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'It's harder for women, than men,' Warren Buffett says

Friday, May 03, 2013   (0 Comments)
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Women are often given short-shrift when it comes to juggling work and home responsibilities — and workplace managers should make it easier for women to achieve work/life balance, according to Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet.

"It’s harder, frankly, for the women than the men,” Buffet said during his first social media interview, broadcast live on, May 2, 2013. "Some of the women can’t say they’re having a problem. Men would say, ‘Okay, then someone else should take care of it.’”

Sitting down with Fortune’s Pattie Sellers at the University of Nebraska Omaha campus, the billionaire investor addressed issues faced by working. The man regarded by Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential people offered his views on women in leadership positions and the current buzz surrounding Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s” Lean In” movement and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s news-making HR policies.

"Any country that’s only using half of its talent has great promise in using all of it,” said Buffett, referring to gender gap in top management roles. "Think of what you could do with the whole team out there.”

The hurdles women face as they navigate their careers are sometimes imposed upon them by society, and often self-perpetuated, he said. He cited legendary Washington Post CEO Katharine Graham as an example of a woman whose self image did not match her position. "She was the most powerful woman in the country and she never believed in herself. It’s so important that women get rid of those ‘funhouse mirrors’ – the ones that society has put in front of women for centuries.”

Buffett gives little thought to stereotypes in his hiring practices. "My job is to have the right people in the top slots for those businesses, Age, sex, educational background doesn’t make a difference.”

Talent, he said, is scarce. "We cannot afford to have any kind of ‘blacklist’ as to who we don’t want to have in the job.”

Of Berkshire Hathaway’s delay in adding women to its board of directors at a time when many boards were already displaying gender diversity, Buffett said he treated the board "as my own province for a long time.” What changed? "Public pressure to some degree – I had always controlled Berkshire. I was used to making my own decisions.”

Adding a woman, Meryl Witmer, as Berkshire Hathaway’s most recent board member reinforces Buffett’s positive views on supporting women’s leadership. "If it was a tossup, it would have to be a woman,” Buffett said. "There’s a chicken-and-egg thing [with women in leadership roles]. They gotta get the visibility; if they don’t get it, they’re not thought of.”

Asked by his own son whether Buffett would take actions to make women’s advancement easier, the CEO answered that he "gives the managers full responsibility. I have not gone to the CEO of Geico and said ‘do it this way or that way.’ They do run their own businesses.”

Sellers pointed out the absence of diversity policy at Berkshire Hathaway. "I have my own attitudes that I bring toward hiring people at the parent company,” said Buffett. "They run their own businesses, We can’t start issuing edicts from headquarters.”

Buffett said he has not noticed any difference in women’s and men’s management styles. "We have put 12 or so billion dollars into IBM stock. It didn’t affect my decision one way or the other that the CEO [Ginni Rometty] was going to be a female. It just does not make a difference. It makes a huge difference how good she is.”

Watch Fortune's Q&A with Warren Buffett

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