Donny Deutsch and Female Superiority

by Chuck Ross on February 1, 2011

Initially I wanted to write about how alpha males leverage the attention and adoration of women in order to construct a cocoon around themselves as both protection and distinction from the masses of chomping, growling beta males that exist below.

I also wanted to discuss how Donny Deutsch is a prime example of this alpha male strategy – as shown by both his new TV show which offers women relationship advice by marginalizing men and in which he opened by saying that men are inferior to women as well as by his book titled Often Wrong, Never in Doubt which includes a chapter called “The Doctrine of Female Superiority” (page 78) which begins “Women are superior beings. It’s that simple. Certainly in business.”

Deutsch claims that women are superior because they are team players and because men are overly greedy and competitive, but he makes many logical errors in his assessment. First, he conflates “business” specifically with advertising. His experience is that women are superior in advertising, but he extends his belief in female superiority in that field to fit under the entire canopy of Business. Certainly, though, business is multi-faceted – at least if what I learned in Strategic Management is correct.

Second, Deutsch says that advertising, by its very nature, is a more feminine business given that it is service-oriented. He also says that the pay in advertising is much lower than that in other fields like investment banking. Deutsch mentions that he was one of only two graduates from his Wharton class to go into advertising, and that was only because his father owned the firm he began working at. By stating this, Deutsch provides the real reason that his observation would possibly be true. Women succeed in the advertising world because high-achieving men wanted to explore greener pastures.

Further down, Deutsch says that he prefers working with women because men “are a pain in the ass”. They would be, for Deutsch, since he’s the alpha male whose spot those men would be vying for. Even in his own corporation, Deutsch preferred to surround himself by non-aggressive, non-competitive individuals who couldn’t or wouldn’t challenge his authority. There’s also a case to be made that Deutsch prefers women in his office for other reasons: he makes many references to fantasizing about the women in his office and has been known for being a ladies’ man.

Deutsch wrote his book in 2005 while he was still Chairman and “spiritual leader” of Deutsch Inc. – a company he sold for $275 million back in 2000. Despite Deutsch’s relevancy in the ad world and his place in the media spotlight, his comments about female superiority received little attention. If Amazon book reviews are any indication, nobody mentioned Deutsch’s chapter on female superiority and instead focused on other aspects of the book.

Deutsch didn’t relegate his opinion just to his book: in 2009 at an awards ceremony for women in the communications industry, Deutsch reiterated that women are superior to men in business.

In thinking about those questions I came across another aspect of this story. Contrast Deutsch – his tactic of appealing to women’s sensibilities, his experience that women are the best in the advertising field, and his acceptance and relative free pass that has been granted him – with those of Neil French, the former creative director with WPP, another large advertising firm. In 2005, French was fired after publicly stating that women “don’t make it to the top [of the ad world] because they don’t deserve to.” Among other reasons, he attributed this to their roles as childbearers and caregivers. French’s comments weren’t those of some crackpot ad guy who existed at the margins of the industry; they were made at the $100-a-plate “A Night With Neil French” event in Toronto. At least before his unwelcome comments, people valued French’s opinion.

Many of the 300 guests in attendance were outraged by French’s comments which led to his resignation. He defended his remarks by saying “the answer [to the question of whether women deserve to be top ad executives] is, they don’t work hard enough. It’s not a joke job. The future of the entire agency is in the hands of the creative director.”

In a 2009 interview, French provided context to the event. The infamous question was posed to him by a woman “who had previously had an ear-bashing for being away on long leave while I was visiting the office.” His career quickly suffered from “death by blog” from a host of “malcontents” who hadn’t even witnessed the event.

That Deutsch could write a chapter in which he says that men are inferior to women and spread his anti-male rhetoric all over TV is one thing. But considered in light of a similar incident in a similar field where the only difference in the topic of discussion is the sex of employees is telling on many levels. It shows that a strategy of appealing to women is never a bad one in business. A man can’t lose by sucking up to them. You can only lose by telling the truth about them.

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