at Citigroup and Bank of America , she strived to avoid gender issues. But since dropping off the corporate jungle gym in 2011, Krawcheck says she has realized, “The numbers on women and diversity are so freakin’ compelling.” She contends that we’re at a “tipping point” in terms of women’s impact on the global economy.
And then there is Lynn Tilton. Via Patriarch Partners, her New York-based private equity firm, Tilton owns 75 companies–Rand McNally, Spiegel, MD Helicopters, and Stila Cosmetics, among them–and oversees 120,000 employees. Three weeks ago in California, Tilton was at a meeting of trustees of the XPrize, an organization that devises competitions to bring about breakthroughs to improve the world. Tilton decided on her mission: “I chose women and girls,” she recalls, noting that she’s fed up seeing women graduate from colleges at higher rates than men and then fall off corporate tracks far too often.
On an XPrize team that included former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, Tilton pitched an idea called “X2: Mother of All Prizes.” Her proposal was to double the monetary award for any XPrize winners whose teams have at least 50% female leadership. The XPrize judges loved Tilton’s idea and selected X2 as a grand prize winner. Tilton tossed in $5 million of her own money to fuel the concept.
“I want to light a match to start a bonfire,” says Tilton, who counts just one female CEO among the chiefs of her 70 companies. “My businesses are very tough,” she explains, admitting that she herself, renowned for her flashy attire and attraction to distressed companies, is not a typical female exec. “I think women are more mission-oriented than money-oriented,” she adds, with a hint of sadness. “But I’m not going to cease to try to get more women at the top.”