5 Reasons The President’s Cabinet Choices Matter

By Sheree Winslow

As someone who has supported President Obama in the past both financially and through volunteer efforts, I am highly disappointed in the current lack of diversity in his cabinet choices.  Recent posts to my Facebook page on this topic have mostly drawn huge support but there has also been criticism.

Why does gender matter?  Isn’t it more important to get qualified candidates for the job?  “He’s a great president so leave him alone.”  “So tired of this woman’s rights crap.”  These are some of the negative comments my criticism of the President has drawn.

I am going to keep writing and posting on this topic because right now there is an opportunity to create positive changes and I don’t want our numbers of women in top jobs to continue moving backwards.  Below are five reasons the President’s cabinet choices are important to the fight for equality.

  1. Because the numbers tell us that there are qualified female candidates.  One of the arguments coming from the spin machine is that Obama is simply appointing the best person for the job.  This idea ignores math and rational thought.  If the workforce is comprised of 51% women, Obama’s White House employees are 50% women, and if women are outpacing men in educational attainment, wouldn’t it follow that there is some percentage of qualified female candidates that is greater than 0%?  This is just simple math.  The argument that there are no qualified female candidates highlights a type of insidious institutional sexism.
  2. Because we need best thinking on our President’s team.  A series of studies I have cited in the past, both academic research and studies of company performance, point to the improvement of results when there is a balance of men and women on the team or when women lead.  President Obama is not simply assembling individual performers but he is assembling a team of advisors who will provide him with solutions to a host of our country’s issues.  Whether considering domestic or foreign policy, the economy or our infrastructure—we need the best group possible advising the President so we need diverse thinking.
  3. Because the campaign targeted women and now, this becomes an integrity issue. Integrity is defined as doing what a person says he or she will do.  After the President’s campaign targeted women, regularly pointed to differences between Republicans and Democrats on women’s issues, touted the President as a champion of woman’s rights, and resulted in a win driven largely by the votes of single women, the President’s integrity is on the line.  During a commencement speech at Barnard College, the President said that women shouldn’t just ask for a seat at the table but demand a seat at the head of the table.  Those words and his campaign are nothing more than pandering if the President doesn’t put action behind them.
  4. Because the job is Chief Executive.  As the CEO of the country, Obama is ultimately responsible for recruitment, training, and succession planning within the federal government.  If he is unable to assemble a diverse team after he has been leading the federal government for 4 years, he is responsible for practices that result in a lack of leadership diversity and this needs to be addressed.
  5. Because the president sets an example for the nation and world.  As the most powerful leader in the world, the President’s influence extends beyond government to the private sector and around the globe.  If others in power both in the U.S. and abroad see that the president can talk about women’s empowerment and then not follow through with appointments of women, why should they have to worry about ensuring equality in their succession plans?

The work in making cabinet appointments will likely continue for a couple months.  During this time of transition from one term to the next, I am hopeful that President Obama will give greater consideration to creating a diverse team.  From a woman who has been a strong supporter of the President, this is where our beliefs are tested.  And this issue matters.

Yea, We’re Almost 4%

By Sheree Winslow

The elevator to the executive suite had been designed to only move one person at a time.  Located toward the back of the lobby, you might walk right by it if you didn’t know where you wanted to go.  Kimberly, however, knew where she wanted to be so she passed the banks that took people to other floors and pushed the “up” button.

A few seconds later the sound of the elevator signaled that it had reached the bottom floor and was ready for its next passenger.  Before Kimberly could take a step forward, a man named Rex rushed by her and stepped into the car.  ”Sorry but I need to head up there first,” he said.

After Rex had left, Kimberly pushed the button again and while she waited, a familiar face approached.  Michael said, “hello,” and the two engaged in chit chat until the familiar “ding” sounded again.  Michael didn’t even say “excuse me” as he walked past Kimberly and onto the elevator.  He turned and just before the doors closed, he said, “I didn’t realize you were waiting.”

Kimberly was frustrated.  Both men had clearly seen her but they didn’t seem to realize it was her turn.  Again, she pushed the button.  But when the car returned to the lobby level, Kimberly experienced the same thing all over again.  This time John got into the elevator.

Then it was Ryan.  Kimberly waited and tried again.

Then Daniel.  More waiting and trying.

Jeffey.  Waiting, trying.

Warren. 

Mike.

Alan. 

Randall. 

Bill. 

Brian. 

John.  

Lowell. 

James. 

Timothy. 

Larry. 

Vikram. 

George. 

Stephen. 

David.  

Craig. 

Charles. 

John.

And after 24 men had pushed by her to take their rides to the c-suite, it was finally Kimberly’s turn.

Repetitive?  Frustrating to read?  I hope so because I want to give you a glimpse into the composition of our Fortune 500.  For every 24 men that get the top spots at their companies, there is one woman.  In 2012 there was “big” progress because of the 500 CEOs listed, 18 were women.  And the reason this is called progress is because in 2011, the number of women in top spots had dropped from 15 to 12.  I recently read an article celebrating the fact that we have so many women CEO’s this year and it struck a nerve with me.  Yea, we’re almost 4 percent?!

I don’t want to scoff at positive change because at a minimum, a negative trend was reversed.  Instead of declining further, the number of women CEO’s did increase.  But when reviewed in context of the below, it just doesn’t seem like reason for celebration quite yet.

I have been working to better understand the root causes of this inequality in order to work toward solutions and I would love to hear back from you.  Why do you think the numbers of women in top jobs is so ridiculously low?  And what do you think we need to do to change this? 

 

 

The U.S. Needs YOU!

By Sheree Winslow

The crowd broke into thundering applause as she walked into the room and took her place at the podium.  I scrambled to stand on a folding chair so I could see her as tears welled in my eyes knowing I was witnessing a significant political event.

Getting into the crowded banquet hall had not been easy.  I’d had to sneak into the room pulling my younger sister behind me the minute I noticed the Secret Service agents guarding the entrance had turned their attention elsewhere.  I didn’t want to miss this event and I was determined to gain admittance to the luncheon for the National Conference of State Legislators.  So when I saw an opening, I moved quickly through the door.

The year was 1984, I was 14 years old, and I was eager to witness Geraldine Ferraro’s first speech after accepting the vice presidential nomination.  My excitement and emotion when she took the stage were related to the opportunity I saw from her candidacy.  As the first woman to accept a vice presidential nomination from a major party, she represented to me an advancement for women, the promise of future equality.  Now seven presidential elections and 28 years later, I wonder if we could be doing more to honor her legacy.

Two weeks ago the World Economic Forum released “The Global Gender Gap Report 2012.”  Among the disappointing findings for the United States was the fact that the country has dropped from a rank of 39 (bad) to 55 (worse) for Political Empowerment.  The scores are based on the ratio of women to men in Congress or similar legislative bodies, ratio of men to women in top cabinet positions, and years of a female head of state.  Scrolling down the list you find Burundi, Mozambique, Bangladesh, Latvia, Nicaragua, Cuba, and 48 other countries…then you see the United States.

The score is even worse if you look at the specific number for women in Congress where our percentage of women is worse than 77 other countries.

I’m the daughter of two former state representatives.  Both my mother and father served terms as Republican legislators.  They referred to themselves as fiscal conservatives with a social conscience, a definition that fit whether looking at their voting records or the change they advocated.  My mother played feminist music and volunteered in Peace Links, an organization that worked to reduce nuclear arms.  But when it came to taxes, she was not likely to support an increase.  Meanwhile, my father was termed a “bleeding heart” by others in his party because he believed in funding social programs for those in greatest need.  This was in spite of his leadership in reforming the welfare system and reducing benefit for young, able workers.  In light of the extreme partisanship exhibited in this year’s U.S. presidential elections, it’s hard to conceive of a time when moderates were allowed a voice.

But even more difficult to conceive is how we can be moving backwards in numbers of women in top positions at a time when there are so many issues our gender needs addressed.  In an infographic produced by Rad Campaign, a web agency that works on advocacy projects, the war on women’s rights is brought to life.  If you think the term “War on Women” is an exaggeration, consider some of the concerns highlighted.

  • The average woman will lose $413,000 to a man over the course of her career because we still have not closed the pay gap.
  • Arizona has created new rules for science by deciding that a woman can be pregnant before conception.  Yes, before an egg drops and before having sex, I can be considered pregnant if I live in Phoenix and later conceive.
  • Rapists in most states can be granted visitation and custody rights if the mother decides to take her pregnancy to term.

Women of all political persuasions seem to understand lack of equality when a girl in Pakistan is shot for wanting an education.  But in most U.S. states, a woman sexually violated by a man may be required to share custody rights with her attacker.  Let me say that again—in most states a woman who is raped may be required to allow her child to spend time with a sexual offender, the same offender who brought violence against her.

If we want to have more women in leadership in business and on corporate boards, then we better take a closer look at what is happening in public policy.  And if we want to be seen as a leader in democracy and support the empowerment of women around the world, it’s time to take a hard look at gender equality and our own human rights issues at home, in our homes.

Politics is not an easy game.  I have seen this first hand.  And no doubt, it is more challenging for women who will be criticized for their appearance, their clothes, the amount of time they give to their family while campaigning, and a variety of other topics on which men are not challenged.  Is this what is holding us back?  Is it the nurturer’s dilemma—the problems politics inflicts on families is just too great?

Or do we have confidence issues that need attention?  I spoke with a mother and former political worker last week and asked her why she wouldn’t consider a political career.  She told me she didn’t feel qualified even though she knows more about law than most Americans.  And in this country, by the very nature of being a concerned citizen, you are qualified.

Are we struggling with the current parties and their establishments?  How does a woman who is pro-choice but opposes an increase of the debt ceiling find her place?  Considering that most Americans fall neither on the far left nor the far right, is our current system and primary nomination process built to alienate the majority and limit the pool from which candidates can be recruited?

While the answers to these questions may not be easily available, I think we need to start exploring the problems and seeking solutions.  We aren’t doing justice to the women who fought before us.  And we’re not doing justice to the women who will follow us.

I am most certainly looking forward to Tuesday and the end of what has been a nasty election year.  Observing the vitriol could leave us disillusioned but I think this is precisely the right time to start planning for the change we need.  So as one campaign cycle ends, I am issuing a broad invitation and plea to women across the country.

Please run.  Please run for city council and the state legislature.  Please run for school board or chair of your state political party.  Please submit your credentials for cabinet positions in state or federal government.  Please run for Congress.  Please run for Governor or  Treasurer or Secretary of State.  Please run because I need you, your family needs you, future generations of women need you, and your country needs you…to make your voice heard.

Choosing Our Words

By Sheree Winslow

The trouble often starts on the playground.

One day you’re playing four square with your friends and everything is cool and the next day you’ve been iced out because Angie decided she was mad at you.  She got Rachel and Melissa to stop talking to you, too.  You wander around the playground sad, maybe crying, trying to figure out what you have done.  Melissa tells you that Angie is mad because you were being “bossy.”  Eventually Angie decides she is going to put it behind her.  She’ll let it go this time.  And then the next thing you know, the conflict has passed.  But you’re hurt and confused, your confidence has been shaken, and you begin to second guess all your actions.  And before you can even process your feelings, everyone is mad at Melissa for bragging about some achievement.

I have a recollection from sixth grade that resembles the above scenario including the detail of being called “bossy.”  And all these years later, I can’t remember exactly what went down but I can remember how it felt to be isolated without really understanding what I had done wrong.  As women, we learn early how to keep one another in line.  Or maybe more accurately said, we learn how to undermine one another and hold down our collective confidence.

Since some of the details of how this socialization first occurred for me have eroded with passing years, I decided to do an interview with someone who I knew would have more recent memories.

Brittni is 10-years-old.  She has long wavy blonde hair that she likes to brush a lot.  She thinks Liam of One Direction is ahw-some and torments her family by playing the boy band’s music regularly.  She loves playing softball but even more than that she loves being on a softball team because of the camaraderie with her teammates.  This week, and possibly just for this week, Brittni wants to own a bakery where she can put her love of of both science and design into practice.  She has an idea for a unique cupcake and frosting combination—a mystery flavor that I cannot reveal.

“I’m gonna be the boss when I get older,” she said bringing a huge smile to my face.

Brittni is my niece and being her auntie gives me great joy.  On a recent Sunday before we engaged in a rousing game of Raving Rabbids competition on the Nintendo Wii, I asked her a few questions about how girls her age treat each other.  Dressed in her quilt print maxi dress she looked every part the young California girl she was, enhancing my surprise at the maturity and wisdom her answers offered.

Last year Brittni and her best friend became the target of the schoolyard mean girl.  Unlike the story of my experience that I described above, Brittni and some of her classmates were truly bullied.  (For the purpose of this post, I will simply refer to the bully as “Bully” and have changed the name of Brittni’s friend to “Molly”).

Sheree:  Do you remember any ways that Bully made fun of you?  What would she say?

Brittni:  I don’t really remember because I tried to forget and I did.

Sheree:  Do you know it happens at work?

Brittni:  No, I don’t.

Sheree:  What do you think about the fact that women do this at work?

Brittni:  I think it would make work a little harder.

Sheree:  What will you do when you are the boss and other employees make fun of each other?

Brittni:  Tell them to stop or they’re fired—but in a nice way.

Sheree:  How does it make you feel when someone makes fun of you?

Brittni:  It hurts a lot.

Sheree:  Has anyone ever made fun of you and they didn’t think you knew but you did?

Brittni:  Yes, because Molly told me that Bully was talking about me behind my back and she told her to stop but she wouldn’t.  And then she started bullying Molly, too.

Sheree:  Why do you think Bully does that?

Brittni:  Because her mom is really mean, too.  She’s taking after her mom.

This past week I joined a group for professional women on Linkedin sponsored by Citi and within the group page was the re-post of a Forbes.com article.  In “Why Women Are the Worst Kind of Bullies,” writer Ruchika Tulshyan also spotlights how our early childhood training as women can manifest itself in the workplace.  More than 200 people had commented in the group discussion at the time of this writing, many with stories of pain and suffering resulting from woman against woman abuse.

Whether women are bullying others or disparaging one another in a more benign way, these problems impact our ability to increase the number of women leaders.  Negative stereotypes of cat-fighting are perpetuated and women back away from the tables because of bruised confidence.

But we’re not 12-years-old anymore and we don’t have to tolerate this malaise.  Below I have listed seven remedies we can administer as needed to create healthier workplaces and relationships.

  1. “I tried to forget and I did.”  This was Brittni’s response when I asked her what exactly had occurred with her bully.  I acknowledge that this is sometimes easier said than done, but depending on your position and specific situation, the best approach may be to simply let go.  When someone makes personal attacks to undermine, she is exposing a flaw in her own character or behavior.  With this understanding, acknowledging our pain or anger and then putting it behind us may provide the most benefit to our own psyches and physical wellbeing.
  2. Report harassment or hostile workplace problems.  If the behavior goes beyond the inappropriate comment to being harassment or the behavior of the aggressor crosses the line into creation of a hostile work environment, it should be treated as such.  Refer to company policy and seek legal advice if someone’s unprofessional treatment of you or others is negatively impacting job performance.
  3. Call out the behavior.  If you observe others engaging in women vs. women sabotage, calling out the behavior and explaining why it’s inappropriate may be all that is needed to affect change.  We’ve all been hurt on the playground of life at some point and we need to raise awareness on this topic in order to adjust years of socialization.  In many cases women simply need a nudge in the right direction toward professional communication.
  4. Fight back!  This week Jennifer Livingston, the Wisconsin TV reporter criticized for her weight by a viewer, used her personal power to turn a negative situation into a positive example of confidence and strength.  She went on TV and confronted her attacker.  If you are the one being maligned and you have the power to take an offensive position, you model behavior that others can follow driving more positivity in the workplace overall.
  5. Own your responsibility.  If you are in a leadership role, addressing these types of attacks is not simply a matter of being a good role model—it’s about managing your organization’s bottom line and effectiveness.  Absenteeism, legal actions, and lowered worker productivity impact financial performance and hinder accomplishment of goals.  Additionally, poisonous attitudes spread and negatively reflect on your results.  Get rid of workplace toxins as soon as you can.
  6. If you don’t have anything nice to say….  The old adage that if we don’t have anything nice to say, we should say nothing at all deserves a place in our personal operating procedures.  Obviously, we have to evaluate performance and call attention to problems we observe at work.  We will at times need to engage in conflict and I am certainly not one to suggest we sugarcoat anything, as that is not my style.  But we need to think twice about the criticisms we release into the world and ensure we attack professional issues and behaviors, not individuals.
  7. Support a sister.  Finally, while we must counter negativity, a positive approach to one another will likely provide the greatest impact on getting more women to the tables.  Give your fellow female colleagues support and encouragement to help build their esteem.  Recognize their contributions and let them know they are appreciated.  Educate your teams or the young women in your life on the importance of supporting one another.  This is a suggestion we can all put into practice today creating the broadest influence.

Do you have stories or additional suggestions on how we can better support our fellow women?  Please share in the comments section so we can all learn from one another.