As more photos surface showing inappropriate behavior on the part of Congressman Weiner (and I can’t help but chuckle at the irony of his last name), I saw an article posted online regarding whether this debacle was a victory for women leaders. I’m not sure why it has to boil down to victory and defeat, but I guess in our society that is how we measure success.
The fact is that both men and women in power have the ability to be corrupt – you just hear about men’s indiscretions more and more. I do not doubt that there are some women in power who abuse it, but one of the main reasons why we do not here about it as much is because we have not reached a state of gender equity where power resides in this country. Women only represent 17% of the positions in Congress and less than that in positions in the Presidential cabinet – and that is where the power exists in how this nation is governed. Less than 2% of women hold positions as CEO’s in Fortune 500 companies – again, where the power exists in the business community. Women have made better strides in state government, although it is now thought that these positions that have become lesser paying are becoming less desirable by men. Where women have made the greatest strides is in the field of Education with women now leading such prestigious universities like Harvard and Stanford.
You cannot effect change unless you have not only a seat at the table but also somewhat of a critical mass. Lone women who break through the ranks often speak of the challenge of being recognized because they are the only one in the group and often are dismissed when they participate. And when they are asked to participate it is often in a way that can appear to diminish their stature, such as taking minutes or being in charge of refreshments. A colleague of mine who became the first woman to receive a doctorate in Natural Resources Management at her University was recently asked in her first faculty meeting (she was the only woman in a group of all men) if she wouldn’t mind taking notes for the meeting. When she did not reply, which created a very pregnant pause, another man uneasily stepped up and agreed to do the minutes.
Just this past week a colleague of mine went to a dinner commemorating the 40th anniversary of the National Partnership for Women and Families, formerly known as the Legal Defense Fund. The organization has played a key role in moving forward issues related to women and families both nationally and globally. She was sitting at a table with a “corporate type” who said to her that he was a strong advocate for promoting women, but not women who had families because they had greater distractions and could not put in the hours. When she challenged him on this, he quickly said that he would do the same for men who had families. This bias is still very prevalent in the workplace and until we have greater understanding and workplace policies that support furthering both women and men with families, we will continue with lack of gender equity in positions of power. And although I say for both women and men the truth is that women, much more than men, are viewed as the ones ultimately responsible for the family. Consequently, men are considered less distracted and able to put in more hours at work resulting in more men getting these promotions even though they also have families.
So maybe this latest farce with Rep. Weiner is a victory for women – let’s get more women in these positions and see if they wind up doing the same things. Until that happens we won’t really know. And I know I will raise some hackles on this statement, but somehow I doubt it.