Sunday, June 14, 2015

Hillary Clinton: Singing the Glass Ceiling Blues

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton took a do-over.  When she first declared her candidacy for president of the United States, it proved to be something of a flop. So, yesterday she tried again.

Of course, the major news story from her initial foray into the world of campaigning was her refusal to take questions from the press. It did not denote confidence. It did not show us a woman who was in charge. It did not signal competence.

Looking like you fear the press does not make you a very credible candidate.

Can you imagine Margaret Thatcher refusing to take questions from anyone, at any time, for any reason?

But, then, Margaret Thatcher earned her position as prime minister of Great Britain. Aside from being what Camille Paglia called a “fraud,” Hillary is riding her husband’s coattails. Even her most ardent supporters cannot name a single accomplishment that would justify her ascent to the presidency.

Hillary Clinton has been getting very bad press, from friend and foe alike. She does not command respect because no one can think of a reason to respect her. She was much better at posturing than she was at achieving anything of consequence.

In effect, the only reason why young women, in particular, seem to be flocking to the Hillary candidacy seems to have something to do with the glass ceiling. If I recall correctly, Margaret Thatcher’s ascent in politics was never seen as a way to make a political point.

Just because race and gender were at one time uniquely disqualifying, that does not mean that they should now be uniquely qualifying.

When Americans voted for an unqualified and incompetent African-American president they believed that his election would radically improve conditions for America’s minority communities. Today, many young women believe that placing an unqualified and incompetent woman in the White House will be a boon for females in the job market.

No one understood that Barack Obama would only improve the status of American blacks if he did a good job. Once he was seen as not up to the job, the reputation of American blacks suffered.  

Now, Hillary Clinton wants to become president in order to make a political point. People are not overly worried about her inability to do the job because they assume that Bill Clinton will be there to do it for her. Another victory for feminism!

In recent years, many women have assumed positions of corporate power. If we are to believe Bryce Covert, their track record is not very good.

Naturally, Covert does her best to explain it away, but leadership roles are about taking responsibility, not making excuses.  Effectively, one wonders how many women CEOs were elevated on the basis of their ability and how many were given their jobs in order to make political points.

Covert writes:

But we do know that politics most likely doesn’t reflect how progress works for women trying to crack the corporate glass ceiling. The path doesn’t get dramatically easier; in fact, it is often harder to make progress every time a woman steps into an executive office.

In 2009, the year after Mrs. Clinton conceded, women made up 13.5 percent of the top jobs at Fortune 500 companies. By 2013, that share barely inched up to 14.6 percent. Putting cracks in the glass ceiling may not matter as much as what happens after it’s shattered.

She is quite correct to note that what really matters is doing the job, not why you got it. And certainly not... looking the part. When she was secretary of state Hillary Clinton looked the part but didn’t do the job.

Covert attempts to explain away female underperformance. She begins by complaining that women face larger challenges when they assume executive authority. This is because they tend to get their jobs in time of trouble or turmoil:

Too few women make it into corporate leadership. And the battle has only just begun once they get there. A wide body of research has uncovered a troubling trend: Women, as well as minorities, often get a chance at leadership only in times of turmoil. In one study of large companies listed on the London Stock Exchange, those that put women on their boards had just experienced consistently bad stock performance, while companies were generally stable before they appointed men.

In another study of all the promotions to chief executive at Fortune 500 companies over a 15-year period, a company’s return on equity was consistently and significantly negative just before a woman or minority candidate got the job. Being thrust onto the glass cliff, as this phenomenon has become known, is a much more common way for a woman to get a shot at an executive role than for a man.

This proves what, exactly? Why would floundering companies have a tendency to hire women CEOs? Does Covert think that the board members who make these appointments do it to set women up for failure? Do boards try to tank their companies in order to make women look bad?

One should say that women executives are presented with great challenges. But, it’s not as though no man ever tried to bring a failing company back from the brink. Some succeed; some fail. For Covert, when women fail it’s a reason to complain.

Covert believes that powerful women make us “uncomfortable.” For the record, the word is the essence of girl talk—it does not really belong in the world of executive leadership and should not be used to explain the fact that most people prefer male to female executives:

The disadvantage continues once they start trying to do their jobs, because powerful women still make us uncomfortable. In polling, both men and women say they prefer to have men in senior executive roles at Fortune 500 companies. Just two women make an appearance on a list of the 51 top rated C.E.O.s that employees enjoy working for. Ms. Mayer, one of them, is nearly dead last.

Covert is assuming that powerful women are doing great jobs. If they were Covert would not be trying to excuse their failures. By her lights, women are just as qualified and competent as men because we keep saying so. If they underperform, it must be a sign of sexism, thus of perception.

She might have questioned the poll where men and women said they preferred to have men in senior executive roles. It was performed on a self-selected sampling.

But, she also should have noticed that the list of the top rated CEOs was compiled by polling employees. When I looked up the list I saw contains 50 names. All 50 of the highest rated CEOs are male.

Of course, it may be the case that people do not like women CEOs because said CEOs are not doing a good job. It may be sexism, but then again, it may be based on performance:

We may just not like seeing a woman act like a boss. Research has found that women face a backlash — both personal and financial — when they act assertively at work. Female leaders are more likely to be called abrasive, strident, aggressive and even emotional.

And given the disasters so many inherit, it shouldn’t be surprising that female chief executives are more likely to get forced out of their jobs than male ones. Not all of us can engineer stunning turnarounds.

Need I mention that the last sentence is whiny.

Unfortunately, Covert has a bean-counter mentality. She believes that more women in the executive suite is intrinsically a good thing, regardless of performance. She does not care about the bottom line.

Progress is not inevitable, though, nor is it fixed. The country has a complicated relationship with powerful women: They have to keep proving themselves over and over again, being twice as good, and dragging one woman through the process doesn’t make it easier for those who follow.

The notion of twice-as-good is a canard. Giving a woman executive a challenge is not an effort to make her work twice as hard or be twice as good.

It’s not so much that the country has not gotten used to seeing women in charge, but that many women executives are not doing a very good job. Count Hillary Clinton on that list.

Of the other hand, Hillary will find it easier to return to the White House by singing The Glass Ceiling Blues than by reciting The Vagina Monologues.

1 comment:

Dennis said...

Now we know why it is the "Vagina Monologue" instead of the "Vagina Dialogue." Too many democrats think they will get Bill Clinton again instead of Hillary's frilly little police state. She will do for gender relations what Obama has done for race relations.