Warren Buffett

Take more of the glory, Buffett tells corporate women

Investor says first wife and late Washington Post chief Katharine Graham among his role models

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 May, 2013, 4:31am

Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, said women needed to pursue more recognition for what they accomplished.

"They have to get like the males and claim credit for way more than they do," Buffett, 82, said at the University of Nebraska Omaha. "You can't put limitations on yourself."

The billionaire investor spoke to students, answering questions from audience members and those submitted on social media website Twitter. He cited Katharine Graham, the former chairman and chief executive of The Washington Post, as an example of a "super high-grade" woman who did not think she deserved praise.

"Her stock went up 40-for-1 while she ran the company, 4,000 per cent," Buffett said. "You'd think that'd make somebody feel pretty confident about themselves. It didn't.

"She won a Pulitzer Prize for her autobiography. You think that might make somebody pretty confident about themselves. It never got rid of the feeling in her stomach."

The average man would say: "You're not giving me enough credit," Buffett said. "Women have to get over that."

Graham died in 2001 at the age of 84. She won a Pulitzer in 1998 for her autobiography Personal History, and presided over the newspaper's publication of the secret Pentagon Papers and the investigation of the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.

The event precedes Berkshire's annual shareholder meeting today where Buffett will share his views on his company.

Buffett said he counts his first wife and Graham among his female role models. Berkshire is Washington Post's biggest shareholder and Buffett is a former board member.

Berkshire shareholders are set to elect Meryl Witmer, a general partner at Eagle Capital, as a director at the annual meeting. Witmer would be the third woman on Berkshire's board, joining Charlotte Guyman and Susan Decker. Her addition would expand the board to 13 as the panel prepares for Buffett's eventual departure.

"If it was a toss-up, I wanted to give it to a woman," Buffett said of adding a director. "I like the idea of women of talent becoming recognised."

Women held just 16.6 per cent of board seats and 14.3 per cent of executive-officer posts at Fortune 500 companies last year, according to a report from Catalyst, a non-profit group that seeks to expand opportunities for women. They fill 51.4 per cent of managerial and professional positions, yet earn 23 per cent less than men on average, US Census data shows.

Buffett said he did not dictate policies to executives of his managed companies on topics including diversity and flexible-work hours.

Berkshire was among the lowest-rated companies in the Standard & Poor's 100 Index on diversity, according to a March report by Calvert Investments.

"The managers do get to run their businesses," he said. "I can express my views here, I can express it to them privately, but I do give them the responsibility to run the businesses."

Buffett has been outspoken in support of advancing opportunities for women. He has said that for most of its history, the US failed to make use of women's abilities by restricting their career advancement.

"It's incredible what happened," Buffett said in 2011, at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, California. "We wasted half our talent."