From my book in progress, SHIFT: A New Paradigm for Women in the Workplace – Stories and Strategies.
Please enjoy an excerpt from Chapter 12, the introduction to a segment of interviews with successful women entrepreneurs.
If you would like to see more, please read Shift – Excerpt 2, accessible from the link provided below or through the main drop-down menu or contact me for more pages.
PICTURE A LEADER
Picture a leader and who do you see? A simple exercise adapted for a workshop for executives by Tina Kiefer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, has one answer to that question. The exercise revealed that both men and women almost always draw a picture of a man.
The same question has been used worldwide by psychologists with similar results. A study conducted by the Academy of Management Journal confirms this bias by stating that mere recognition as a leader in the workplace is more difficult for women than for men. The study also attested that, “Even when a man and a woman were reading the same words off a script, only the man’s leadership potential was recognized.”
In an installment of the former Shields and Brooks segment of the PBS News Hour, Mark Shields discussed the view of women in political office. “The presumption, the prejudice, that voters have had historically toward women candidates is, A. that they’re more honest than men, and B. that they’re more compassionate,” Shields said.
But, he added, that people question a woman’s toughness in the political realm. There’s no question that in 2018, women did very well at the polls. A survey taken at that time asked both parties if the country would be better off with more women in office. According to Shields, 36% of Republicans said they believed, yes, the country would be better off, in contrast to 83% of Democrats who did.
Behind Every Good Man
We measure success in different ways. As the story goes, Clementine Hozier, Sir Winston Churchill’s wife, was talking to a street sweeper for a while as they set off on a walk across town.
“What did you talk about for so long?” Sir Winston inquired.
His wife smiled, “Many years ago he was madly in love with me.”
Churchill smiled ironically.
“So, you could have been the wife of a street sweeper today?” he asked.
′′Oh no, my love,” Clementine replied, “If I had married him, he would have been the Prime Minister today.”
Every year, Vanity Fair magazine writes a segment called, “The New Establishment,” which is a ranking of the top elite power brokers and captains of industry. In the 2017 installment, only 26 of the 100 listed names were women, and in four cases they were directly tied with a man, making only twenty-two women stand-alone, independent success stories. Eleven of the twenty-six women listed were in the entertainment industry.
In the book, Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet, Claire L. Evans, a reporter for VICE, details a glossing over of important women innovators whose names we have never heard in the lexicon of technology. The review cites major groundbreakers, from largely unknown
Ada Lovelace, who wrote the first computer program during the Victorian Age to cyberpunk web designers of the 1990s. In fact, it goes on to state unequivocally that female visionaries have always been at the vanguard of technology and innovation.
How many of us have ever heard of Grace Hopper, the mathematician who democratized computing by leading the charge for machine-independent programming languages after World War II? Are your children reading about her in any history books in school? And meet Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler, known as “the one-woman google” who kept the earliest version of the Internet online.
And Stacy Horn, who ran one of the first social networks on a shoestring out of her New York City apartment in the 1980s. Names. Women’s names. We’ve never heard. It seems there are even more hidden figures in our past than we were aware of, many more, than the three women profiled in the film Hidden Figures.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” — Anais Nin
Who Is In Charge Here?
We witness this bias in a dramatization of facts in The Post, a 2017 film by Steven Spielberg which tells the story of The Washington Post newspaper, circa 1971, when publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee risked their careers to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spanned three decades and four U.S. presidents.
As the movie opens, Graham struggles to take over the reins from her deceased husband Phil, who had been in charge of the paper at the behest of her father, Eugene Meyer, the original publisher of The Post. Katherine Graham, it should be noted, had worked at the paper for many years though it was her husband who inherited the role of publisher from her father.
Board members are loath to embrace her in the role and we witness her as an invisible entity in meetings and discussions regarding the paper’s future. She walks paces behind the men and is not seen—barely seen even in the frame of the film—nor heard, nor acknowledged by them. Until she finds her voice in the midst of the massive go/no-go decision on whether or not to print the breaking scandal. She emerges as a fearless leader with integrity, ethics and heart, possessive of a genuine commitment to doing the right thing.
Success stories are everywhere if you look around. In my neck of the woods, London Breed comes to mind. Breed became the first African American woman to be elected Mayor of San Francisco in 2018. She comes from humble beginnings, having grown up in public housing in the Western Addition, raised by her grandmother. “No matter where you come from, no matter what you decide to do in life, you can do anything you want to do,” Breed said on the steps of City Hall after her victory. She vowed to herself, and encouraged others, to never let circumstances determine the outcome in your life. Hard work and determination count for something, after all. Even in the most male dominated sectors.
In 2021, seven other women of color were mayors of major American cities besides Breed, including Kim Janey in Boston; Tishaura Jones in St. Louis; LaToya Cantrell in New Orleans; Vi Lyles in Charlotte, Keisha Lance Bottoms in Atlanta; Muriel Bowser in Washington; and Lori Lightfoot in Chicago. All eight women told The New York Times that despite their achievements, they had “no illusions about the barriers still standing in the way of Black women in U.S. politics” and that their success doesn’t end systemic sexism or racism.
“I always say, be careful who you meet along the way because you never know, the person who was dumping your trash could become your manager,” said Gail Evans. She began her career in a part-time job as janitor at Eastman Kodak. She is now the global chief digital officer at Mercer, an international consulting firm. Evans says she lives her life by respecting everyone regardless of the role they play in the structure of a company.
She also advocates for being yourself, a lesson hard learned after years of seeking acceptance in the tech industry. She believes it’s okay to be a strong African American woman in technology and proves it every day. Having worked through myriad obstacles to make it to a position of respected leadership, her core philosophy has not changed.
According to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), there are over 10.1 million women-owned businesses in the United States representing the fastest growing segment of the economy. We must be doing something right, with aplomb, determination and efficiency, despite the odds. NAWBO was founded in 1975 as an advocacy group with the intention of opening doors for women entrepreneurs by transforming public policy and influencing opinion makers.
It has grown from its beginnings, with just twelve DC based women business owners meeting to share information, to a membership of over 5,000 women in sixty chapters nationwide, representing all sectors and stages of development.
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This is a brief excerpt from Chapter 12 of the book SHIFT: A New Paradigm for Women in the Workplace – Stories and Strategies © 2022, Mary Corbin / Olive George Press. No reprints without permission.