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?