October 28, 2011
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
As I write, 104,778 people have viewed the Forbes article on the “10 Worst Stereotypes about Powerful Women.”
I’m curious. What did people learn from reading this? And what will they do with this information so that we never have to see another article about this topic again?
If you have been reading my blog this week, you know about mounting evidence of the links among gender, career success, and professional confidence. A quick summary for new readers: you need confidence to succeed!
I fear women will read this article and – tacitly or explicitly – find reasons to doubt that they have the right stuff for leadership and lose more of the confidence they need to craft careers of success and significance. Who wouldn’t if you thought that half the folks around you (and most of the folks in power above you) were still projecting all this old negativity on you?
Men who read the piece can have seeds of doubt planted – or reinforced – about their female co-workers.
In a week when men and women should celebrate another symbolic gem in the crown of social progress and gender equity as IBM appoints its first woman as CEO – Virginia Rometty joins the growing ranks of mega-corporation leaders that now include Ellen Kullman at DuPont, Meg Whitman at Hewlett-Packard, Ursula Burns at Xerox, Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo – 104,778 (and counting) people are having a refresher course on how to dismiss half the world’s population – and hold back progress on a host of fronts for us all.
All the traditional stereotypes are on the Forbes list – and Forbes Online kindly provides a slide show for those who don’t want to read the full article. The slides are a mix of actresses in their portrayal of fictional characters from movies and TV (e.g., Meryl Streep as the “frigid magazine editor” in The Devil Wears Prada and Glenn Close as the “back-stabbing boss” in Damages) with real women who are doing really important work. Each picture represents one of the negative gender stereotypes. Here’s where my blood began to boil.
It includes an unattractive photo of our successful, current Secretary of State (emotional), as well as associations of negativity with the photo of our First Lady (angry), the Head of the International Monetary Fund (masculine), our former Secretary of State (token), the President of Costa Rican (weak), a former Vice Presidential candidate (cheerleader), and the list goes on.
If I thought people were reading this article and standing in outrage that these associations were still happening in the year 2011, I’d feel better. But why do I fear snickers as the pictures of Hillary Clinton and others are passed around the water cooler instead? And I am not going to even touch the racial issues in all this.
Enough Forbes! Enough media! Seriously. We need stories that build the confidence and capacities of men and women so that they can bring their full talents to the range of contributions needed to succeed – and for our economy to rebound – in a fast-paced, global world.
Planting seeds of doubt reinforces the very thing this article hoped to counter!