As pathetic as the sex "scandal" (Triangle? Quadrangle? Pentagon?) surrounding General David Petraeus has become, it has created some serious consequences. One of the most far-reaching and overlooked consequences is that it is reinforcing the professional glass ceiling for women.
That's right: This scandal will invariably hurt business and career opportunities for women.
You undoubtedly have your own judgments about the individuals involved, but I am not going to judge the affair between Petraeus and Paula Broadwell. None of us know what arrangements they had in their respective marriages or what was going on in their personal lives. What we do know is that like Petraeus, Broadwell also had a family and a lot at stake.
However, despite Paula Broadwell's stakes and accomplishments, including pursuing a Masters Degree at Harvard and being top in her class at Westpoint, she is being portrayed as a job groupie femme fatale -- almost a James Bond-style villainess -- using her femininity to get ahead in business. There have been countless amounts of speculation that she targeted the General to advance her career. But here's the issue: If she had a penis, it would be called "networking," not "gold digging."
That's right, people seek out mentorship, business dealings and contacts with other successful people who can help them (and hopefully, that they can help in return). It's a necessary part of career growth and advancement and it should be viewed as a positive. But if you are a woman, it's not.
In his piece, "The Truth Is... Hanging Out Alone A Lot With Someone You Find Attractive Is Asking For Trouble," Business Insider's Henry Blodget first describes Broadwell in this way, "A nobody graduate student charms her way into the confidence of a powerful man -- and then uses her seductive powers to bring him down." This belittles what Broadwell has accomplished (Harvard and Westpoint isn't the background of a "nobody" to me), and diminishes what Mr. Petraeus received in return -- becoming the subject of a successful biography that helped to further elevate his profile.
Even worse were the general public's comments. Here are a couple of them:
I don't know how Broadwell became Petraeus's biographer, but he should've picked a writer who was not trying sooo hard to be hot.
While this advice is good, this exact sentiment has caused me not to hire women to whom I'm attracted. I also don't like working closely on projects with attractive women -- it's asking for trouble. So it limits young women's access to senior leadership, and my access to top talent.
So, what's the message here? If you are female and attractive, you might as well sit on the sidelines because men can't be trusted to interact with you? When men hold the greater majority of all professional positions of power, it is impossible for a woman to advance her career without the support of men. Further, we are in big trouble as a nation if we cannot have women and men work side-by-side. This may illustrate the biggest issue related to the glass ceiling and why we don't have more women in positions of leadership at the top levels of corporate America.
And it's not just the men creating the barrier. It's women too. Susan Reimer, in the Baltimore Sun, in questioning Petraeus's resignation, said, "We need to learn to get past these bimbo eruptions." So, in a consensual relationship, the woman, regardless of her accomplishments, is a bimbo. This is disgusting, jealous, catty behavior -- the same kind that causes women to tell their husbands not to hire or to spend time with any other woman who might be deemed attractive.
It's critical for women to be able to access and interact with successful men in order to improve their professional standing. In fact, it's sort of a vicious cycle, because unless women become more powerful and successful, we will continue to be relegated to being sexual objects first, but if we are kept from the mentorship of the men who currently hold those positions, we will never be able to get there.
I have been working in male-dominated industries most of my life. When I started my career in investment banking, I was one of two women in my analyst class. There were two female VPs who played a role in my hiring, but it was mostly men. And for the bulk of my very successful career there, I worked primarily with men and it was men who advocated for my multiple promotions. Not because of how I looked or didn't look, but because I was an outstanding investment banker.
Over the years, I have created close friendships with many successful men, many of whom I have made a lot of money for through deals that I brought to them or business counsel that I have provided.
As I moved into the media space, I have continued to network with individuals and a lot of them, surprise, happen to be men. Am I being a "bimbo" or a "gold-digger" by seeking out this counsel? Am I a "nobody" who is trying to get close to men of power? No, I am networking to advance my career, which is what successful men and women do. In many cases, the networking is mutually beneficial, as I have talents and connections to bring to bear to help them as much as they may be able to help me. Even if I didn't, paying it forward through mentorship is fulfilling and women shouldn't be left out from that if they are deemed attractive.
While we don't know what happened -- and it is none of our business -- the reality is that Petreaus and Broadwell probably fell for each other. Broadwell allegedly sending emails to another woman to back off from Mr. Petraues hardly sounds like the actions of the targeted opportunist that has been portrayed in the media and at water coolers, but more of someone emotionally wounded. But, regardless of what happened between them, we cannot let the takeaways create an atmosphere that holds women further back in the workplace.
Men, if you are in a position of power or authority, please respectfully continue to mentor and work with talented individuals and those with promise, regardless if they are men or women.
Women, continue to network with individuals who are further along in their careers, irrespective of gender, as that is the only way you will learn and grow.
And biographers, don't worry about being so hot.
Follow Carol Roth on Twitter: www.twitter.com/caroljsroth