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Nobel Prizes Reinforce Growing Trend

Thursday, 15 Oct 2009 | 12:27 PM ET

More Nobel Prize winners were announced this week, and it was interesting to note that a record number of women (five) were honored this year. This dovetails with something I’ve been hearing a lot recently – women on the rise throughout the U.S. economy and the world.

In early September at the Ambrosetti forum, Gary Becker, a Nobel Prize winner himself and a professor at the University of Chicago, told me that women are receiving 60 percent of higher degrees all around the world. We talked about it at the time in Investor Brief (click here to read more) because I thought that was fascinating, especially considering that includes countries in which women traditionally have not been encouraged to pursue advanced education.

Becker said that one of the issues arising from this trend is that men are now falling behind. When I asked him why, he said that more men are dropping out and, on average, not sticking with things they don’t understand where as women right now are persevering longer (again, on average).

Right after that, I attended the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, where I was really struck by the number of professional or so-called “powerful” women at the conference. It has grown quite substantially in recent years.

Ironically, ForbesWoman magazine came out that same week with a cover story saying that, five years after Larry Summers’ infamous remarks that women are underperformers in science and engineering, women with science degrees are leading some of the largest global companies. (Summers was president of Harvard at the time and is now director of the National Economic Council.) In fact, one of the big events at the conference was the historic handoff of the CEO job at Xerox from Anne Mulcahy to Ursula Burns, who has a master’s in mechanical engineering.

I can’t help but think back to my own experiences when I began reporting from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in 1994. At that time, the floor was male dominated, and it was also a rather closed club, so they didn’t like the idea of a reporter – much less a female reporter – on their turf. There were a few bumps along the way, but eventually everything worked out fine.

Male or female, I think we all just want opportunities in life; what we do with them is up to us. And as investors, we just want to make money. In the end, whether the person leading the company is a man or woman is much less important than whether they are the right person for the job.

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