I’m Fabulous, Dammit!

Chelsea Clinton in Philadelphia
Yeah, I'll take an extra $300,000 a year, thanks! Image via Wikipedia

Women have a terrible time self-promoting. It’s considered unseemly, pushy, rude, entitled.

Who — they hiss, chicken-necking and hand-flapping in the corner — does she think she is anyway?

Great recent column by a New York Times editor (I’m biased; she ran this column of mine, which turned into my new book, “Malled”). But still:

Last year, women held about 14 percent of senior executive positions at Fortune 500 companies, according to the nonprofit group Catalyst, which focuses on women in the workplace. That number has barely budged since 2005, after 10 years of slow but steady increases.

So what’s the holdup? Ilene H. Lang, president and chief executive of Catalyst, says one factor can be traced to an “entrenched sexism” that is no less harmful for being largely unconscious.

“I don’t want to blame this on men,” Ms. Lang said. Rather she cites “social norms that are so gendered and so stereotyped that even though we think we’ve gone past them, we really haven’t.”

She describes a corporate environment that offers much more latitude to men and where the bar is much higher for women. In her view, men tend to be promoted based on their promise, whereas women need to prove themselves multiple times.

She maintains that unintentional bias is built into performance review systems. Words like “aggressive” may be used to describe ideal candidates — a label that a man can wear much more comfortably than a woman.

Other factors apply, like the dearth of women and men willing to use their accumulated social capital to help smart and talented women get ahead, seriously ahead — joining the same corporate boards, for example, as Chelsea Clinton just did, which will pay her a staggering $300,000 a year.

This year I had a terrific opportunity, precisely because a man I had never before met, living in another country, felt I was doing a good job describing retail work from its lowest levels, the front line associates. Thanks to his enthusiasm, I was asked to be the closing keynote at a major retail conference, paid to address senior executives from companies like Target, Best Buy and Macy’s.

We all need people with power and influence to step up and out on our behalf, no matter how much talent, hard work, experience or credentials we bring on our own. (Which — dammit! — should be enough.)

Has anyone helped you professionally in a significant way?

Have you helped a woman in this manner?

How did it turn out?

9 thoughts on “I’m Fabulous, Dammit!

  1. I wish you would interview and then write an article on The Determination of Hope Solo. She might be the most “driven to succeed” person I have seen in some time. It has been my experience that talent is never enough. What gets the job and gets the job done is determination and perseverance. Whether you be male or female, you must keep knocking at the door until someone answers. Once you walk away, you’re finished!

    1. I had to Google her. But yes, she’s amazing!

      My point is less about determination to get the job done than to have the self-confidence, even the face of many others’ doubts, that this IS something you can and will do. Without that initial ego strength, it will never happen.

      1. Roger that. I understand. The most important quality in a mate may be that of encouragement. We all need someone in our corner telling us that we can do it. I for one know YOU CAN DO IT! Keep writing and I’ll keep reading.

  2. You’re so right on that one. Women have a hard time self promoting, and so much of it is because of the strange gendered attitude of self promotion. “Chicken-necking and hand-flapping in the corner” is totally right!

    I’ve been helped professionally several times, and it’s always been by men, who have pushed and pushed for me to get where I want to go. I work with great guys. Human beings, not political ratbags – i work in a large financial organisation and sometimes it feels like it’s mostly inhabited by self serving scum (but I am surrounded by a brilliant team of humans, thank goodness for that!).

    I’ve not helped another woman out in this manner. Most of my friends and professional acquaintences are guys. I work and play in a largely male arena, and when there is someone who needs help, i fall into the old trap of thinking “there are way better people here to lend her a hand. Who the hell do i think I’m fooling?”

    I’ve been trying to change this of late and reach out to others needing help, and making small strides in this. Maybe a girl will come along one day that I can make a difference to. While I’ve been the recipient of more than my fair share of legs up from guys, I still think that with the larger picture, if women don’t stand up and help each other, no one else is going to do it for us. What’s the line from that song again, “sisters are doing it for themselves”?

    1. I used to do a lot more mentoring. Now when someone asks to “pick my brain” I tell them I charge for my time. I can’t keep giving it away as I have for decades, although I will do it occasionally for a friend.

      I wish I had a few more people pushing hard for me. My agent, yes, but that is her professional role.

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