Berkshire Hathaway 2018 Annual Meeting Audience Question # 52

Warren is bullish on the human race

Warren Buffett:

OK, Andrew.

Andrew Ross Sorkin:

This question… we got a couple like this one… comes from Lauren Taylor Wolfe. She’s a managing partner at Impactive Capital.

“Warren, you’ve recently said that one of the things that makes you optimistic about America is women entering the workforce and the quote ‘doubling of the talent that’s effectively employed in that workforce.’ When it comes to positions of leadership, however, women make up less than 21 percent of boards of S&P 500 companies, and an even smaller 5 percent of the CEOs.”

“What can Berkshire do, and what is Berkshire specifically doing, as a major investor in many of these large companies, to advance gender equality, both at the board level and among senior leadership?”

Warren Buffett:

Yeah. Well, again… you know, as I’ve pointed out in the past, one of my sisters is here. And I have two sisters that are absolutely as smart as I am. And they have better personalities, as anybody that knows both of us… or all of us… can attest. And they didn’t remotely have the same opportunities I had.

And you have this 1942, or… New York Times… and you know, women could be nurses or teachers or retail clerks or stenographers. And that actually worked enormously to my advantage when I was a kid in Omaha in the ’30s, because I had way better teachers, because they were… that was a job open to women, I didn’t have a single male teacher in grammar school, and Charlie didn’t when he went to Dundee, I don’t think, either.

And we had this huge talent pool that was being funneled into very few opportunities, and therefore we got better than we deserved in terms of a market system producing it. The…

Again, our managers run their companies. But I’ve probably named… before we made this management change… I probably named only six or seven CEOs in the last five or six years.

We don’t change that much. But I would say that half of them that I’ve named have been women, which is about what you would… what should turn out to be the case in terms of ability.

Now, there is a certain pipeline problem, but that gets cured with time, and you can’t use that forever as an excuse.

And you know, I feel very good about the decisions we made for CEOs. I prefer all our CEOs to live forever. And one woman almost did that, that we hired. Mrs. B. lived to be 104. She retired at 103. And that’s a lesson to our other managers, that if you retire prematurely, you know… no telling what’ll happen.

But it is absolutely true. It does make me bullish. It makes me bullish on the human race. But it’s certainly on our country. Because if you look at what happened, you know, before the 19th Amendment, and then after the 19th Amendment for a long time, and continuing to this day, but it’s… that… there’s been significant improvement.

And I do feel more optimistic about the future, because I think there will be more selection by merit, rather than, you know, by gender or by race or by inheritance.

I think that if you had a system where all businesses got passed on to the eldest son or something, I think it… I think that society would make a lot less progress than one that’s merit- based.

Charlie?

Charlie Munger:

Well, we did live in a different age. There’s an old saying that the past is a very strange country. People behave quite differently there. And it was just totally different. And it was ridiculous that… I cannot remember… I had one or two male teachers in my high school. But almost none.

And the world has really changed.

And within Berkshire, I’ve never seen any overt discrimination anywhere on the grounds of gender.

Warren Buffett:

There probably has been some, though. I mean…

Charlie Munger:

No, no, I’m sure that we have our…

Warren Buffett:

Oh, there has…

Charlie Munger:

…share of all the peculiarities of human nature.

Warren Buffett:

Sure.

Charlie Munger:

But it’s generally, it’s… everything has always improved, wouldn’t you agree with that?

Warren Buffett:

Yeah.

Charlie Munger:

And I think it’ll keep improving.

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