I read an interesting quote today that highlights just how much progress we have made in our collective thinking about women in leadership positions. The quote, from a rather interesting source was in regard to the consideration of the appointment of a woman to the Supreme Court of the United States. The respondent, our 37th U.S. president, Richard M. Nixon, said the following: ”To play an awful long shot, is there a woman yet? That would be a hell of a thing if we could do it.” Although, it appeared as though Nixon well understood the political advantages of such a move, he also said: ”I’m not for women in any job. I don’t want any of them around. Thank God we don’t have any in the cabinet.” To top off these comments, he added: “’I don’t think a woman should be in any government job whatever. I mean, I really don’t. The reason why I do is mainly because they are erratic. And emotional. Men are erratic and emotional, too, but the point is a woman is more likely to be.” These comments were captured on audiotapes in 1971, 37 years ago, and later made public through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral,
Originally uploaded by Merowig
Imagine if you will Nixon’s reaction to today’s political landscape! What would he think about an African American or a woman as the Democratic nominee for the POTUS [President of the United States]? How would he handle an African American female as the U.S. Secretary of State? What would he have to say about a female Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives?
It’s rather amazing to see just how successful some “erratic and emotional” women have become. In fact, I wrote about some women that had Mr. Nixon been president in today’s day and age, he would surely have had political dealings with. Now, in fairness, Nixon did deal with foreign political leaders who were women, such as Golda Meir of Israel, with whom he had good rapport and a solid working relationship. But that was another country’s leadership administration in which he had little say. However, when it came to the leadership of the United States during his tenure as president, his choice about who held leadership roles was all too clear from his comments.
I’m currently reading a very interesting book on a related topic called Through the Labyrinth in which the authors, Alice Eagly and Linda Carli, describe the challenges and obstacles facing aspiring women leaders today. But be assured that the lessons of this book are relevant to both men and women alike as the book not only defines the problem, but the authors also offer practical solutions and hope for a better future for our culture and companies that are willing to heed some guidance.
I am pleased to have entered my professional life in the post-Nixon era. I say this because his comments represented widely held opinions of that day about the role of women in culture and made it very difficult for women to attain prominent leadership roles of any sort. After all, think back…I don’t believe there were articles back then entitled The 50 Women to Watch such as Carol Hymowitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal back in November 2007.
Nina nets it out: While not necessarily perfect, today’s corporations do in fact offer far greater opportunities for women to achieve influential leadership positions than any other time in our history. And these trends seem as though they will continue. But, as with anything else, don’t wait for society or a corporation to ‘make things right’ on their own. Take responsibility for your circumstances and proactively request what you genuinely believe you deserve.