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Marilyn Nagel Headshot

Dissecting the Backlash Against Executive Feminism

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Recently, an article was published in HBR, "The Rise of Executive Feminism," where the authors laud the launch of a powerful new feminist dialogue and analyze the backlash against it. Their most effective example is the way in which the media -- and by extension, the public -- reacted to the conversation by inventing a vicious catfight between Anne-Marie Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg, the two most vocal and visible figureheads in the debate.

I believe this is an example of reinforcing old stereotypes about women as not supportive of one another (remember the queen bee syndrome?). This is simply not reality. There is room for more than one woman at the table, more than one woman spokesperson, more than one woman's voice in the conversation.

Women can disagree with one another without tearing each other down. How do we know? Because it happens all the time! If we look at male leadership authors and speakers, we see different and some overlapping perspectives, but we don't automatically identify them as cat fights to feed the gossip mill.

This exaggeration of differences is often created by the established power structure and comes from unconscious bias about how women should be and about how women are. When there is only one woman's voice, suddenly she is under pressure to represent her entire gender. In reality, no one can fill that role because women are all individuals and we all have our own perspectives.

When there are multiple voices, they need to be viewed as just that: multiple voices all supporting the goal of more women achieving their career goals.