As Women March Around the World — A Look Back and Forward

I wrote this article over a year ago and posted it also at Big Think. With women marching all over the world, and especially in Washington D.C., I thought it would be good to repost. It’s exciting to see women get together to stand up and be heard. As mentioned in this article, we’ve been getting too quiet. Watching women around the world taking a stand, realizing the fight is far from over, we may well move forward again, louder, more confident, and insistent that progress at work and in other arenas will get the boost it has so badly needed.


Most young women in the workforce don’t remember firsthand the battles their mothers and grandmothers fought over issues that are still relevant today. Among those who’ve read about them or learned secondhand, many women have taken pains to separate themselves from the purportedly drab, angry feminists with whom they have difficulty identifying.

During the 1980s and 1990s, such disparaging labels as “ball-breakers,” “ice queens,” and “female mafia” were imposed on women who often only sought equal pay and a voice in the proceedings. The so-called “mommy wars” concept caught on in the media focusing on the differences between women working outside the home and those who chose to stay (and work) at home. It was more a headline grabber than an actual reality. Elitist, too, since stagnating purchasing power required most mothers to work. Nevertheless, the “mommy wars” grabbed attention, and the categories it imposed still cause harm today. Let it be said clearly and loudly: just as there are not two types of men, so there are not two types of women.

With all the manufactured anger and derision, is it any wonder that, given a choice, the next generations of women took another, quieter path? Who could blame them? Betty Friedan predicted that would be their choice when she wrote The Second Stage, which addressed the question of how to live the portion of equality that had been won. In the midst of writing The Second Stage, Friedan correctly saw that the future would not be rosy for women. “I sense other victories we thought were won yielding illusory gains,” she wrote. “I see new dimensions to problems we thought were solved.”

There was at that time, however, the promise of young men attending college and getting MBAs alongside women. What their fathers had found unsettling, it was thought, these young men would consider natural. It seemed a reasonable expectation unless you taught (as I did) at a business school where little changed in terms of male-oriented cases, books, and articles. Female professors with tenure were quite rare. Learning, as female students noted, was one-dimensional in the incubators of future leaders.

At the same time, men became increasingly inclined toward silence about negative views of women — some because they felt under siege even if they were in favor of equality for women. Separating inadvertent and minor offenses against women from the major ones could have been done more effectively. Many men became actively involved in perpetuating the culture of excluding women; after all, it was a more comfortable and rewarding arena in which to reside — to say nothing of the fact that women were directly competing with men for jobs. Indeed, it’s one thing to be theoretically in favor of gender equality at work and quite another to face the possible loss of your livelihood. Such were the ignition factors of backlash.

Also, women grew tired of struggling on behalf of their gender. Always having to prove commitment to the job and saying little of their children to prevent the perception of being distracted became taxing. We continue to see the effects. Helena Morrissey, chief executive of the Newton subsidiary of BNY Mellon and a leading campaigner for gender equality in the workplace, told The Financial Times, “It’s so tedious that there still seems such a problem.”

In 1979, Radcliffe’s president Matina Horner described a “crisis of confidence” facing women in the choices they encountered between family and career. This was especially true 10 years later for those women who worked full-time outside and inside the home, as described in 1989 in The Second Shift. As Gloria Steinem has said, “The truth is that women can’t be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.”

The confidence crisis continues today, as Katty Kay and Claire Shipman have written in The Confidence Code. Women tend to negotiate lower salaries than they deserve and to believe they must be 100 percent qualified for a job or promotion.

More women are leaving fund-management careers. They’ve had it with sexist slights and corporate cultures that demean their value, even though research shows that female fund managers have better track records and that diverse groups in this field are more effective than those dominated by white males. Sixty-five percent of female fund managers reported regularly experiencing sexist behavior at the office. Their male colleagues also report seeing such behavior directed at women on a regular basis. Moreover, Catalyst research recently indicated a serious depletion of women in high-tech careers. They’re leaving shortly after they arrive.

It isn’t all bad news, of course. Women are succeeding as entrepreneurs. Pay equity in some sectors is almost where it should be, and young women enter the workplace more aware and with higher expectations. Increasingly, there are efforts to recruit women to the fields of science and engineering. Women are seeking graduate degrees and in larger numbers than ever before. Organizations have learned that hiring large numbers of women results in outperforming their competitors. Clearly women haven’t given up. They’re being realistic about where they’re valued and where they’re not and perhaps rightly realizing that to succeed in those areas they must leave the gender-equity fight largely to others.

How do we help women, and they help themselves, to move forward past the issues that concern them, impinge on their success, make them more tired than they need to be, and, instead, move forward in their careers while also enjoying their families? Here are a few important ways:

Reduce pressure on women to do it all — superbly. There is nothing new about this — women trying to “have it all” when we know no one can. Yet, the discussion about whether women can be all things to all people, including to themselves, is always popping up in the media. Let’s agree to stop it. The final answer to the question is: “No one can have it all.” Parenting takes a considerable toll. So does being among the “sandwich generation,” trying to care for young children and aging parents. Something has to give, as Arianna Huffington wrote in Thrive. It does not mean compromising on success, but rather redefining it.

Confidence comes from doing certain things very well. Some days, as author Elizabeth Gilbert proposes, let other people be better parents, better artists, better at whatever because none of us can be wonderful all the time. Women cannot progress in the workplace if they never cut themselves any slack.

Increase work-life reconciliation policies. Since 1990, other nations with comparable resources have implemented a comprehensive agenda of “work-family reconciliation” acts. As a result, when the United States’ work-family policies are compared with those of countries at similar levels of economic and political development, the United States comes in dead last. From The NYT op ed by Stephanie Coontz, “Why Gender Equality Stalled,” comes this conclusion: “Today the main barriers to further progress toward gender equity no longer lie in people’s personal attitudes and relationships. Instead, structural impediments prevent people from acting on their egalitarian values, forcing men and women into personal accommodations and rationalizations that do not reflect their preferences. The gender revolution is not in a stall. It has hit a wall.”

It’s time to make issues regarding women at work nonpartisan and to put more women in office. Democratic, Republican, and Independent voters work. Equal pay and equal opportunity to succeed belong to no single political party. We need to wrench these issues free of sides and pressure all government representatives to actually represent women, whenever and from wherever they decide to work.

Encourage organizations to notice and reward women’s contributions. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School professor and author of The Change Masters, describes most organizations as having “a preference for being guided by the past rather than the future, by what is already known rather than what is not yet known.” Reward systems in such companies are what Kanter terms “payoff-centered” rather than “investment centered.”

Women are an investment that research shows pays off. Yet, even in Silicon Valley where forward-thinking companies abound, women are not generally welcome at higher levels. As Nina Burleigh wrote in her Newsweek article, “What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women”: “In inverse ratio to the forward-looking technology the community produces, it is stunningly backward when it comes to gender relations.”

Lessen Reliance on easy fixes. This is a call to get real. We must be somewhat critical here of the press and the blogosphere for the plethora of instant fixes that women have become especially inclined to accept as a means of learning the ropes at work. In an age of six ways to do anything, it’s easy to slip into thinking that if women were just a little more this way or that, they’d be fine. There are some advantages to such tips, but they do not adequately address, let alone fix, the larger problems of sexism, discrimination, inequitable pay, and appalling dearth of women at the highest levels of industry and government.

Band-Aid solutions give the wrong impression of what’s involved in getting ahead at work. Learning about politics, for example, is critical to functioning well in organizations. Leadership too. No one learns about these critical skills with a few tips. It’s important to study the work environment, be an avid observer, learn from others — male and female, stretch your style, and practice, practice, practice.

When we look back, it’s clear that women’s equality at work is an extremely tall order. As we move forward, the future will look very different from the past. Women are unlikely to be marching for equality in pay and promotions, but as attention turns once again to these issues, as women are feeling more empowered to expect equal treatment, more supported by other women, movement forward is likely to look like thousands upon thousands of candles in the mist.

Each day, each woman on her own, in small groups, or “circles” will make a difference. If we refuse to forget what has been accomplished, ignore or reframe labels that hold women back, and increase our political and leadership acumen, once again we will move the stone up the hill and this time refuse to let it slip.


Today as women march in the hundreds of thousands, we are not “candles in the mist.” Our voices are being heard around the world. It’s an exciting day to be a woman. Let’s make it an exciting time as well — one we’ll long remember as another chapter opens — continuing the hard work that has been done by women in the past. This is no time to give up! We are awake again!

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Why Does President Obama Not Mention Hillary?

I’ve been wondering this for a few weeks now. You’d think she died. I’ve been expecting to hear President Obama and Vice President Biden say “We had an exceptional candidate.” But, instead, nothing. What’s the story?  Even in his last press conference today, again nothing.

President Obama and Michelle were in her corner toward the end of the campaign. Bill Clinton saved his campaign with his exceptional convention speech four years ago. President Obama whispered in Hillary’s ear a couple of months ago that he would be with her and yet here he is saying nothing about her.

Even if there are some hard feelings about whether he shared what he knew soon enough, he is the president. He can rise above those. And if there aren’t hard feeling between them, then let’s hear some praise for a race hard run. It’s the least the outgoing administration can do.

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What Are the Signs of a Government Turning Pathological?

In The Secret Handshake, written long before the post-election political maelstrom we’re now experiencing in the U.S. and in many countries around the world, four types of political arenas are described.  So, too, are the political styles of employees that suit them best.

All human organizations have some degree of political activity — positive and negative — ranging from minimally political to pathologically political.  Below is a description of pathological politics taken from The Secret Handshake.  You can decide for yourself if the U.S. government is healthy or perhaps precariously perched on the edge of pathology — if not worse.

Daily interactions are fractious when pathology exists.  Conflict is both long-lasting and pervasive.  Nearly every goal is achieved by going around the formal procedures and organization.  People tend to distrust each other.  Information  massaging is the only form of communication.  Out of necessity, people spend a lot of time watching their backs.

Unless leaders of such organizations become aware of and reverse pathology, they tend to self-destruct.  Unfortunately, they often take a lot of good people with them ruining careers to keep the pathology intact.

Below is a list from The Secret Handshake of “Tell-Tale Signs of Cultural Pathology” in groups, businesses and governments.

  1.  Frequent flattering of those in power coupled with abusiveness toward people in less powerful positions is a sure sign of creeping organizational pathology.  Flattery may not get you everywhere, but it is often used by those who fear they cannot advance on their own merits.
  2. Another sign of cultural degeneration is information massaging.  When hardly anyone says (and means) anything that might rock the boat, you can be sure that the organization is at least becoming or is pathological.  When people communicate via hint instead of directly expressing their views, the roots of pathology are present.
  3. “Poisoning the well,” is another political activity indicative of pathology in organizations and government.  The thing to look for is people frequently fabricating negative information about others.  They drop defaming information into conversations and meetings in the hope of ruining the target’s career chances.  Gossip and verbal backstabbing are common here.
  4. Some organizations are poisoned by the people in charge.  There’s no need to poison the well.  In such organizations there’s a cold indifference.  No one is valued  for long; in fact, everyone is dispensable — and feels that way.  The only way to survive is to become obsequious to those in charge and to get someone else before he or she gets you.
  5. Whenever there is a good deal of “fake left, go right” strategy — leading others in the wrong direction in order to look good oneself — organizational pathology can be found. A sense of organizational teamwork is absent as individuals’ careers are sacrificed to save those who are misleading them.  Sometimes teams mislead teams, with the spoils going to the victor — the one that faked the best.

If you are a political purist or anything other than a street fighter or manipulator, it is improbable that you will last long in this type of setting.  Besides, the people who run such political arenas don’t trust political purists or team players with the best interests of positive organizational goals in mind.  So, the people hired are mostly flatterers and liars facilitating the deterioration of the organization, what management expert Henry Mintzberg described as “scavengers that swarm over a carcass” in terms of ethics and constructive productivity.

Does this sound familiar?  If so, send this description to your senators and representatives.  They may need the help.

Posted in Leadership, Shadow Campus | 3 Comments

A Scary Post-Trump Election Form of Reporting – Pathetic Make-Nice News

We should prepare ourselves for the emergence of a form of reporting that surely has existed but not on the scale we’re likely to soon experience. With Donald Trump attacking news outlets and individual reporters — denying them access when he doesn’t like what they report — intimidation of some journalists is to be expected.

The PEOTUS team has been planning new ways of treating the press at the White House that may well involve rewarding favorites.  It doesn’t take a prescient observer to predict that under such circumstances make-nice to the president news will be on the rise.

CNN Brian Stelter’s contentious interview with BuzzFeed’s editor Ben Smith, lecturing him on good journalism after Trump put both in the same basket of enemies, is an example.  Smith made an important point about this kind of your-dog-is-worse-than-my dog bickering between journalists:

I think — you know, there’s obviously an attempt to divide the press, to turn us on each other and to turn reasonable differences about editorial decisions into screaming matches between us on this show. I think that’s a trap that the media has obviously repeatedly fallen into over the last couple of years, but I think it’s better not to right now.

CNN’s recent New Day interview of Representative Jerry Nadler (Dem – N.Y.) by Alisyn Camerota also had some hallmarks of compensatory, make-nice to Donald Trump press. On the same day, CNN’s David Gregory was critical of John Lewis’ decision.  And while that is fair enough on its own, with some exceptions CNN’s televised coverage has taken a tilt toward kowtowing to Trump since he attacked their journalistic integrity.

My article on “Courage as a Skill” in The Harvard Business Review describes the steps required to make extremely difficult ethical decisions. Congressman John Lewis made a thoughtful, personal and courageous decision to not attend Donald Trump’s inauguration — especially given the PEOTUS’s tendency to retaliate for what he perceives as personal slights.  Representative Lewis didn’t demand that others join him or engage in incivility.

In Lewis’ estimation, given Donald Trump’s derogatory campaign comments about minorities, people with disabilities, and women conjoined with the intelligence report received by the public and by Congress behind closed doors, he could not in good conscience attend the inauguration.

Using Representatives John Lewis and Jerry Nadler, and others, to engage in make-nice news to appease Donald Trump, if that is indeed the case, is not only bad journalistic form, it’s an insult and threat to a free and responsible press.


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Will Trump Bring His Businesses Back to the U.S.A.?

While it’s impossible to know exactly what Trump owns and who he owes, we do know that he is likely doing business in 25 countries.  He is either involved in building edifices, hotels and golf courses or licensing his name for millions each year — along with manufacturing clothing  in other countries as well.

So, shouldn’t more journalists be repeatedly asking him when he will cease to do business anywhere other than in the United States?  When will he insist that all future projects be U.S. based?  Will his entire family do the same?

With great fanfare, he is pressuring businesses to keep their manufacturing in the U.S.  He’s blaming and shaming.  So, when is his turn?  Otherwise, isn’t it just more hypocrisy?





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Is the CIA “Politicized”? An Academic Addendum to Mike Pompeo’s Response

Even church choirs are political entities.  When human being come together to achieve a goal, political activity emerges.  Wherever there is competition of ideas and/or people, political behavior exists.

So it should be no surprise if intelligence agencies are to some extent politicized. That is what The Secret Handshake and It’s All Politics are about — how political behavior is manifested in organizations, what types are more conducive to effective work and what individuals and leaders can do to manage politics.

When Mike Pompeo, nominee for CIA Director, was asked in today’s hearing if the CIA is politicized, he likely interpreted that question in terms of political party influence and so replied that he hasn’t observed the problem.  But there is another often less obvious and more virulent form of politics in organizations.

The type of politics that every organization must watch has nothing to do with political parties.  It is about, in part, how things get done, whose ideas are heard, accepted and rejected, who is rewarded for what behaviors, and the nature of communication types and flow.

It’s imperative that the next director of any U.S. intelligence agency appreciate this type of politics and work to assure that the culture of the organization does not fall into, or anywhere near, political arenas described in The Secret Handshake as “pathological.”  When organizations are so infected, they are usually in the process of self-destruction in terms of their more positive goals and often take a lot of good people with them before that destruction is complete.

It’s up to leaders to know enough about organizational politics to assure that the levels are at the minimal or moderate end of the continuum and stay there.  This means how organizational politics operate needs to be understood and managed.

I’ve worked with many organizations to achieve this goal.  When the work starts after an organization (in whole or part) is highly or pathologically political, ridding it of dysfunctional politics is much more difficult.  There is no reason to believe that government agencies are immune to dysfunctional politics.  The sooner people on the Hill begin to recognize this and take steps to manage politics, the better the American people will be served.

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What Part of “This Inauguration Can’t Go Forward” Do We Not Understand?

President Obama in his Farewell Address yesterday asked that anyone not pleased with the outcome of elections do something about it.  Take some responsibility.  Even run for office.  Don’t keep quiet.  Otherwise, he implied, you’re part of the problem.

On the same day that he spoke we learned the following:

Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump…

The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible.

Why were we fortunate to learn about this additional intelligence information even if so late?

One reason the nation’s intelligence chiefs took the extraordinary step of including the synopsis in the briefing documents was to make the President-elect aware that such allegations involving him are circulating among intelligence agencies, senior members of Congress and other government officials in Washington.

Then we’re told that Trump’s campaign surrogates were in touch with Russian government intermediaries during the election:

Now we’re supposed to sit back and accept that Trump must be inaugurated.  We’re supposed to clap and cheer, talk about which designers dressed Trump’s wife and daughters, and act as if we weren’t all duped.  Why?  Could it be so that Mike Pence, who didn’t run for president, can replace Trump rather than the woman who actually won 3 million more votes than Trump?

What part of this inauguration can’t go forward do we not understand?  Aren’t those insisting on a “smooth transition,” including Congress, complicit in potentially and perhaps irrevocably harming the U.S., democracy and the world order?  Of course they are.

This is not, by a long shot, what the American people expect of their leaders.  That is not what American patriots do.  That is not what a free press and the people should allow without a fight.


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