A small, local newspaper produces an annual “Women in the Workplace” special issue. I never paid much attention to it until the paper called to interview me for the upcoming edition. Every day of the past six years, I thought of myself as the owner and manager of a repair shop. The phone call rattled me into thinking about my gender—that I’m a female owner and manager of a repair shop.
There is no annual “Men in the Workplace” issue, so what special thing is going on here? Is it that women are in the workplace or that women are in the workplace? Either way, it implies that something surprising or unusual is going on here. And as long as this type of thinking continues to be the norm, women will have a harder time being recognized and rewarded based on merit alone—an earned and no gender-based kind of success.
The hometown newspaper wasn’t isolated in its strategy. Fortune magazine recently profiled the “50 Most Powerful Women” on its cover. Not the 50 most powerful leaders. And there are several organizations whose only purpose is to get more women elected and help women become more successful in the workplace.
It’s because collectively we’re not there yet. Sheryl Sandberg in “Lean In,” shares that, “Women hold about 25 percent of senior executive positions, 19 percent of board seats, and constitute 19 percent of our elected congressional officials.”
Even though, as an individual, Sandberg doesn’t wake up thinking, “What am I going to do today as Facebook’s female COO…,” she understands that a shift in thinking is required before we see female leaders as just…leaders.
Collectively, advocating for women’s issues and rights must remain. It still needs a voice. But using and playing the gender card, as an individual, in order to achieve personal success isn’t helpful. Earning is better than getting.
The tension is that collective change—more women leaders—happens when enough purely, individual successes occur.
We have several candidates running for the highest office in the land. Two are women—Republican Carly Fiorina and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Clinton announced her presidency by saying, “I may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but I will be the youngest woman President in the history of the United States!”
Cringe. She’s smart and tough. There’s no need to call attention to her gender.
When asked a question at the last Republican presidential debate about which woman she would like to see grace the $10 bill—a question that had nothing to do with policy—Fiorina didn’t take the shiny, gender offering. Standing on her merits and not her gender, she responded, “We ought to recognize that women are not a special interest group.”
Better. Smart and tough. And fair.
According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans believe that, “…women are every bit as capable of being good political leaders as men.” It also reports that, “73 percent expect to see a female president in their lifetime.”
So far, that thinking hasn’t translated into votes. But it will come.
Not because it’s some unofficial time in history to have a first ever in the Oval Office, but because the most qualified person was elected President of the United States of America. A leader.
Who just happened to be a woman.