Does Electing a Female U.S. President Matter?

“Tonight’s victory is not about one person,” Clinton said when she became the presumptive nominee of her party this week. “It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible.”

There are those who argue that gender doesn’t matter, that competence does — as if the two are mutually exclusive. If anyone knows how much competence counts, it’s the countless women who’ve struggled to make it to the top of their fields.

Women represent only 20% of the U.S. Congress. One hundred years ago the first woman was elected to Congress.  It took all those years for a major U.S. political party to nominate a woman for president.  As Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar told CNN, politics has been a “macho sport.”  If you want to make it to the top in that arena, you can’t be all things to all people.

As Erin O’Brien, co-editor of Diversity in Contemporary American Politics and chair of political science at UMass Boston said of Hillary Clinton:  “There is no denying that she is ‘badass.’ And that’s a good thing. It got her here. Wounded in some ways, disliked by many, but firmly at the fore. The first realistic female president had no other path.”

We are often unaware of our own cultural biases with regard to appropriate roles for women and men.  Most girls learn early that sounding too sure of themselves will make them unpopular with their peers.  Yet, those who demure are perceived at lacking leadership potential.  So, women try to walk what I’ve described as the thin pink line. Eventually, however, we learn that sticking to that line, especially when leadership is required, is a good way to derail a career — to suppress the best we have to offer.

Males and females also use and perceive language differently, adding to the challenge.  A stated observation by a man may be perceived as a complaint when expressed by a woman. We are, after all, creatures of habit and products of the contexts in which we develop.

We should celebrate when highly competent women pave the way, crack the glass ceiling, traverse the rugged terrain.  With each bold step detrimental biases and limiting parameters for behavior are questioned — not only for women but for men as well.

So, does it matter that history was made this week? Yes. It is indicative of progress — of a recognition of our emergence from being unable to think beyond stereotypes.

Is being female enough to be a great president? No. But it’s exciting to think that maybe today we’re closer to it no longer being enough to stop us.

Posted in "Leaning in" -- Asserting yourself, Gender Issues, Tutorials for Women | Leave a comment

Show Me a Woman Not Accused of “Negatives” and I’ll Show You One Who’s Never Put a Crack in the Glass Ceiling

You have to hand it to Hillary Clinton. She never gives up. Sure, she stepped out of Barack Obama’s way when it was time to let him run with the nomination in 2008. Then she served as Secretary of State in his administration. No sore loser there. She has been maligned and ridiculed and keeps on going.  She’s tenacious. Is that really so bad?

In my years of studying politics at work, I know the “thin pink line” so many women walk to be sure that aren’t disliked. Clinton is liked or else she wouldn’t be where she is today — a heartbeat away from being the first woman U.S. president. If you want to be liked, not incur the wrath of people who – for reasons they often don’t understand – dislike women who take the lead, you don’t run hard twice for president. She has.

I remember being asked one time about a former student of mine who was applying for a CFO position. At the end of the interview, the woman said, “We heard that she can be abrupt.” I thought for a few seconds and essentially asked, “Are you looking for a CFO who is always pleasant?” She laughed. “She’s outstanding,” I said. “That’s what you want.”  It’s what a lot of us want this time too.

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Mohammed Ali Showed Us This: Parkinson’s Need Not Be a “Devastating, Debilitating, Degenerative” Disease

Listening today to the wonderful tributes to Mohammed Ali, we’re told that Parkinson’s medications work for a time and then don’t. Press reports abound with sad descriptions and depictions of Parkinson’s disease, especially using  the three negative D’s of Parkinson’s disease reporting — devastating, debilitating, and degenerative.

Actually, Mohammed Ali showed us that life is not over with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s. It was among his greatest gifts. Yes, it’s no picnic. I know from personal experience. But everyday we learn more about PD. In particular, we now know that exercise of the right type can do as much good to stave off motor and nonmotor symptoms as most medications.

Doctors, scientists and patients know that tremor, freezing, slowness, imbalance, fatigue, and cognitive deficit, among the common signs of PD, are often accompanied by nonmotor symptoms. The good news is that it’s possible to essentially beat back many of these symptoms in a whack-a-mole fashion with the help of exercise, speech therapy, attention to and treatment of digestive issues and sleep problems, massage, meditation and a host of other programs and daily activities. The enemies of Parkinson’s are stillness, sitting, refusing to socialize and embarrassment.

Parkinson’s is difficult to diagnose and many doctors prefer to be as sure as possible before giving a patient such news.  Yet, the time between noticing symptoms and diagnosis can be extremely difficult.  Doctors know the world sees PD as “devastating” and “debilitating” – a visible sign of imperfection – a harbinger of dark things to come. By using such words and fostering such images, we frighten people who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s when we now have so many ways to reassure them.  We contribute to the slowness of diagnosis and leave many patients who don’t see specialists barely functioning for too long.

People recently diagnosed call me regularly – referred by mutual friends. They worry about telling their bosses, employees, children and family. They know that the words “devastating,“debilitating” and “degenerative” are stuck to Parkinson’s disease. It’s time to release PD from those words, to treat it as the significant challenge it is, but to let future patients know that life after PD is different, difficult, but sometimes beautiful as well. I would not have become a painter without PD — perhaps not a novelist. The many wonderful people I’ve met with the disease would not be in my life. Sure, I might have done more of a different type, but the point is that when you have PD life does indeed go on.

Posted in Parkinson's disease | 4 Comments

No Idea Stands on Its Own

I’ve always started my persuasion classes with this comment — No Idea stands on its own. That is more true today than in years past. There are so many forms of competition for attention, often with the most inane taking up huge amounts of time and space. In fact, you have to wonder how superb ideas reach the light of day in a world so enamored with junk. For some people, sometimes, an idea occurs at the right time. The world is primed to receive it because it is relevant to our needs and concerns. Other ideas “grab” our attention because they’re novel. But, for most of us on most days, ideas need a lot of help. They need persuasion.

I meet so many people who expect others to read their minds — to get what they’re thinking and love it as they do. That’s simply not how persuasion works. When a seemingly great idea is introduced, it’s usually new to those hearing it. The action is like planting a beautiful flower in the wrong kind of bed, absent fertilizer and adequate water. The flower withers and dies.

Persuasion is not something we do to people. It’s something we do with them. It involves preparing the ground for the delivery of our thoughts at a time propitious to their fruition. It also involves knowing what the recipient’s objections will be or why disinterest might result.  Then comes knowing how to overcome such obstacles.  While it’s not possible to provide a persuasion course here, I’ve written about it in books, articles and on this site if you’d like to learn more.

In any case, the next time you have what you think is a great idea, don’t squander it. Consider who should receive it first, in what way, with what support. Keep in mind that the germination process involved in your coming to love the idea took time. It’s your idea, not theirs. They may not love it right away for those reasons and others. Persuasion is work. It’s a skill. It’s often incremental. Impulsive people are usually not persuasive. They may grab our attention, but they don’t keep it. That’s why the most skillful persuaders are excellent listeners. They won’t send out a cherished idea until they know the ground on which it will land is fertile and prepared.  This doesn’t mean being slow.  It means being smart.

Posted in Influence, Politics, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Politics of Making People Feel Good

Given the contentiousness of the U.S. presidential race, you might wonder if politics has been turned on its head. Where is civility? Where is statesmanship? Why all this ringside excitement as if we’re looking forward to a fight?

In The Secret Handshake I wrote that people who get ahead are usually those who make others feel good about having them around. If you’re always pulling the rug out from under other people, you make a lot of enemies.

As one astute business executive shared with me, “You always have to ask yourself what good is going to come of this? You might get anger off your chest, and pay for it for the rest of your career.”

Since we are creatures of habit, it’s wise to check in on those habits. Do you make the people around you wish they were somewhere else? Is your solution to offense one of making the other person pay? Is disagreement always insulting to you or is it an opportunity to learn something new?

Why be like people who confuse power with the ability to punish?  Why not become versatile?  Predictable people, no matter how supposedly powerful, limit themselves.  The versatile thinker is not stuck in a rut.  He or she has the capacity to figure out ways to deal with and around people who are smitten with themselves .  That has to be better.

Posted in Confrontation, Politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What To Say When a Conversation Turns Negative

That’s the subject of my Harvard Business Review blog to be published today (11 a.m. EST)  here. When studying for my doctorate, my research focused on how children deal with disruptions in conversation. We learn early, if we’re fortunate, how to get conversations back on track. If we don’t, everything we do involving other people is more difficult.

How we look, what we wear, where we come from, and how “smart” we are influence the course of our lives. We worry that we and our children might not measure up in terms of these perceptions and assessments of our value. But, we and school systems rarely pay attention to how we talk in social situations. We may study public speaking. Yet, few of us engage in that everyday. We talk to others though. And often those discussions derail. In this blog, you’ll learn of seven ways to turn such conversations around and put them on a more constructive course.

Sometimes conversations can be turned around simply by replacing a word. If someone says, “You certainly are stubborn” chances are it wasn’t meant as a compliment. You might reply, “I am persistent when it matters.” Simply changing one word can change a conversation and even a relationship for the better.

Posted in Confrontation, Negotiation, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Sequel to Shadow Campus — Draft Completed!

For those of you who have read Shadow Campus and, by the way, kept it for quite some time on the Amazon Top New Releases and a darn good seller for a debut, I wanted to let you know that this weekend I’m finishing the sequel.

Today, I was reading an article about the commitment it takes to sell novels.  Stephen King sold books out of his car, I read.  Countless authors have put inestimable hours into keeping their books afloat.  For some time, Chris – my harshest of editors and husband – and I got the word out, especially to academics.  Dorie Clark wrote at Forbes that Shadow Campus was a “masterful” and “fast-paced” debut mystery-thriller.  The launch was great.

But I did drop the ball eventually.  My publisher, a small house of great people, isn’t set up for marketing. It wasn’t for lack of caring, because I’ve enjoyed every minute of books clubs and talks where people told me about Shamus, Meg, Dr. Michaels and what they envisioned my characters would do next.  In fact, I’ve felt a fair amount of pressure to be sure they did have a next in their fictional lives. Thank you to those who nudged me along.

This is the first, of what I expect will be occasional commentaries about the characters in Shadow Campus and the sequel.  If you’ve read SC, I hope you’ll add your own thoughts when those blogs appear.  For now, I just wanted to share that the new novel is on the way!

All the best, Kathleen

Posted in Fiction, Shadow Campus | 2 Comments