Maybe Carol Bartz should teach

September 8, 2011

Why not? With free time on her hands Carol Bartz should consider teaching high school math and science. Seriously. (Not in elementary school – the whole potty mouth thing won’t last there for long, and Bartz wouldn’t be Bartz without her salty swagger. But teenagers would love it.)

Now that she’s been ousted from her role as Yahoo’s CEO, I think the confessed math nerd should let her geek flag fly and inspire young people toward her favorite subject. And for girls in particular (and their parents), she has message: Stick to your guns.

About a year ago I asked Bartz if math was integral to her ascendancy to the CEO posts at Autodesk and Yahoo. Beyond my job a tech reporter, my reasons were selfish: my teen daughter has the math bug. I wanted to know if Bartz felt a well-used TI-83 graphing calculator was a vital weapon to carry if one aspired to business success.

Reuters: Do you think that being a math nerd is an advantage?

Bartz: She (your daughter) will get to decide what she wants to do because … most of our girls stop at 9 and 10 and say: ‘not for me’. Then they get to college and they have no choice but liberal arts. None. They cannot qualify for two-thirds of the degrees. And frankly — and nothing against journalists — I get paid a lot more than you do. She’s going to have an option in life. That’s the beauty of it. I can’t tell you how many women have come to me and said “if I had known that I had to pass college calculus to be in almost any field other than journalism and art history, I would have done something about it.” But, (your daughter) is going to end up having some real asshole teachers along the way, that will try and kick her out of it. That still goes on.

Reuters: Is that what happened to you?

Bartz: No back when I was in math, the only choice you had was to be a teacher. And I wasn’t teaching material. So I found computer science and I was like — wow — because you also solve problems. What people like about math is you can get answers and you solve problems. It’s a structured way of thinking.

Reuters: Does it help you as an executive?

Bartz: Of course it does. ‘If I do this, that happens.’ I can’t tell you how many people cannot figure out ‘if I do this, that happens’. (As for my own) daughter, I just want her to understand the logic of a decision. You have to be willing to explore thinking that way. Keep (your daughter) on that! Really — encourage her. If she gets real jerks, get her out of those classes. However you can, encourage her.

The outspoken Silicon valley vet is not alone among the ranks of the top women in big business with a math and science pedigree. Of the relative handful of women CEO’s in the S&P 500, three of the top ten have math on their minds, including PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, who earned a Bachelor’s degree in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics from Madras Christian College; Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, who has master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University; and DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman, a graduate of Tufts University’s engineering school.

(Photo: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

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