Jewish World Review Oct 27, 2005/ 24 Tishrei,
Taking care, taking charge
Not everybody has got the word. Last week, Newsweek's cover
story was about Oprah Winfrey and seven other prominent women, and their
stories about how they got where they are all sounded like exceptions to the
rule. They were described as women with "a continuing passion for their
work." It's hard to imagine patronizing successful men in just that way.
"Women 'Take Care,' Men 'Take Charge'" is the title of the
conclusions of a study of sexual stereotyping in the business community, and
how stereotypes hold women down. Catalyst, a research organization that
examines women's accomplishments and careers, concludes that the most
damaging stereotype is that women aren't as good at problem solving as men,
and that's what keeps them out of leadership roles. Companies are thus
deprived of a vital talent pool. "Gender diversity" in the workplace doesn't
make a significant difference, and women themselves often incorporate the
stereotypes in their thinking. They often don't try to change it. Women make
up less than 2 percent of both the Fortune 500 and the Fortune 1000 CEOs.
It's taboo to suggest today that childbearing has anything to do
with the scarcity of women at the top of certain professions. Neil French,
the global creative director of WPP, the second largest advertising company,
was asked at a conference not long ago why more women hadn't made it to the
top of the creative side of the advertising industry. "They don't deserve
to," he said their roles as childbearers and caretakers prevent their
succeeding in top positions.
He should have known better. Shades of Lawrence Summers at
Harvard. The childbearing/caretaking argument so enraged one woman that she
took her revenge by inflicting death by a thousand cuts on the Internet.
Several hundred thousand words later, Neil French resigned, telling The New
York Times that he thought the reaction was "lunacy" and that "death by blog
is not really the way to go."
There's no question that many women can make it to the top with
a family at home if not in tow, but it's unreasonable to discount family
concerns as the legitimate reason many women don't try harder to fly higher.
In the days when distinctions between the sexes were referred in the
vernacular to qualities that flow from biological rather than "gender"
differences, it was a given that women often make different choices than
men, even when they're demonstrably as smart, as able as men.
Women reach their high-achieving "turning point" years about the
same time they hear biological-clock alarms go off. Babies and young
children, who care not a whit about the politics of gender, demand tough
decisions. Round-the-world travel and 80-hour workweeks are not
mother-friendly. Of course, they're not father-friendly either, but does the
most dedicated and determined feminist imagine that men can be conditioned
to react as women to those "unfriendly" experiences?
Once when I was a guest of Oprah's to talk about the
difficulties of combining career and children, Oprah talked about her own
experience of never having had children, of making the choices that enabled
her to achieve her career goals. The tears in her eyes were real. Women are
no longer relegated to "different spheres," and their numbers will grow in
the rooms at the top, but not necessarily in every field.
The new television sitcom "Commander in Chief" (they ought to
call it "Commander in Chic," and it could double as a lipstick infomercial),
is a fantasy about a woman who as vice president gets the top job when the
president suffers a fatal brain aneurysm. In the real world, there's talk of
an unlikely 2008 race between Hillary and Condi, who suffer no severe
distaff stereotypes. Hillary's daughter is grown, and Condi never had either
a daughter or the mixed blessing of a certain First Gentleman. A Gallup Poll
two years ago found that nine of 10 Americans could imagine voting for a
woman for president. But there was no particular name attached, so the
result was interesting but didn't necessarily tell us much. Dick Morris, who
was once Bill Clinton's political guru, compares a contest between Hillary
and Condi to classic bouts in history: Hector vs. Achilles; Wellington vs.
Bonaparte; Lee vs. Grant; Mary, Queen of Scots vs. Elizabeth. Hyperbole
aside, neither Hillary nor Condi would lack problem-solving skills.
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