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Sheryl Schadenfreude, Marissa Misogynist: Ladies, let’s not eat our own.

Posted: May 1st, 2013 | No Comments »

I’ve heard two of the only female tech conglomerate executives called lots of names recently:

Sheryl Sandberg – elitist, vain, selling herself

Marissa Mayer – boastful, anti-mom, anti-feminist

The thing that disturbs me the most is that many of the name callers have been other successful women in business.  Women in the media, women in power, women across the conference table, women at cocktail hours.  I cringe any time a woman in power is attacked…there are so few of them that the attacks always strike me as somewhat personal.  However, when the attacker is another business woman…it really sends me for a loop.  And a tweet by Lena Dunham crystallized my thinking:

Advancing the Cause

Ladies, the mere presence of Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer in top executive slots is advancing the cause with an impact about which we can only dream.  When only 3:100 top CEOs are women, their presence is outsized as a win for us.    Having women who are competent, well-spoken and experienced putting themselves forward in positions of power furthers our cause.  These are executives who want to grow businesses, create jobs, push their product forward.  And, thanks to all that is holy, they are women and not men.

That, ladies, is advancing the cause of gender equality in the workplace.

The narrow expectation that women in power can only advance the cause by LITERALLY making pro-women decisions is myopic and misguided.  We have been at this for hundreds of years, and probably for hundreds more.  Whether we personally feel that one policy decision each female CEO makes is supportive of women in the workforce is inconsequential.  Much more at stake at this point in our struggle is the fact that it was a woman who was empowered to make that decision.  I look forward to the time when all women have to do to advance the cause is make a bunch of empirically pro-feminist business decisions.  In the meantime, the fight right now is just to GET into those positions of decision-making.

Bad Attitudes

What does not advance our cause are people who tsk-tsk, and finger-wag at the women who finally, finally have gotten to the top of the corporate pyramid.

Sheryl seems to have pissed everyone off by ‘blaming the victim’ since she herself is far from a victim.  Whether or not you agree with her, making an impassioned monologue about how she’s wrong serves two separate purposes.  One, that you are smarter than her.  And two, that the most powerful tech woman in the world isn’t as smart as you.  I’m pretty sure at least that second perception, when repeated thousands of times in blogs, news stories, and tweets, is not good for Sheryl’s success.   And when you go further and take her quotes out of context and criticize a book you haven’t bothered to read, then I need to ask: do you really think you’re furthering the cause by making sure everyone knows you are right — or possibly hurting the cause by making sure everyone knows Sheryl is wrong?

Marissa Mayer can move us forward by being an extraordinary CEO that turns a really messed up company around, when no man could do it before her.  In a world where only 1.5% of CEOs in the world’s 2,000 top performing companies are women, we need her to make Yahoo! one of those top performers.  She is not making decisions to ‘tweak’ the H.R. dials at a company that has lost over 40% of its value over the past 5 years.  She’s trying to save it.  And the more outlandish questions she has to answer about whether she’s anti-woman or anti-mom, the more she will not be able to accomplish that.

Do you want to be right?  Or be equal?

Women need to recognize that the constant attention to the failure of these high profile women is the foundation upon which illogical, misogynistic gender bias builds.  A Darden study found that the stock in a company drops after announcing a new female CEO, but not when new male CEOs are announced.  Gender is mentioned more in the articles that write about those new female CEOs than those about new male CEOs.  Being female is wielded as prima facie evidence that we will fail.

Influential women attacking other high-profile women helps strengthen that large, sexist misinformation beast.  The re-tweeted shortcomings of women in power weakens us as a gender much, much more than your being right advances it.  The relentless, full-throated attack by women on other women is what resonates and remains the retardant of their, and all of our, career trajectories.

I’m not saying support these women blindly and suppress your own opinion.  I myself don’t necessarily agree with the individual positions these women have taken.  I am saying, though, take more time and thought in why, how and when you criticize them.  Take the time to think about how others will (consciously or not) use the negative momentum you create to hold us back as a gender.  I’m asking you to play the long game.

In the tallest poppy syndrome, we cut down figures who have risen to places of power in order to raise our own stature.  Trust me, ladies, there will be no lack of other people to cut the Sheryl, Marissa, and Megs down.  You don’t have to prove you can do it better.

Whether or not Sheryl and Marissa can make their companies successful, we need to pray to the Fortune 500 gods that they can.  Only that spectacularly hard-earned level of win can truly move the underpinnings of the workplace gender-bias from where it exists today.

 

 

TL;DR:

The re-tweeted shortcomings of women in power weakens us as a gender much, much more than your being right advances it.  The relentless, full-throated attack by women on other women is what resonates and remains the retardant of their, and all of our, career trajectories.  Get a hold of yourself.


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