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Power Sheet – September 10, 2015

The most striking feature of Fortune’s new ranking of the Most Powerful Women in business – out today – is the large number of listees who are high-ranking leaders in technology companies. Research findings suggest this could be the start of a most unexpected trend.

While plenty of industries are stereotyped as “guy” businesses, the MPW list has shown for years that there’s really no such thing. When the CEOs of General Motors (Mary Barra), Lockheed Martin (Marilyn Hewson), and General Dynamics (Phebe Novakovic) are women, you realize that the “guy company” concept is ridiculous. But still, there’s something special about the tech industry, the geekiest, most propeller-head-populated, male-dominated business of them all. So how can it be that three of this year’s top ten MPW are tech industry leaders – IBM chief Ginni Rometty, Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg? How can tech leaders be eight of the top 20, ten of the top 35?

Part of the explanation – an ironic part – may lie in research findings on the nature of men’s and women’s brains. It’s important to understand that the great majority of what our brains do is the same, regardless of sex; the differences are on the margins. In addition, the findings are averages; they don’t necessarily apply to every woman or every man. With those caveats stated, consider the work of Cambridge University research psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, who finds that, on average, men’s brains are “systemizing” and women’s are “empathizing.” Systemizing means figuring out the rules that govern any kind of system – a lawn mower engine, the weather, software, a golf swing. Empathizing means figuring out the mental state of another person and an appropriate response. Systemizing and empathizing are in many ways “almost the opposite of each other,” Baron-Cohen says. Systemizing is the best way of “understanding and predicting the law-governed inanimate universe.” Empathizing is the best way of understanding and predicting the social world.

It’s easy to imagine how a systemizing tendency might have helped fuel male dominance of the tech business. But here’s the irony: In the systemizers-vs.-empathizers model, systemizing is exactly the work that technology is taking over. Understanding how an engine, the weather, or a golf swing works? Men may be hard-wired to focus on such questions, but in a world increasingly filled with sensors and ever greater processing power, computers will analyze those systems and practically all other systems faster and better than people ever could. By contrast, skills of human interaction are becoming the most valuable skills, in Silicon Valley and everywhere else. Advantage is shifting away from systemizing brains and toward empathizing brains.

The rise of women leaders in technology has many causes. This may be an important one. Apple’s Angela Ahrendts, No. 16 on the list and subject of a fascinating profile in our MPW package, puts it well: “The more technologically advanced our society becomes, the more we need to go back to the basic fundamentals of human communication.”

What We’re Reading Today

Uber’s Chinese rival invests in Lyft  

Didi Kuaidi’s new investment in Lyft, Uber’s largest U.S. competitor (other than traditional cab companies) opens a new front in a growing battle. Uber chief Travis Kalanick plans to launch in 100 new Chinese cities this year, while Didi Kuaidi commands 80% of the taxi-hailing market in China. The investment could also give Lyft a stepping-stone into China through strategic partnerships, a strategy Uber has shown little interest in pursuing.  WSJ

2015 Most Powerful Women

The new list comes out today, with GM’s Mary Barra at the top, followed by Pepsi’s Indra Nooyi and IBM’s Ginni Rometty. The 27 CEOs on the list control over $1 trillion in stock market value. Fortune

Justice Department to seek executive prosecutions

Today, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates is expected to outline intentions to prosecute individuals, not just corporations, in white-collar crime cases. Companies won’t get credit for cooperating with investigators unless all individuals involved in a case are named. It’s a drastic switch in strategy, arising from criticism that the Obama administration didn’t do enough during and after the financial crisis to prosecute those who encouraged poor home-lending practices.  Reuters

Superhero or supervillain?  

As part of Stephen Colbert‘s strategy to court high-powered business leaders, Elon Musk, creator of Tesla and Space X, joined the “Late Show” last night. Colbert wondered, jokingly, if the futuristic technology Musk plays with makes him a superhero or supervillain. Musk dropped a small piece of news as well, saying that in two to three years, consumers will be able to ride a Space X rocketship.  MarketWatch

Building a Better Leader

You don’t have to promote your star performer

At least not until he or she aspires to it. Smartbrief

A hedge fund money-back guarantee

The managers of Adage Capital Management, Robert Atchinson and Phillip Gross, have promised investors they can keep most of the gains when the hedge fund performs well and offered refunds if it underperforms — a startling practice for any investment vehicle, particularly a hedge fund. WSJ

Workplace stress as dangerous as secondhand smoke

Employers are launching an array of initiatives to help workers with lifestyle issues, but many of the programs don’t tackle the real causes of stress. UPI

Tech Talk

Apple unveils latest smorgasbord

CEO Tim Cook introduced a slimmer iPhone 6S, a revamped Apple TV, and a larger iPad. But what surprised Apple fans was the addition of a stylus called the Apple Pencil to accompany the new iPad Pro. Steve Jobs scorned the idea of a stylus, but Cook has embraced it as part of a plan to attract more enterprise business.  Vox

Microsoft fights off Apple’s iPad Pro 

Just before Apple unveiled the iPad Pro, Microsoft announced its Surface Enterprise Initiative with Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and others to sell Windows 10 tablets to businesses. It’s strong statement from CEO Satya Nadella that Microsoft will fight the encroachment of iPad Pros in the office — even as a Microsoft executive made a presentation at Apple’s event, to the stunned amazement of the Apple faithful. Fortune

Amazon scraps the Amazon Fire phone

It’s not a surprise, as Amazon began firing engineers that worked on the Fire phone last month. Now Jeff Bezos‘s company has sold its last phone and has no plan to make more. Geekwire

Up or Out

Follow the falling dominos: Yesterday United Continental CEO Jeff Smisek  resigned abruptly. The directors named one of their own, CSX chief operating officer Oscar Munoz, to be Smisek’s successor. Now CSX has named CFO Fredrik Eliasson, who had succeeded Munoz as CFO when Munoz became COO, to be chief sales and marketing officer. Frank Lonegro will take over the CFO role from Eliasson. WSJ

ExpressScripts has named president Tim Wentworth CEO-in-waiting, to succeed the retiring George Paz. Wentworth will take over next May. StreetInsider

Blackrock co-president Charles Hallac passed away on Wednesday, following a long battle with colon cancer. He was 50 years old. Reuters

Fortune Reads and Videos

Trump attacks Fiorina…about her looks

Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina had a fantastic response to Donald Trump’s crude criticism of her face. “Maybe I’m getting under his skin because I’m rising in the polls,” said Fiorina. Fortune

Chinese startups start to feel the pressure

Venture capital funding was down 50% last quarter. Fortune

Jeb Bush’s tax plan…

…has some issues with math that doesn’t add up. Fortune

Why powerful women love to work for Google…

… and then leave. Fortune

Today’s Quote

“An NFL sponsorship is a way to announce you have arrived. It is the last mass audience vehicle among American sports.” – Frank Hawkins, a former chief business executive for the NFL, discussing how the NFL continues to expand revenues even with all the bad headlines. The 2015 season begins tonight when the New England Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game Commissioner Roger Goodell will not attend.  WSJ

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Produced by Ryan Derousseau