The front of the New York Times Sunday Review was dominated by a graphic of an Escher-type staircase under the headline “Why Women Aren’t C.E.O.’s -- According to the women who almost were.” If you think you know where the story is going...you’re right. It begins and ends with sour grapes from editor Susan Chira on how sexism foiled Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes.
The paper spent the general election contest, from debate coverage to the arts pages, suggesting a vote for anyone other than Hillary Clinton was sexism, while showing no concern over the idea of women voting for Hillary solely because she was a woman.
Obama, the first African-American to be elected president, managed to stay off the hook for the sin of beating Hillary in 2008. Sen. Bernie Sanders was not so lucky in 2016; he was badgered during the primary by reporter Yamiche Alcindor as sexist for “getting in the way of...the first female president.”
Chira, a former managing editor for the paper now an “editor on gender issues,” began and ended this long story with Hillary's sexist defeat:
A year ago, dressed in suffragette white and addressing a cheering, weeping convention, Hillary Clinton stood for possibility. Now she is a reminder of the limits women continue to confront -- in politics and beyond.
More than 40 years after women began pouring into the workplace, only a handful have made it all the way to the top of corporate America. The percentage of chief executives of Fortune 500 companies who are women just passed 6 percent, creeping up (and occasionally dropping back) at a glacial pace.
Why don’t more women get that No. 1 job?
Consider the experiences of the people who know best: Women who were in the running to become No. 1, but didn’t quite make it. The women who had to stop at No. 2.
What their stories show is that in business, as in politics, women who aspire to power evoke far more resistance, both overt and subtle, than they expected would be the case by now.
[An anonymous executive] was seen as a possible successor to the chief executive, but she said she was unprepared for corporate politics at the very top. “Before heading to the C-suite, I didn’t feel I was handicapped at all,” she said, echoing conversations with many other women. But the next rungs of the ladder depend not only on results but also on prevailing in an environment where everyone is competing for a chance at the top job.
Chira narrowed down the reasons for Hillary Clinton’s defeat and apparently it had nothing to do with classified documents, a history of corruption, the Clinton Foundation, or her liberal politics:
The parallels with politics are striking. Research in both fields, including some conducted after Mrs. Clinton’s loss, has shown it’s harder for assertive, ambitious women to be seen as likable, and easier to conclude they lack some intangible, ill-defined quality of leadership.
If feminist studies can’t uncover actual discrimination, they just look harder for more “pernicious” kinds of bias, though some like lack of self-confidence, would seem to be at least partially self-inflicted.
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Yet many women work in companies with public commitments to diversity and clear policies against discrimination, with many men who sincerely believe they want women to advance.
That makes many of the subtler ways women encounter bias more pernicious than blatant discrimination, a Harvard Business Review meta-analysis found.
Many women, accomplished as they are, don’t feel the same sense of innate confidence as their male peers. Gerri Elliott, a former senior executive at Juniper Networks (who said she did not personally encounter bias), recounts a story related by a colleague: A presenter asked a group of men and women whether anyone had expertise in breast-feeding. A man raised his hand. He had watched his wife for three months. The women in the crowd, mothers among them, didn’t come forward as experts.
Pledges may be welcome, but consequences must follow, said Deborah Gillis, president and chief executive of Catalyst, which pushes for women’s advancement in business. She suggests withholding bonuses if leaders do not promote enough women or minorities and increasing bonuses if they do.
Chira concluded with the sore loser’s point of view.
For her part, Mrs. Clinton is writing a book and speaking out more acidly than she allowed herself on the campaign trail. “Certainly, misogyny played a role” in her defeat, she told a rapt, partisan crowd at the Women in the World summit meeting in April. She described what she saw as the thought bubble among some voters for President Trump: “He looks like somebody who’s been president before.”
The fury and revulsion aimed at Mrs. Clinton -- as well as the more open misogyny in some quarters in the wake of the election -- has led many women to question whether they’ve underestimated a visceral recoil against women taking power in any arena.