“To all the little girls watching… never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world”
Hillary Clinton’s words after she failed to shatter the glass ceiling to the very top floor.
However valuable and deserving those little girls, it’s hard to believe that they really have the same chance and opportunity as all the little boys watching when she’s just been beaten to the top job by America’s most famous misogynist.
As Hadley Freeman put it ‘The most qualified candidate of a generation was defeated by the least qualified candidate of all time’.
It’s made me challenge a long held belief that equality will come to those who wait, I think it might be time for an intervention.
As election night unfolded and swing state swung to Trump, wrong-footed pollsters began to speculate that white men were acting like minorities and block voting for their man. In a campaign infused with sexism perhaps that wasn’t surprising.
It reminded me of a good friend and senior broadcasting executive who often talks of the danger of those in management favouring people who ‘look like them’. On the surface it sounds oddly narcissistic, but study after study proves that it’s human nature to prefer people with similar interests and values.
For every benefit that someone familiar gets someone ‘unfamiliar’ whether because of race, gender, sexuality or class loses out. Professor Lauren Rivera from Kellogg School of Management says ‘Employers seek candidates that are not only competent but culturally similar to themselves.’
As bosses in this country are still predominately white men that creates a problem. How often have you heard that line, ‘You remind me of myself at your age’ Would a man be more likely to say that to a young man or woman?
You only have to look to the stark gender divide at the top of the corporate world in Britain for the answer.
This well-worn statistic is still depressingly true; far more men called John lead the UK’s biggest companies than women. Men called Dave also outnumber women 2:1. There’s a never ending cycle of Daves and Johns pulling up those who they perceive to be Dave and John Jnrs behind them.
The number of women running Britain’s FTSE 100 companies? Seven, lucky for some, just not very many.
I haven’t supported imposing quotas to make companies put more women on boards or in senior roles, believing appointment should only be on merit otherwise it undermining the role and the recipient. Better to ensure the playing field is level and women are supported by pushing for flexible working and affordable childcare. Then over time they will rise to the highest level without intervention.
Now I wonder if that is naivety and idealism on my part.
Early data from the Presidential election shows that white men did indeed vote for someone who looked like them (if a little more orange). 72 % of those without a college degree voted Trump and even those with a degree backed him by 51% to 45%.
Much has been made of women voting for Trump, but in fact the only group that favoured Trump over Clinton were white women without a college degree. They did so in their droves, by a margin of nearly 2 to 1. Clinton clearly failed to connect with the white working class whatever their gender, maybe the Yale educated former first lady and Secretary of State seemed more alien to them than a TV celebrity, property billionaire.
Clinton did have more support than Trump among white women with a college degree and minorities of both genders.
Of course, white men in America have been voting for men who looks just like them since the Founding Fathers.
But even Obama gleaned a little more of their vote than Clinton managed.
It is hard to not to conclude many men dislike Hillary Clinton because they feel threatened by her professional ability. This is also the origin of many of the unflattering descriptions of her character, ‘vindictive’, ‘pushy’, ‘shrill’, the same words often applied to successful women in business.
Clinton lost the presidency for many reasons, not just because she’s a woman. But had she been a man, same age same political record, same flaws, running against the twisted caricature of vanity, hate and arrogance that is ‘The Donald’, you’ve gotta think she would’ve walked it.
That’s why I think we should impose quotas for boardrooms.
It’s not enough for the odd, brilliant or perfectly-positioned woman makes it through to the top. It’s worth noting Theresa May wasn’t elected as Prime Minister by the people or even her party, she was anointed when opposition fell away.
Arguments that there aren’t enough high quality women candidates don’t wash. We’re not trying to find a giant panda with the right skills, we’re 52% of the population. 40 years after equality was enshrined in law if there aren’t enough properly qualified women that only strengthens the case for radical reform.
As for concerns that promoted women will be considered ‘only there because of quotas’ – here’s the thing… people say that now anyway, there’s often a derisory whisper of ’box-ticking’ when a women or non-white person lands a top job. That will continue until equality is normalized.
Trump supporters claim they don’t recognize today’s America and want to turn the clock back to a time when they felt more comfortable, presumably the 1950’s. We heard the same with Brexit.
Women’s equality can’t afford to go backwards one step. For generations only the male half of the population has had meaningful access to the top jobs, progress to redress the balance is glacially slow.
If Brexit and Trump votes have been about delivering a kick in the teeth to the establishment then perhaps this is the perfect time to make our own change, to alter the complexion of the workplace so everyone can see someone at the top who looks like them. If it’s human nature to pull up those who look like you then we need as broad a representation at the top level as possible.
We need a kick start this process and not stand idly so that when ‘all the little girls watching’ grow up companies and countries aren’t still run by men called John, Dave and Donald.