Tuesday, April 8, 2014

When (Elite) Women Lead

On Monday, I attended a lecture at Harvard entitled: "When Women Lead: Insights and Experience from Women in Power."  As you may have guessed, the audience was predominantly female, which was disappointing to me. Discussions about women and leadership are pretty much worthless if they do not involve men, but whatever. I'm sure all the guys were busy drinking beer and playing sports, or whatever (jokes).

Anyway, the lecture featured a panel of esteemed women, including:

Karen Gordon Mills, Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration Harvard University Class of '75 and '77

Jill Abramson, Executive Editor of The New York Times, Harvard University Class of '76

Edith Cooper, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs, Harvard University class of '83

Janet Napolitano, President of University of California, former Secretary of Homeland Security, didn't go to Harvard University, so who cares? (more jokes)

Obviously, this is a group of remarkable women, but do you notice what most of them have in common? Harvard. Harvard affiliates speaking to a room full of Harvard affiliates. What I'm saying is this is an elite group of women. Had there been time, I would have asked the panel: "What would your advice be to women outside the Harvard community?

I don't mean to minimize any of these women's accomplishments - they are indeed impressive and important. And all of them are making strides to empower future women leaders, which is critical if we want to close the gender gap. But I couldn't help but notice and fixate on their elite backgrounds. I confess that I don't know these women's full stories, but I think it is fair to assume they were pretty fortunate, or at least lucky. Abramsom talked about spending her summers on Nantucket, where she was introduced to a family friend who worked for Time Magazine; this event spurred her career in journalism. Even Napolitano, who was the minority of the group as she never attended Harvard, admitted to having the financial means to be able to take risks.

This idea of wealth or privilege comes up a lot when we talk about Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean In campaign. That is to say, it's hard to imagine the average woman leaning in -- the single mom paying for daycare, the recent graduate with $60k in debt, women in public service making approximately 0 dollars, etc. Leaning in is not necessarily a possibility for everyone. It's like when we (and by we, I mean never me) tell people to pick themselves up by their bootstraps - some bitches don't have boots to begin with.

So, I guess the takeaway for me, though it wasn't even discussed, was that gender issues, like every issue I suppose, are deeply socioeconomic issues. I mean, duh. Women still get paid less than men, blah blah blah. Ultimately, closing the gender gap requires investing (financially) in women. You can only lean in so far when you're poor, nah mean?

For the record, my follow-up question would have been: "How do ya'll feel about Beyonce?"

1 comment:

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