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Vivian Norris

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Sexism and the Workplace: Have We Come a Long Way (Baby)?

Posted: 10/24/09 02:44 PM ET

We need to stop listening to our mothers who tell us that if we want something from a man we have to be subtle enough to make them think they actually came up with the idea in the first place! We should take Norway as an example to follow and make sure all corporate boards are made up of at least 50% women. Then we should do the same for foundation boards and political representation. Why? Because the reality is that, even if you are a female executive at Goldman Sachs, you will never be part of the "boys' club" -- and guess what, it's still a boys' club.

Women are still discriminated against because of the fact that they are women. They are paid less than men, in many places there is still no maternal leave to protect us when we have children, in fact we can pretty much bet that our careers will be over if we leave to start a family.

I think back to the late 1980s and a job I had when I was twenty-two, working for a Texan, who seemed shocked when I asked him to sign an employee contract. Lucky for me, he signed it. But he also did the following: invited me to lunch in a very dark restaurant where they knew him and showed us to the far back corner table, cornered me in a warehouse where I was cataloging items in his antiques collection, and came up behind me while I was in the home office looking in the file cabinet and basically made me feel very uncomfortable.

I finally quit, and when I did (via a two page letter outlining why I was quitting) he told people he fired me!

Then there was an Italian boss I had who was five months behind paying me for work on a festival. When I pushed him to pay me he finally asked, "What? Don't you have a boyfriend?" I looked at him aghast. What does having or not having a boyfriend have to do with getting paid for a job well done? Women are also usually known for not negotiating for higher salaries; they don't even realize that they can ask.

In France, not so long ago, I read a poll in which women executive assistants were asked if they would go away with their married bosses for a weekend if it meant bettering their careers -- something like 60% replied in the affirmative! In other words, if you help the male peacocks feel powerful and like they are in control, you can gain a bit of power. But the reality is not many women in France are running big banks, or industries or business schools. But neither are they in America. Now imagine if you are a woman working in a country where you cannot even legally drive. How in the heck are we supposed to become empowered when we are treated like children?

The Mad Men series may be sexy, but what is the most wonderful thing about the show is that Don Draper keeps ending up in the arms of more liberated modern women: the beatnik girlfiend living downtown who is free enough to let him go, the woman who inherits her family's business, and eventually turns him down, and the power broking woman his own age whose mind and business sense is as sharp as his own -- and who ends up in a car wreck with him, while the wife (who is about to blow) is on the edge of heading towards some serious female liberation.

You can almost hear the call of the mid-life return to a college psychology degree a few seasons in the future, because the only way to stay married to these sexist men is to become their full-time therapist! In other words, Don Draper is a man whose time has come, and is almost over. He is the post-WWII American male anti-hero who has no place in the modern world. Yet all these cigar smoking execs who have brought us to the financial crisis have not figured that out yet. A real man empowers women. Insecure men need to feel like "the boss."

Women need to run their own companies, have decision making powers and have the same access to financial services, especially credit, as men. The fastest way to end up in poverty is for a woman to get divorced and be a single mother. Yet we have better payback rates for loans than men (look at the microcredit scores of up to 99 around the world in programs which loan primarily to women).

The Obama administration needs to take a look at putting more women in charge of the economy. They are slowly "getting it," but taking advice from the friends of Goldman Sachs (all men), is doing more harm than good. Those who are making the most sense right now are women: Sheila Baer at the FDIC, Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor who serves as the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the TARP program, and the first female recipient for the Nobel Prize in Economics, Elinor Ostrom, whose work focuses not on theories but real world economics and helping poor countries.

Obama's mother, Ann Dunham Soetoro, was a visionary in seeing how women, when given access to credit, could bring themselves out of poverty. It is too bad that she is not here now, at the right hand of Obama, advising him. But surely he knows how important women are to the world, he should, they raised him!

 

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