Is There A Double Standard When Female CEOs In Tech Stumble?

Two of the highest profile women in tech have had a tough year. Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, saw her company sold to Verizon. Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the experimental blood testing company Theranos, was banned from her own labs by regulators for two years.

Though male founders and CEOs fail all the time, it may have different implications when women mess up, says Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University.

"There are so many other male leaders that ... failure doesn't really create expectations about other men's leadership capacities or capabilities," she says.

When former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay was indicted for securities fraud or Angelo Mozilo, the former chairman of Countrywide Financial, was associated with bringing on the housing crisis nobody suggested it was because they were men.

Because there are so few female CEOs, especially in tech, Cooper says when a Marissa Mayer or Elizabeth Holmes fails it can feed stereotypes. "It not only can damage her career just individually for herself," says Cooper, "but it can actually serve to reconfirm broader cultural beliefs that are out there that women aren't quite the right fit for senior leadership or certain kinds of senior leadership positions."

Cooper says there are studies that show that when women and men go to funders with the same idea, women are less likely to get backing.

And with the timing of failures by Mayer and Holmes so close, some people do lump them together despite their very different career trajectories. If you read the comments below articles online, both women are the targets of stinging sexism.

A recent post on NPR's site said of Mayer's failure — "simply evidence that women cannot lead." A post on news comment site Reddit — called both women part of the "the feminist industrial complex" that promotes unqualified women.

Despite other successful CEOs in tech, as young, attractive, rising stars Mayer and Holmes became media darlings. Holmes was fashioned as a great female visionary of the tech world. Last year, Time magazine put her on the list of its 100 most influential people. Holmes' penchant for wearing black turtlenecks evoked comparisons to Steve Jobs, who also wore them.

Mayer became a symbol of a woman CEO who could juggle her job and giving birth to twins. She appeared on television shows talking about the experience.

Many female executives in the tech world still prefer to see Mayer as a role model.

"I think certainly Marissa going in as a CEO who was having a child has shown that you can do both of those things at once. And just having a woman be in that role is normalizing for the rest of us," says Natala Menezes, who has been an executive at Amazon, Microsoft and Google and is currently a general manager at the marketing and analytics firm Localytics.

Minnie Ingersoll, the chief operating officer and co-founder of Shift, a startup that helps people sell used cars online, likes to see women shoot for the stars. "One message for young women is that it's OK to take a big risk and to fail," she says. "I think there's something actually for me personally that I find almost inspiring in someone who is willing to take that risk."

But she doesn't think Mayer and Holmes have much in common. "Marissa and Elizabeth are both blond women. But other than that, I see what is going on in their careers very differently," Ingersoll says.

Though being young and blond may have something to do with the media's fascination with these women, there are others succeeding as leaders in tech. Ursula Burns runs Xerox. Meg Whitman now runs HP enterprise — and as the former CEO of eBay she helped turn the company into a giant of online commerce. Ginni Rometty is CEO of IBM.

Menezes and Ingersoll hope that their successes will make it easier for women to succeed and dream so big that they can afford to fail as often as men do.

The Hillary Haters

In 1996, the New Yorker published “Hating Hillary,” Henry Louis Gates’ reported piece on the widespread animosity for the then–first lady. “Like horse-racing, Hillary-hating has become one of those national pastimes which unite the élite and the lumpen,” Gates wrote. “[T]here’s just something about her that pisses people off,” the renowned Washington hostess Sally Quinn told Gates. “This is the reaction that she elicits from people.”

It might seem as though nothing much has changed in 20 years. Many people disliked Hillary Clinton when she first emerged onto the political scene, and many people dislike her now. She is on track to become the least popularDemocratic nominee in modern history, although voters like Donald Trump even less.

But over the last two decades, the something that pisses people off has changed. Speaking to Gates, former Republican speechwriter Peggy Noonan described “an air of apple-cheeked certitude” in Clinton that is “political in its nature and grating in its effects.” Noonan saw in Clinton “an implicit insistence throughout her career that hers were the politics of moral decency and therefore those who opposed her politics were obviously of a lower moral order.”

Noonan’s view was a common one. Take, for example, Michael Kelly’s 1993 New York Times Magazine profile, mockingly titled “Saint Hillary.” “Since she discovered, at the age of 14, that for people less fortunate than herself the world could be very cruel, Hillary Rodham Clinton has harbored an ambition so large that it can scarcely be grasped,” Kelly wrote. “She would like to make things right. She is 45 now and she knows that the earnest idealisms of a child of the 1960s may strike some people as naive or trite or grandiose. But she holds to them without any apparent sense of irony or inadequacy.” Kelly’s piece painted Clinton as a moralist, a meddler, a prig.

Few people dislike Hillary Clinton for being too moralistic anymore. In trying to understand the seemingly eternal phenomenon of Hillary hatred, I’ve spoken to people all around America who revile her. I’ve interviewed Trump supporters, conventional conservatives, Bernie Sanders fans, and even a few people who reluctantly voted for Clinton in the Democratic primary but who nevertheless say they can’t stand her. Most of them described a venal cynic. Strikingly, the reasons people commonly give for hating Clinton now are almost the exact opposite of the reasons people gave for hating her in the 1990s. Back then, she was a self-righteous ideologue; now she’s a corrupt tool of the establishment. Back then, she was too rigid; now she’s too flexible. Recently, Morning Consult polled people who don’t like Clinton about the reasons for their distaste. Eighty-four percent agreed with the statement “She changes her positions when it’s politically convenient.” Eighty-two percent consider her “corrupt.” Motives for loathing Clinton have evolved. But the loathing itself has remained constant.

Brian Greene is a 49-year-old accountant and financial analyst who lives in the Chicago suburbs. He was a conservative in the 1990s and despised both Clintons. “I thought she was someone who came off as a bit entitled and kind of full of herself,” he says of Hillary. His view then, he says, was that she was “Bill without the charisma.”

Greene became disillusioned with the right due to the Iraq war; he supported Howard Dean in 2004 and now describes himself as a libertarian-ish liberal. Yet while his politics changed, his aversion to Clinton did not. He actually voted for her in the Illinois primary—Sanders, he says, didn’t seem like a plausible president. But he did so with a complete lack of enthusiasm. Had the Republicans elevated someone “sane” such as John Kasich, he says, he’d return to the GOP in November. “She strikes me as so programmed and almost robotic,” he says of Hillary. “I don’t think her recent move to the left, or being more populist recently, is part of who she is but more of a reaction to Sanders in the race.”

Greene says he’d have preferred to vote for Elizabeth Warren, even though Clinton’s more centrist politics are closer to his own. He’s not sure that likability should matter to him, but it does. “I like to think it’s more about policy and what they do, but for me it’s like, do you want to see this person on television for eight years, or four years,” he says. “For better or worse, the president is someone who represents the country and will be part of your life.”

There are certainly people who don’t like Clinton because they don’t like her record and her proposals. Marcella Aburdene, a 31-year-old market researcher in Washington, D.C., has a Palestinian father and is horrified by what she sees as Clinton’s hawkishness and allegiance to Israel. “She is disingenuous and she lies blatantly, but that’s what a lot of politicians do,” Aburdene says. “It’s definitely more of a policy issue for me.” She plans to vote for the Green Party’s Jill Stein in November.

For many, however, resistance to Clinton goes beyond policy. “It’s not that I just don’t like Hillary’s positions,” says Margo Guryan Rosner, a Los Angeles songwriter (her work has been recorded by Julie London, Mama Cass, and Harry Belafonte, among others) and Sanders devotee. “I don’t like her.” Like many of the people I spoke to, Rosner’s antipathy doesn’t follow a precise ideological trajectory. Now 78, she says her negative feelings about Clinton first arose during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. Rosner says she was especially irritated when, in response to criticism of her work at the Rose Law Firm, Hillary said, “You know, I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession.”

“That bugged me,” says Rosner. “She was putting down regular women, people who stay home and take care of kids and bake cookies.” It’s not that Rosner was offended on behalf of housewives; she herself has always had a career. “I just thought it was a stupid comment,” she says. “I don’t think she’s as smart as most people think she is, or seem to think she is.”

Rosner also makes a fairly standard progressive case against Clinton. “I don’t like her support for the Iraq war,” she says. “She didn’t support same-sex marriage until it became a popular issue. Her email stuff—she is the only one that would not testify, and I think that’s bullshit. I don’t like her friendship with Netanyahu. I think they’ve destroyed the Middle East with Iraq. I don’t like that she takes money from big banks. She doesn’t support universal health care. For all those reasons. I think she’s more a Republican than a Democrat, and I refuse to vote for Republicans, ever.”

All the same, Rosner says she would happily vote for Joe Biden, who also voted for the Iraq war. In the Senate, Biden was known for his deep ties to the credit card industry, and as a presidential candidate, he didn’t support universal health insurance. “Yeah, Biden does not have all the positions I would like, but he has a certain kind of humanity that touches me,” she says.

Several of the people I spoke to see Clinton as lacking in humanity. It’s not just that they don’t like her—they also feel, on some level, that she doesn’t like them. “I don’t think she has a clue what people in my position need in life and certainly wouldn’t stoop to, quote unquote, my level,” says Mindy Gardner, a 49-year-old in Davenport, Iowa, who works in the produce section of a Hy-Vee grocery store. “If I could make her a profit she’d be my best friend, but I can’t, so she doesn’t know I exist.”

Gardner, who raised two children as a single mother, says she felt vaguely positive about Bill Clinton when he was elected in 1992. In 2008, she supported John McCain, and in this election she’s become a passionate Sanders backer. She sees Hillary Clinton as integral to the economic system that has left her struggling. “I’ve been working since I was 12. It seems like when I was working as a kid, my money went further than it does now as an adult, just trying to feed the kids. I could work 40 hours a week and go live in the Y because that’s all you can afford,” she says.

The Clintons, says Gardner, “removed a lot of sanctions against companies and changed a lot of laws so companies could pay their workers less, fight unions, fight health care.” Employment used to come with security and benefits, she says. “That was just common knowledge, all those things you got when you worked your butt off for a company.” Clinton, she believes, had a hand in taking all that away. “Bill and Hillary’s friends were all rich, they were the ones who owned all these companies, why not use your power to let everyone in your circle get as rich as humanly possible?”

Several of the policies Clinton has put forth would help Gardner. When I ask her about Clinton’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour, Gardner says, “I would like to make $12 an hour, that would be nice.” But it almost doesn't matter what Clinton’s policies are, because Gardner doesn’t trust her to enact any of them. “If she was moving her lips she was probably lying about it,” she says.

* * *

Some who loathe Clinton see her as the living embodiment of avarice and deception. These Clinton haters take at face value every charge Republicans have ever hurled at her, as well as dark accusations that circulate online. They have the most invidious possible explanation for Whitewater, the dubious real estate deal that served as a pretext for endless Republican investigations of the Clintons in the 1990s. (Clinton was never found guilty of any wrongdoing, though one of her business partners, James McDougal, went to prison for fraud in a related case.) Sometimes they believe that Clinton murdered her former law partner, Vince Foster, who committed suicide in 1993. They hold her responsible for the deadly attack on the American outpost in Benghazi, Libya. Peter Schweizer’s new book Clinton Cash has convinced them that there was a corrupt nexus between Clinton’s State Department, various foreign governments, and the Clinton family’s foundation. Most of Schweizer’s allegations have either been disproven or shown to be unsubstantiated, but that hasn’t stopped Trump from invoking them repeatedly. In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, he accused Clinton of raking in “millions of dollars trading access and favors to special interests and foreign powers.”

As former New York Times editor-in-chief Jill Abramson wrote, “I would be ‘dead rich,’ to adapt an infamous Clinton phrase, if I could bill for all the hours I’ve spent covering just about every ‘scandal’ that has enveloped the Clintons.” After all that investigation, Abramson concluded that Clinton “is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.” But the appearance of perpetual scandal surrounding Clinton can make it seem as if she must be hiding something monstrous, especially to those who are predisposed against her.

“I think that Hillary Clinton is a sociopath, so I think that her main interest is in her pocketbook, and I think that’s obvious from looking at the Clinton Foundation,” says Uday Sachdeva, a 22-year-old Trump supporter from Georgia who is about to start medical school.

Sachdeva, the son of Indian Hindu immigrants, produces a podcast about sports and politics with a childhood friend, and he offers a precisely detailed—if hallucinatory—Clinton demonology, like a fantasy-football obsessive spitting out statistics. “There’s 47 suspicious deaths around Hillary Clinton. Eleven of them are her personal bodyguards, and you have Bill Clinton’s alleged rape victims,” he says. He lists a number of these figures, explaining the dubious circumstances of their demises. Some of the names are familiar, like McDougal, who died of a heart attack in a Texas prison in 1998. Others are more obscure, at least to anyone who hasn’t put in hours on conspiracy websites.

“Paula Grober, Clinton’s interpreter for the deaf, traveled with Clinton from 1978 to 1992, died in a one-car accident,” Sachdeva says. “There was another one where they found the brakes cut of a motorcycle and he slammed into the back of a truck. That would be Keith Coney.” (According to Clinton conspiracy theorists, Coney, 19, had information about the death of two 17-year-olds who’d witnessed a drug-smuggling operation linked to Bill Clinton.)

“It’s just a bunch of suspicious circumstances that all these people were friends of Hillary Clinton,” Sachdeva says. I asked him where he was getting his information, and he listed a number of sources, including Snopes.com—which has indeedreported on rumors about the Clinton body count but only to debunk them. When I mention this, Sachdeva is unfazed. “I have a propensity to think that there’s a little bit of fire in the smoke,” he says.

Not all the likely Trump voters I spoke to were quite so febrile, but like Sachdeva, they express a loathing that transcends ideology. Denny Butcher, a 44-year-old Army veteran in Raleigh, North Carolina, thinks Barack Obama’s politics are worse than Hillary Clinton’s but finds Obama far more personable. “I was against him from the very beginning, because I feel like he is about as left as left can be, until Bernie Sanders came along,” Butcher says of Obama. “He believes the opposite of what I do on almost every issue.” All the same, he says, “If I met Barack Obama on the street, there’s a good chance I’d say he’s a decent guy. I don’t get that feeling from Hillary Clinton. I don’t feel like she’s a likable person at all. At all. I think she feels like she’s above the law, and she’s above us peasants.”

Butcher was raised to be a Democrat, and he voted for Bill Clinton in 1992. He’s since moved right and voted for Ted Cruz in the North Carolina primary; he plans to vote for Trump in the general. He always disliked Hillary, he says, and his distaste intensified when, as first lady, she was put in charge of health care reform. “I felt like she’s not an elected official and she’s trying to take liberties with a position that was an unelected position. I felt like it was not her job to be involved with legislation,” he says.

In Butcher’s aversion to what he perceived to be Clinton’s sense of entitlement, I started to see how contemporary loathing of Hillary overlaps with the ’90s version. Her enemies’ caricature of her has flipped from Madame Defarge, Charles Dickens’ revolutionary villainess, to Marie Antoinette, symbol of callous aristocracy, but the sense of Clinton’s insulting presumption has remained constant.

Aside from Al Gore, whoever Bill Clinton had put in charge of health care reform would have been unelected; presidents make lots of appointments that have legislative consequences. (No one elected Robert F. Kennedy to be John F. Kennedy’s attorney general.) To me, at least, it sounded as if Butcher was angry that Hillary had stepped outside the role of a typical first lady, that she had transgressed certain gender constraints. But like most Hillary haters, Butcher rejects the idea that gender has anything to do with his antipathy. “Not at all,” he says. “Absolutely not. Nope.”

Also like a lot of people who despise Clinton, Butcher finds her invocations of gender infuriating. “I think she’s trying to tell people, ‘Vote for me because I’m a woman,’ ” he says. “Ignore the fact that I have accomplished practically nothing significant in my whole career in the public eye, but I’m a woman, so vote for me.”

Listening to Butcher brought me back to Rosner. Their politics are very different, but their assessments of Hillary Clinton are strikingly similar. Like Butcher, she’s irritated by what she sees as Clinton’s gender-based pitch. “She’s a grandmother. So am I. Big deal,” Rosner says. Like Butcher, Rosner felt that Clinton had overstepped as first lady. “She and her husband were putting her right out in front, and she didn’t handle herself well,” she says. “She certainly wasn’t a Michelle Obama.” Unlike Hillary, says Rosner, Michelle Obama “seems to say the right thing at the right time, and she is very supportive of her husband and her children, even staying in Washington after they leave office so that one of her children doesn’t have to switch schools. That’s a big deal.” Rosner may be very liberal, but not all our gut reactions are governed by politics.

* * *

It could be that the reasons people give for disliking Clinton have changed simply because she herself has changed. She entered the White House as a brashly self-confident liberal. Early on, some of the president’s advisers sought to undermine her plans for health care reform because they were thought to be insufficiently business-friendly; in response, Carl Bernstein, one of her biographers, quotes her snapping at her husband, “You didn’t get elected to do Wall Street economics.” Then, after the epic repudiation of the 1994 midterms, in which Republicans won a House majority for the first time since 1952, she overcorrected—becoming too cautious, too compromising, too solicitous of entrenched interests. As she would say during her 2000 Senate campaign, “I now come from the school of small steps.”

In other words, people hated Hillary Clinton for being one sort of person, and in response to that she became another sort of person, who people hated for different reasons. But this doesn’t explain why the emotional tenor of the hatred seems so consistent, even as the rationale for it has turned inside out. Perhaps that’s because anti-Hillary animus is only partly about what she does. It’s also driven by some ineffable quality of charisma, or the lack of it.

No doubt, this quality is gendered; Americans tend not to like ambitious women with loud voices. As Rebecca Traister wrote in her recent New York magazine profile of Clinton, “It’s worth asking to what degree charisma, as we have defined it, is a masculine trait. Can a woman appeal to the country in the same way we are used to men doing it?” Elizabeth Warren’s forthright authenticity is often favorably contrasted with Clinton’s calculated persona, but when Warren was running for Senate against Scott Brown, she was also widely painted as dishonest and unlikable. (According to one poll, even Democrats found Brown more personally appealing.) This fits a broader pattern. Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research and the lead researcher on Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, says that women who are successful in areas that are culturally coded as male are typically seen as “abrasive, conniving, not trustworthy, and selfish.”

What’s happening to Clinton, says Cooper, “happens to a lot of women. There are millions of people who will say about another woman: She’s really good at her job, I just don’t like her. They think they’re making an objective evaluation, but when we look at the broader analysis, there is a pattern to the bias.”

Among hardcore Trump supporters, the misogyny often isn’t subtle. The Republican National Convention seethed with a visceral, highly personalized, and highly sexualized contempt toward Clinton. Men wore T-shirts that said, “Hillary Sucks but Not Like Monica” on one side and “Trump That Bitch” on the backs. Buttons and bumper stickers read, “Life’s a Bitch: Don’t Vote For One.” One man wore a Hillary mask and sat behind a giant yellow sign saying “Trump vs. Tramp.” Another, an RNC volunteer, was dressed up like Septa Unella from Game of Thrones and held a naked blowup doll with Clinton’s face attached, re-enacting a scene in which Cersei Lannister, a murderous queen, is stripped naked and marched through the streets before jeering throngs. The right-wing fantasy of seeing Clinton degraded and humiliated has rarely been performed so starkly.

Most Americans, however, are not frothing partisans. For many of them, something in addition to sexism is at work in Clinton’s unpopularity—some mystery of mass media connection. There’s a reason actors do screen tests: Not everyone’s charm translates to film and video. For as long as Hillary Clinton has been in public life, people who’ve met in her person have marveled at how much more likable she is in the flesh than she is on television. “What’s remarkable isn’t that she can be funny, spontaneous, and mischievous, and has a loud, throaty laugh; what’s remarkable is the extent to which she has sequestered her personality from the media,” Gates wrote in 1996.

Twenty years later, Traister discovered a similar disconnect. “The conviction that I was in the presence of a capable, charming politician who inspires tremendous excitement would fade and in fact clash dramatically with the impressions I’d get as soon as I left her circle: of a campaign imperiled, a message muddled, unfavorables scarily high,” she wrote. “To be near her is to feel like the campaign is in steady hands; to be at any distance is to fear for the fate of the republic.”

Republican strategist Katie Packer sees parallels between Clinton and Mitt Romney, for whom Packer served as deputy campaign manager in 2012. “In a lot of ways her weaknesses are very similar to Mitt’s weaknesses,” Packer tells me. “She’s somebody who is kind of a policy nerd, somebody who is very solution-oriented. She just does not have great people skills. Because of that, whenever something goes wrong, people don’t give her the benefit of the doubt. They don’t trust her.” Politically, this is a hard dynamic to overcome; Clinton’s efforts to appear relatable only make her seem more calculating. “It comes across as stilted and staged and for a purpose, so it defeats the purpose,” says Packer.

The analogy only goes so far, however, because Romney never attracted the amount of venom that Clinton has, either from within or without his party. Which leads us back to gender. Packer is the co-founder of Burning Glass Consulting, an all-female firm that specializes in helping Republican candidates reach female voters. She has spent a lot of time studying how people react to female candidates. “The benefit you get from being a woman running is, No. 1, you’re seen as more empathetic, more relatable, having deeper feelings about things, not just approaching things in an unemotional way,” Packer says. “And 2, you’re seen as not a typical politician.”

If that’s true, it’s possible that when a woman approaches politics in a coolly pragmatic way—when she shows herself to be, in many ways, a typical politician—it makes people particularly uncomfortable. If Packer is right, not only is Clinton not behaving the way a woman is supposed to behave; she’s not behaving the way a woman politician is supposed to behave. She’s not a mama grizzly like Sarah Palin circa 2008 or a brassy dame like former Texas Gov. Ann Richards. “Because she’s not very good at these qualities that are viewed as more feminine, she loses the benefit on that front, too,” says Packer.

For Democrats, the silver lining is that Clinton’s running against Donald Trump. “I think she won the lottery ticket,” Packer says. According to Packer, there’s a way to make independent and moderate Republican women soften toward Hillary Clinton: Go after her husband’s infidelity. “One thing that causes them to come to her defense is when they feel like she’s being blamed for her husband’s bad behavior,” Packer says. Trump has done exactly that, attacking Hillary as an “enabler” of her husband’s sexual misdeeds. “The one Republican who is incapable of not bullying her is going to be her opponent,” says Packer. “The one Republican who is incapable of showing any empathy in his own right is going to be her opponent.”

That makes it more likely that many voters will do what Brian Greene did and vote for Clinton despite their distaste. Should that happen, it remains to be seen if Hillary hatred shapes her ability to govern. Cooper thinks it’s possible that once she’s no longer explicitly competing for power, the widespread public dislike of her might ebb. “When she announces she’s running for something, her unfavorability increases,” Cooper says of Clinton. “When she’s in a role, her favorability starts to creep up again.” Figures from the Pew Research Center bear this out. Clinton’s favorability ratings fell to 49 percent when she was running for Senate in 2000, then went up to 60 percent when she entered office. They’ve fallen below 50 percent during both presidential campaigns but reached 66 percent when she was secretary of state.

“It may be that the moment she starts to claim more power, it elicits a negative response,” Cooper says. We might soon find out if the same thing happens once the power is hers.

As Yahoo sale nears, do women in tech get pushed more onto the ‘glass cliff’?

For Yahoo, it's nearly all over but the shouting. Final bids are expected Monday in the protracted sale of the core Internet business at Yahoo -- which will also announcesecond quarter earnings late Monday -- and it likely won't be long before we know the fate of both the faded Internet company and its embattled CEO, Marissa Mayer.

When the shouting does come, it's likely to include even more analysis about Mayer's tenure -- what her time at the helm will say about women in technology, what she could have done differently, how she might spend the $55 million in severance she could receive in the event of a change in control. Many will fault some of her big decisions: Big bets that didn't pay off, such as the $1.1 billion acquisition of the blogging service Tumblr, and key hires who didn't pan out. She promised the web browser Mozilla a lucrative change-in-control deal that could cost bidders more than $1 billionreports say. A Yahoo spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But others will say that Mayer, like other women before her in technology, was dealt a tough hand in the first place, accepting a particularly precarious leadership role often known as the "glass cliff." Research has shown that women disproportionately receive opportunities to lead at difficult times, and the tech sector would seem to have a preponderance of examples.

When Meg Whitman was named CEO of HP in 2011, the Silicon Valley giant was dealing with a string of recent scandals, instability at the top, strategic questions about a spinoff of its PC business and a massive acquisition that would turn out to be ill-fated. When interim Reddit CEO Ellen Pao resigned amid a petition for her ouster and uproar over anti-harassment changes she made, the online community's chief engineer said she'd been placed on the "glass cliff." Back in 2001 when Anne Mulcahy was named CEO of Xerox, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy and facing an SEC investigation.

But experts on leadership and gender say it's not clear whether the dynamic really does play out more often in tech than in other fields. "We don’t know if women face the glass cliff in tech more than other industries," says Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. "If we had 500 women [in tech CEO jobs] it would be a different story. But when so few women get to the top, it's important to look at the individual circumstances in which they're taking the reins." 

In fact, it may be that women actually get fewer crisis opportunities, rather than more, among Internet companies. That's because with these firms, the founder is often brought back to lead when the going gets tough. And those founders often happen to be disproportionately male. Think TwitterZyngaTinder and Pandora, all of which brought their founders back to the helm at some point within the past year and a half.

"We can go through the companies that have stumbled, and they nearly all reverted to a white male founder," says Freada Kapor Klein, a partner at Kapor Capital and longtime advocate for diversity in the tech industry.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, a former Google executive who founded theBoardlist, an online marketplace that connects tech boards of directors with women candidates, said in an interview that in tech, "my presumption is that when the ship is going down, the person on the hook is the founder." Indeed, she said, the number of CEO jobs at bigger Internet companies available to non-founders tend to be somewhat rare -- and often challenging.

"In [Silicon] Valley, the vast majority of large and profitable companies are run by the founder," she said. "What's left has a certain amount of hair on it."

Of course, Yahoo had already tried bringing its founder back to the job -- Jerry Yang ran the company in 2007 and 2008, famously rejecting an offer to be acquired by Microsoft. But even if Mayer's job has frequently been suggested as an example of the "glass cliff," it's hard to see it as a textbook case. Yahoo was struggling long before Mayer took control, and both male and female executives had already been among those tapped to try and right the aging Internet company's fortunes.

Jana Rich, a leading Silicon Valley recruiter, said she's never had boards of directors explicitly ask for, or even hint at, specifically wanting a female candidate at a time when a company is in trouble. But she says she does see women or minorities, who may realize they don't have the luxury of picking and choosing the most plum assignments, put themselves forward more often for particularly challenging jobs. She's careful to say this doesn't mean these candidates are less qualified: "A board for a distressed company is looking for the best possible alternative, and sometimes the best possible alternative is a person who’s willing to take that risk." 

Whatever the circumstances may be when women leaders are brought in, Yale School of Management professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld says that in the tech field, women are often "given a shorter timeframe to show success," facing potential backlash in a field that's predominantly male. It doesn't help that tech turnarounds are notoriously hard, with all leaders facing the difficult task of fixing a business in an industry known for its hyper-speed rate of change.

Stanford's Cooper says that even if the glass cliff dynamic only affects a few women at the top, the relatively small number of women in top jobs in technology overall means that's "still a large percentage of women." And "when there are so few women in leadership positions, all eyes are on them."

Congratulations, Theresa May. Now mind that ‘glass cliff.’

It's hard to imagine what Theresa May must be thinking right now.

Just three weeks ago, she was a low-profile member of David Cameron's cabinet, regarded as a professional and reliable leader in the Conservative Party ably holding a position that's been called a "graveyard for political careers." Less than a month later, Britain has voted to leave the European Union. Cameron has resigned. The man considered the front-runner in the race to replace him decided not to run. The leader of the party that championed Britan's exit from the E.U. has quit.

And now May is poised to become only the second female prime minister in Britain's history on Wednesday, nearly two months earlier than initially expected and at a time when her country is facing a historically tumultuous period on both the political and economic fronts.

Researchers say that leaves her standing on a classic "glass cliff," a phenomenon studied by academics that shows a disproportionate number of women and minorities reaching positions of leadership at particularly precarious times.

Sometimes, the reasoning is that women are set up to fail, pushed into a position of leadership when a fall guy -- or gal -- is needed. At other times, the thinking is the electorate -- whether stockholders or voters -- simply want change, and women and minorities represent that.

Either way, the overall dynamic that's been shown in the research, says Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, is that women don't just get fewer leadership opportunities. "They also get different kinds of leadership opportunities," she said. "When you look at opportunities for leadership that one might describe as high-risk, women are more likely to be selected into that kind of role." 

In the case of Brexit, says Michelle Ryan, the University of Exeter researcher who coined the term with her co-author, Alex Haslam, "what you see is all the men going 'why would we want to stick around for that'? We see Cameron walking away. We see [former London Mayor Boris] Johnson walking away. ... It's not that they want women to fail. It's that they themselves don't want to fail."

Yet because women so rarely get the opportunity to step into key leadership roles, Ryan said, they don't have the luxury of choosing which jobs they want and which they don't. "If they want to have opportunities, they often have to take them when there's some leadership vacuum." 

The "glass cliff" phenomenon has often been shown in a business context, and is often raised when a woman is placed into a particularly thorny CEO job, such as after Mary Barra was named CEO of General Motors or Marissa Mayer took over at Yahoo. Ryan and Haslam first revealed that companies that put women on their boards were more likely to be coming off of consistently poor performance in the five months prior than those that appointed men. A 2013 study found that among Fortune 500 companies, women and minorities were more likely to be promoted to CEO at companies with weak performance.

And in an experimental study, researchers found a "status quo bias," where people saw little need for a company to change its pattern of male leadership if the company was performing well; only if the firm was in trouble did more people prefer a female leader.

The phenomenon has also been shown in a political context. One study examined the link between female leaders and higher GDP growth in countries with high levels of ethnic strife. Ryan's research has also shown that black and ethnic minorities were more likely to run for parliamentary seats that are "essentially un-winnable or held by the opposition party by a much higher margin," she said.

Of course, the research doesn't mean every time a woman gets a tough job she's being made a scapegoat, or that men don't take on the hard jobs. Hardly. And some research has shown contrary evidence, putting the "glass cliff" in question. Yet the dynamic shows up in fields ranging from politics to sports to business. "When you start to see patterns like that, there is some reality," Cooper says. "It doesn't mean every time a woman gets put up for the job it's the glass cliff. There is always nuance and complexity."

She also thinks it fits well with other research that has shown that selecting womensignals change, and that qualities typically associated with female leaders -- things like collaboration, listening, working in the background, managing people -- are particularly attractive in a crisis. "There's this expression -- think crisis, think female," Cooper says.

But while there's been lots of research exploring the phenomenon of why women might get a disproportionate number of opportunities in a crisis, there's little showing how the most successful ones have handled it. "I don’t know that there’s specific research on how you navigate a particularly sucky leadership opportunity," Cooper says.

Even if there were, the historically massive stakes in Britain right now mean any such precedent would likely pale in comparison. May will need to do all the usual things leaders should do in a crisis: Set expectations appropriately low, make it extremely clear what she's inheriting, and surround herself with a great team, something that seems especially hard amid the country's leadership vacuum. "A whole lot of people want to distance themselves," Ryan says. "Who wants to be on the Brexit team?"

Even then, the task ahead of her has few parallels. This is not the mere turnaround of a company or the management of a minor economic downturn, but the divorce of Britain from a 40-year partnership that will profoundly reshape the country's place in the world and could have significant effects on its economy. It's quite possible, even though Cameron called the referendum which created the current turmoil, that May will be remembered for it. Research indicates that when people are looking for someone to take the blame and operate in the background, Cooper notes, they often seek people with female leadership traits.

Years from now, she asks, will it be Cameron or May who we most associate with Brexit?: "Whose reputation is going to be permanently tied in the country's collective memory? He's exiting off stage pretty quickly. He may have caused it, but she has to fix it."

 

Why Women (Sometimes) Don't Help Other Women

There are two dominant cultural ideas about the role women play in helping other women advance at work, and they are seemingly at odds: the Righteous Woman and the Queen Bee.

The Righteous Woman is an ideal, a belief that women have a distinct moral obligation to have one another’s backs. This kind of sentiment is best typified by Madeleine Albright’s now famous quote, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” The basic idea is that since all women experience sexism, they should be more attuned to the gendered barriers that other women face. In turn, this heightened awareness should lead women to foster alliances and actively support one another. If women don’t help each other, this is an even worse form of betrayal than those committed by men. And hence, the special place in hell reserved for those women.

The Queen Bee belief, on the other hand, argues that in reality women just can’t get along. As Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant point out in their essay in The New York Times on the myth of the catty woman, this belief rests on the erroneous idea that there is something inherent to the female sex that causes women to undermine each other on the job all the time.

The idea of a Queen Bee syndrome dates to research first done in the 1970s. The syndrome encompasses a set of behaviors ranging from women disparaging typically feminine traits (“Women are soooo emotional”), to emphasizing their own “masculine” attributes (“I think more like a guy”), to seeing claims of gender discrimination as baseless (“The reason there are so few women at the top is not because of discrimination. It’s that women are just less committed to their careers”), to being unsupportive of initiatives to address gender inequality. The ultimate Queen Bee is the successful woman who instead of using her power to help other women advance, undermines her women colleagues.  

Although these two archetypes (one a model, the other a cautionary tale) seem to be at odds, they overlap in that they both further a double standard—that conflict between men is normal but between women it’s dysfunctional. When men battle it out, they are seen as engaging in healthy competition and vigorous debate. When women do the same things, they are Mean Girls locked in a heated catfight. These perceptions that women are backstabbing and conniving can lead people to believe that workplace disagreements between women are especially damaging. A study found that when a conflict took place between two women coworkers, people expected the consequences to be both negative and long-lasting, for example that the women would want revenge. In contrast, when the identical conflict was between two men or a man and a woman people thought that the relationship could be more readily repaired.

Thus, despite studies showing that men engage in indirect aggression like gossiping and social exclusion at similar or even higher rates than women, it is still widely believed that women are meaner to one another. Such beliefs are so pervasive that even preschoolers think that girls are more likely than boys to engage in relational aggression such as excluding others despite evidence to the contrary. Even the term Queen Bee is gendered. Of course men can be “jerks” or “assholes,” but there is no equivalent term for men who undertake the specific behavior of plotting against their male colleagues to keep them down.

Is there some truth in the Queen Bee stereotype? Are women nastier toward other women than men are to men or than women are to men?

Research on these kinds of behaviors have found instances in which that is the case. For example, a study by psychologists that examined how professors viewed their Ph.D. students found that despite having equal publication records and levels of work commitment, the female professors (but not the male professors) tended to believe that their female Ph.D. students were less committed to their careers than their male students. But this wasn’t uniformly the case. It turns out that it was the older generation of women professors, not the younger generation, who displayed this Queen Bee-like response.

What explains this generational difference? Could it be something about the environment in which the older women pursued their careers that elicited a certain harshness toward their women students? For that older generation, it was extremely rare for a woman to climb the ladder and become a full professor. By the time the younger women arrived, it was much more common. Thus, perhaps it was something about the context in which older women rose up the ranks (fewer women, more barriers, more sexism) that explained their behavior.

Subsequent research has confirmed just that. Queen Bee behaviors are not reflective of some Mean Girl gene lurking in women’s DNA. Rather, to the degree they exist, Queen Bee dynamics are triggered by gender discrimination.

Specifically, studies find that such behaviors emerge when two dynamics come together: gender bias and a lack of gender solidarity, for lack of a better term. When women for whom being a woman is not a central aspect of their identity experience gender bias, Queen Bee behavior emerges.

Here’s why: For women with low levels of gender identification—who think their gender should be irrelevant at work and for whom connecting with other women is not important—being on the receiving end of gender bias forces the realization that others see them first and foremost as women. And because of negative stereotypes about women, like that they are less competent than men, individual women can be concerned that their career path may be stunted if they are primarily seen as just a woman and therefore not a good fit for leadership.

To get around these kinds of gendered barriers, these women try to set themselves apart from other women. They do this by pursuing an individual strategy of advancement that centers on distancing themselves from other women. One way they do this is through displaying Queen Bee behaviors such as describing themselves in more typically masculine terms and denigrating other women (“I’m not like other women. I’ve always prioritized my career”).

The point is, it’s not the case that women are inherently catty. Instead, Queen Bee behaviors are triggered in male dominated environments in which women are devalued.

This kind of response is not even unique to women. It’s actually an approach used by many marginalized groups to overcome damaging views held about their group. For example, research has found that some gay men try to distance themselves from stereotypes about gays being effeminate by emphasizing hyper-masculine traits and holding negative beliefs about effeminate gays. Social distancing then is a strategy many individuals use who are trying to avoid, escape, or navigate the social disadvantage of the group to which they belong.

While social distancing can enable an individual from an underrepresented group to advance, it does a disservice to the group as a whole because it can legitimize inequalities. When a woman expresses a stereotypical view about another woman, it’s not see as a sexist statement but rather as an unbiased assessment, since there is a tendency to believe that individuals cannot be biased against members of their own group. But they often are. Indeed, women too can be misogynists. Thus, social distancing behaviors can reproduce larger inequalities.

So what prevents Queen Bee behaviors? Identifying highly as a woman. Women who have experienced gender discrimination but who more strongly identified with their gender don’t react to such bias by trying to distance themselves from other women. Instead, a study found that policewomen who highly identified as women responded to gender discrimination with an increased desire to create more opportunities for other women.

There is plenty of evidence to show that women do indeed support one another. When women work with a higher percentage of women they experience lower levels of gender discrimination and harassment. When women have female supervisors, they report receiving more family and organizational support than when they have male supervisors. And a preponderance of studies show that when more women are in management positions, the gender pay gap is smaller.

So those Righteous Women are out there, and they are making it better for other women.

The Queen Bee Myth

At last week’s United State of Women Summit in Washington, D.C. over 5,000 people (mostly women) convened to focus on what needs to be done to support women and girls around the world.  From economic empowerment to ending violence against women, women stood shoulder to shoulder ready to work together to improve the lives of all women.  While inside the Summit a “Together, We are Stonger” vibe filled the air, outside the conference hall, in our culture at large, we have a great deal of suspicion about the ability of women to work together. 

As I write in the Atlantic, such suspicions can be seen in two different cultural ideas about the role women should play in helping other women advance at work: The Righteous Woman vs. The Queen Bee 

The Righteous Woman belief argues that women have a distinct moral obligation to help each other. “This kind of sentiment is best typified by Madeleine Albright’s now famous quote, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”. The basic idea is that since all women experience sexism, they should be more attuned to the gendered barriers that other women face.  In turn, this heightened awareness should lead women to foster alliances and actively support one another.  If women don’t help each other, this is an even worse form of betrayal than those committed by men.  And hence, the special place in hell reserved for those women.” 

The Queen Bee belief, on the other hand, argues that women just can’t get along.  As a result of something inherent to the female sex, women always undermine each other. This perspective is echoed in statements like this: “But aren’t women really to blame?  The times I’ve been treated the worst at work was at the hands of another woman.  Women are their our own worst enemy.”  From this perspective, it is Queen Bees (not men) who are really responsible for holding women back. 

Both viewpoints reinforce a double standard about conflict – that conflict between men is ordinary, but conflict between women is pathological.  In fact, we apparently think it’s so rare for men to undermine other men at work that we don’t even have a word for it.  There is no male equivalent for the term Queen Bee. 

The stereotype that women are backstabbing and conniving unfairly shapes how we interpret the arguments we see at work.  Research finds that when we see workplace conflict between two women we think that the relationship will be more damaged than if the identical conflict takes place between two men.  Very likely then we are over estimating that amount of Mean Girl behavior that we think we see. 

These kinds of double standards highlight the opposing thoughts we have about women supporting women.  We simultaneously think that women have a particular obligation to support other women but that their inherent nastiness will prevent such solidarity from actually happening.  So we are left with the following predicament:  If women would only help each other, women could be much further along.  Too bad they are so catty.

So are women and girls inherently catty?  Or is something else going on?

Research on these kinds of behaviors have found instances in which women are harder on other women.  But deeper analysis of the Queen Bee syndrome has discovered that far from being a main cause of gender inequality, it is a consequence of gender discrimination. 

Women who engage in Queen Bee behaviors are those who experience higher levels of gender bias in the workplace but for whom being a woman is not a big part of their identity.  What’s happening in this scenario is that when these women are on the receiving end of gender bias, it comes as a big shock because it forces them to realize that others see them primarily as women, when that’s not how they see themselves. 

When people feel that who they are has been inaccurately categorized they experience what psychologists call social identity threat.  And the threat triggers a response.  Moreover, negative beliefs about women (that they are too emotional or not great leaders) can make many women concerned that being seen as “only a woman” will make it tough for them to advance up the career ladder.  In response to the identity threat and as a way to circumvent gender bias, some women turn to a strategy of advancement that is based on distancing themselves from other women.  This distancing is evident in things like disparaging other women, seeing themselves as more masculine and not like other women, or dismissing claims of gender discrimination. 

Social distancing responses are not unique to women.  Rather, it’s a strategy used by many individuals who are members of lower status groups in order for them to individually navigate around the negative cultural beliefs that exist about their group.   

To be sure, not all women engage in Queen Bee behaviors.  Research has shown that women who highly identify with their gender respond to gender discrimination on the job by wanting to work on behalf of other women.  And many studies find that women do support other women.  An analysis of high potential employees found that the women were more likely than their male counterparts to be developing other women (73% vs. 30%). 

One day it may be the case that gender doesn't matter and all people are treated similarly and have the same opportunities.  Until then, for women the message that Together, We are Stronger is absolutely true. 

Why Aren't More Women Financially Literate?

Compared to men, women earn less and own less wealth.  For example, for every dollar of wealth owned by the typical man, the typical woman owns just 36 cents

There are many reasons for these economic gaps ranging from the different occupations men and women often have (construction vs. preschool teacher) to differences in work hours to pay discrimination.  

Another factor at play are gender gaps in financial literacy.  A recent paper from the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at George Washington University profiles research showing that around the world, women have significantly lower levels of financial knowledge than do men.  Surveys done in the U.S, the Netherlands, and Germany found low levels of financial literacy across the board – but women scored especially poorly. 

In the U.S. for example, among those who were asked three key questions about savings and investment knowledge, only a third answered all the questions correctly.  Yet, while 38 percent of the men got all the questions right, only 22 percent of the women got a perfect score.

Notably, women were much more likely to report that they didn’t know the answer to a question.  When asked whether “a single company stock is riskier than a stock mutual fund,” 41 percent of the women surveyed said they didn’t know compared to 26 percent of the men.  Overall, 50 percent of the women, but just 34 percent of the men, said that they didn’t know the answer to at least one question.

In addition to saving and investing knowledge, other research has found gender gaps in knowledge about debt.  Professor Annamaria Lusardi, who runs the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center, did a study with a colleague to assess knowledge about taking on and managing debt. They found that women were significantly less likely than men to answer questions correctly – sometimes by as much as 20 percentage points.

Even having higher levels of education does not close this gender gap.  College educated women still have lower levels of financial literacy than their male peers. 

The lack of financial savvy has serious consequences.  Research has found that people with low levels of financial literacy are less likely to plan for retirement, are more likely to make mistakes that can lead to extra charges and fees, and are more likely to have costly mortgages. 

So who does have financial knowledge?  As I wrote recently in the Atlantic, “Disproportionately, they are white males from college-educated families whose parents had stocks and retirement savings. Phillip Cartwright, the CEO of a biotech start up, underscores the high levels of financial literacy among white men at the top. Talking to me about how he manages his finances he said, “I talked to different financial advisers. But I went to business school, I worked in finance for five years. So I went to meet with some [advisers] and I thought ‘Maybe these people know something?’ I couldn’t find anybody who knew a lot more than I did.”

The implications of these patterns are troubling, especially given the rise in single female headed households and the fact that married women tend to outlive their male partners. Both demographic trends highlight the serious need for women to know how to manage and invest money. 

While studies continue to find these gender gaps in financial knowledge, what is left unanswered is why such gender gaps exist in the first place?  Why do women seem to know less than do men about day-to-day financial matters?  Is it related to traditional expectations about men being breadwinners?  Are girls and women given the message that these topics aren’t important?  What do you think?

Why Financial Literacy Will Not Save America's Finances

From taking out loans to pay for higher education to investing for retirement, Americans are shouldering enormous levels of personal financial responsibility—more so than ever before. At the same time, financial products have both proliferated and become much more complex. Americans now face an Alphabet (and Numbers) soup of saving and investment options (401(k)s, 529s) and a head spinning array of credit options (credit cards, mortgages, home-equity loans).

While Americans are not expected to manage their own legal cases or medical conditions, they are expected to manage their own finances. To be sure, the rise of the independent and empowered consumer rests on the belief that they have the requisite knowledge to be up to the task. But is it reasonable in such a system to expect people to succeed? Economists examining financial literacy would say no.

According to their research, the vast majority of Americans lack basic levels of financial literacy. For example, a survey of Americans over the age of 50 that asked three basic questions about compound interest, inflation, and risk diversification found that only a third answered all three questions correctly. And a more extensive survey of financial literacy among high-school students found that young people aren’t any more informed. Forty-four percent of U.S. students surveyed had scores that placed them at the lowest levels of financial literacy.

Worse still is that levels of financial literacy are lower among the less educated, minorities, and women. Almost 65 percent of Americans with graduate degrees possess basic financial knowledge and skills, compared to just 19 percent of high-school grads. African Americans and Hispanics score lower than do whites on surveys measuring knowledge about financial concepts like debt. And analysis done in the U.S. and Europe has consistently found that women are significantly less likely to answer financial-literacy questions correctly than men.

The costs of financial illiteracy are high. For example, research on credit-card debt found that those with lower levels of debt literacy were more likely to do things that resulted in higher fees and charges like going over the credit limit or only making the minimum payment. One study estimates that up to one-third of the fees and charges paid by those with lower debt literacy is due to a lack of knowledge. Overall, financial mistakes tend to be more common among those with less education and income. Financial institutions often target such unsophisticated consumers  with their less-than-straightforward—and often very expensive—financial products. A recent study found that misconduct by financial advisers is concentrated in firms located in counties with low levels of education and elderly populations.

By contrast, being financially savvy has clear payoffs. Those with higher levels of financial literacy are more likely to plan for retirement, make better investment decisions, refinance mortgages at the optimal time, and manage credit-card debt better. They are also more likely to sidestep common pitfalls like borrowing against 401(k) accounts.

So who is financially literate? Disproportionately, they are white males from college-educated families whose parents had stocks and retirement savings. Phillip Cartwright, the CEO of a biotech start up, underscores the high levels of financial literacy among white men at the top. Talking to me about how he manages his finances he said, “I talked to different financial advisors. But I went to business school, I worked in finance for five years. So I went to meet with some [advisors] and I thought ‘Maybe these people know something?’ I couldn’t find anybody who knew a lot more than I did.”

The George Washington University economics professor Annamaria Lusardi has done pioneering research on financial literacy. Her studies have documented the gaps in financial knowledge among different demographic groups. “What the data on financial literacy shows is that financial knowledge is unequally distributed,” says Lusardi. “Those with the least knowledge are also the most vulnerable groups in economic terms. As a result, the lack of financial literacy exacerbates economic inequality.” Lusardi’s own analysis has estimated that more than one-third of wealth inequality could be accounted for by disparities in financial knowledge.   

Lusardi directs the Global Finance Literacy Excellence Center that focuses on raising the level of financial knowledge through financial-literacy education. “Finance has entered the lives of every family in a much more significant way than in the past. We now have a lot more responsibility for managing our money. Everyone needs to know the ABCs of finance,” notes Lusardi.

But how much can financial education do to even out the playing field and enable all Americans to better navigate a complex and fast changing global economy?

Finance expert and author Helaine Olen is skeptical. “Which is easier?” Olen asked, “Educating and changing the financial practices of 300 million Americans or changing the financial frameworks surrounding them? The vast majority of Americans think that their financial advisor has a fiduciary responsibility to act in their best interest. As of right now, that's not true. Instead of educating people about this, why not just make it a legal duty that financial professionals act on the behalf of consumers.”    

Lusardi agrees that increasing financial literacy alone is not enough. “Some things are better addressed through regulation,” says Lusardi. “If there are things that are clearly negative for consumers, then they don’t need to exist. But changing the financial framework is also not enough,” she says. “Financial literacy is an essential skill for thriving in today’s economy.”

Debunking The Myth Of The Woman Card In Silicon Valley

In one of the latest mudslinging remarks of this election season, Donald Trump claimed that Hillary Clinton was playing the "woman card," implying that she only got to where she is in the race because of her gender. His remarks, "I think the only card she has is the women's card . . . She has got nothing else going. Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she would get 5% of the vote," sent the message to his supporters that her womanness is somehow getting her approval despite an obvious incapacity to be president.

This phenomenon—accusing women of being able to get ahead professionally just because of their gender—isn’t new.

"There’s definitely people who will come right out and tell you, they think you got hired because you are a woman, or because you have darker skin color, instead of assuming that the place they work that is supposedly good at hiring, hired you because you’re also good," says Erica Baker, a former engineer at Google and current engineer at Slack. "Someone at Google said it. Oh, you were probably hired because of affirmative action," she continues. The idea of a woman card is not unlike the idea of the race card—or the perception that someone is hired not because of their talents, but because they're fulfilling a quota.

While that may be a complaint in the workplace or online forums, statistics and studies show that people aren’t getting selected for jobs based on their skin color or gender alone. For one, if hiring qualifications rested squarely on these two characteristics, workplaces would probably already be a lot more diverse. They’re not. Staff at major companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook are roughly 30% female.

Those same companies struggle to incorporate more women and people of color into their ranks through Rooney Rule-like diversity initiatives and unconscious bias training. A year after pledges to increase diversity, Facebook was only able to raise the number of women in its ranks by a mere 1%. Meanwhile a discrimination suit lobbed at Twitter from former employee Tina Huang revealed that gender disparity was far worse than the company's already dismaying statistics let on.

While diversity initiatives are helping to improve the number of female employees ever so slightly, there’s no tide-turning shift that’s happening. "Companies won't hire someone who isn't the best person for the job because of their gender or any other diversity goal. A company may make an effort to interview women and be excited about the value diversity adds to a team, but they won't hire someone unqualified to meet a diversity goal," says Alaina Percival, CEO of Women Who Code.

It doesn’t make economic sense for a company to jeopardize their bottom line to accommodate diversity by hiring people who are unfit for a job. Whether executives are coming out and saying this is unclear. Regardless, the sentiment is being felt. In a Medium post, former Twitter engineer Leslie Miley recalled his superior, SVP of engineering Alex Roetter, allegedly telling him, "Diversity is important, but we can’t lower the bar."

The idea that the tech industry or any workplace is guided by some sort of meritocratic compass that’s always pointing in the direction of the hardest workers has been widely debunked.

Research indicates women and minorities with resumes comparable to male candidates fare much worse when it comes to recognition inside the workplace."What studies show is that women are actually judged by a higher standard and are more scrutinized and have to provide more evidence of their accomplishments and their competence to be seen as equally qualified as a man," says Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at Stanford University's Clayman Institute for Gender Research. To Cooper’s point, 2014 research from the American Management Association shows that female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies on the whole were better credentialed than male CEOs on the list. Keep in mind that women made up a mere 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs that year.

Research does show that women are held to a higher standard. It also indicates that male employees tend to get judged by more lenient standards. "What evidence we do have points to cultural stereotypes working in a way that advantage men and disadvantage women," says Cooper.

For instance, a 2012 study examining bias in academic science found that faculty members who rated two equivalent job candidates, one male and one female, not only deemed the male candidate more competent than his female counterpart, but offered him a better overall hiring package, including higher pay and mentoring opportunities. The reason for this, Cooper explains, is that our brains are deeply tethered to stereotypes that say men are good at certain things and women are bad at those same things. "There are widespread cultural stereotypes that men are more competent than women, and it’s especially more prominent in traditionally masculine domains," she says.

All this to say that Trump's assertions are flat-out wrong: The woman card doesn’t exist. The data says that women don’t get hired for a job unless they’ve proved themselves capable multiple times over. Clinton is far from immune to this curse. Perhaps it could be said that Clinton, with her eight years as First Lady, two terms in Congress, and four years as secretary of state is more qualified for the presidency than others who have held the post, and certainly more qualified than a businessman with no political experience.

"In my experience, a woman only gets a position when she’s been doing that job for many years for less pay. And everyone already recognizes that she can do it, she’s been doing it. It just took way too long to get there." says Jordan A. Smith, a designer based in Portland, Oregon. "It’s always overdue. I’ve seen it time and time again."

A Site Where Women Can Review Their Employers' Female-Friendliness

Corporate websites can do a good job indicating the way companies want themselves to be seen, but it can be tough to get trustworthy firsthand information about their workplace culture. Glassdoor has patched up a good portion of this information gap, but there’s still a shortfall of intel for women who are curious about how female-friendly a prospective employer is.

Providing that intel is the goal of Fairygodboss, a site that has been called “Yelp for maternity leave benefits.” On it, women write anonymous reviews of their employers, sharing information about whether the company has a generous maternity-leave policy or values work-life balance. It’s becoming a valuable resource for lots of women, especially those who are mothers or plan to be.

The idea for Fairygodboss occurred to one of its founders, Georgene Huang, when she was job hunting a few years ago while two months pregnant. Huang was looking for companies that were friendly to women and wouldn’t “mommy-track” her career, but she found little in the way of helpful information online. Huang, along with her former colleague Romy Newman, started Fairygodboss in March of last year, and since then the site has collected over 19,000 reviews on over 7,000 employers. The majority of the site’s reviewers are American workers, and, site-wide, the median age range is 25 to 34 and the median salary range is $80,000 to $100,000 a year.


Recently, Huang and Newman analyzed the site’s reviews in order to identify the top five factors that correlated with women’s satisfaction in the workplace. Some of the results were not exactly surprising, but it’s useful to have some numbers demonstrating the impact of family-friendly policies. Fairygodboss’s dataset, which used a five-point scale to measure job satisfaction, indicated that women were overwhelmingly dissatisfied with workplaces that had long and inflexible hours. On the other end of the spectrum, women with jobs that promoted work-life balance generally reported high levels of satisfaction.
Newman, one of the co-founders of Fairygodboss, notes that the longer maternity leave a female employee took, the more satisfied she was with her job—a finding Newman said she hadn’t seen recorded before. “It’s particularly interesting because so many companies are considering expanding [maternity-leave benefits] past 12 weeks,” she says.

The percentage of women who rate their job satisfaction as a 1 on a 5-point scale increases as the duration of their leave decreases. Meanwhile, the percentage who rate their job satisfaction at 5 goes up as leave duration increases.

Another conclusion from Fairygodboss’s data was that women who reported that female employees were treated equally were much more satisfied at work. So were women who said that management teams weren’t composed mostly of men. Newman explains that this is probably about the perception of fairness and opportunity: If there aren’t women in management, it’s harder for junior workers to imagine getting promoted or having a long and prosperous career at a particular company.

“Women often leave organizations because of negative work-climate issues like a lack of advancement opportunities or excessive hours,” says Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Studies and a member of the site’s advisory board. “What Fairygodboss found is in line with research showing that women are drawn to and stay with companies that provide them with growth opportunities and family-friendly environments. Companies with gender-balanced management teams and cultures that support flexible work send a strong signal to women that they are welcome.”

"There’s a lot of debate over whether gender-diversity programs or considerations are really worth pursuing,” says Newman. “Does it really return to your bottom line? And I think what that statistic says is yes.”

Originally published on February 9, 2016 in the Atlantic

We act as if work is optional for women. It’s not.

There are many things that make the United States different from the rest of the developed world. One of them is that we are the only developed economy that does not provide paid maternity leave. 

I’m often asked why this is the case. My latest answer: “Because American babies raise themselves. Those babies in other countries — they’re slackers. They actually need their parents’ help.”

[Anne-Marie Slaughter: For women, happiness isn’t the issue. Equality is.]

My joke highlights the kinds of assumptions that must exist in order to explain why the United States lacks any kind of paid family leave policy. No, I don’t really believe that lawmakers think American babies raise themselves. But I do believe that many assume we don’t need paid family leave because someone in the family is (or should be) home caring for the baby — and that someone is a woman.

When it comes to women and work, the largest myth of all is that working is somehow optional. Like men, women work for personal fulfillment and a passion for their job. Also like men, women work to support themselves and their families, and always have. The reality in the United States today is that earning money is an absolute necessity for the vast majority of women. And the sad truth is that we aren’t doing anything to support them or their families — not because we can’t, but because we won’t.

[Six myths about women in the workplace that you probably fell for]

Increasingly, women are the economic backbone for families in our country. Today, 70 percent of mothers work. More than 40 percent of mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families, earning at least half of their family’s income. An additional 22 percent are co-breadwinners, earning at least a quarter or more of their family’s income.

The influx of women, particularly mothers, into the workforce over the past few decades has been one of the largest transformations in American life. As a country we have responded to this massive change by, well, pretty much doing nothing. Only 13 percent of workers can receive paid family leave through their employer. The majority of mothers (54 percent) don’t have access to paid sick days to care for their sick children. And we are all on our own to find and pay for child care, which is extremely expensive. Child-care fees for two children in a child-care center are higher than annual median rent payments in every state.

To be clear, it’s not that we can’t respond with a set of policies that reflect the modern realities of American families wherein women, too, work. Other countries have. In fact, we’ve actually done it before. During World War II, when there was a great need for women to work, we had a federally administered universal child-care program funded by the Lanham Act. Almost every state received money to build child-care centers, provide teacher training and subsidize day-care costs for parents. 

Recent analysis of the Lanham Act found that the program was extremely beneficial for children and was associated in the long run with a lower high school drop-out rate, a higher college completion rate and higher earnings. The disadvantaged benefited most from the program. After the war was over, and the pressing need for women to work abated, the funding was stopped and most of these child-care centers closed.

What we have today is Dickensian. Every day in this country we have parents who must choose between losing their job and caring for a sick child. Every day there are families that fall into poverty because the birth of a child means they can’t work for a time. Every day parents drop children off at low-quality day-care centers because it’s the only thing they can afford. 

Which brings us back to myths. The problem with myths such as “working is optional for women,” or “only teenagers work in minimum-wage jobs,” is that they prevent us from seeing things as they are and responding in a meaningful way.

If instead we accept the fact that women are now the breadwinners for the majority of American families, then it’s clear what needs to be done. We need policies that make it possible for people to both work and care for their families. We need programs that ensure that all children are educated and cared for while their parents are working. We need jobs that provide women and families with economic security and dignity.

For example, a national paid family leave policy would keep families afloat while workers take time to care for themselves and their loved ones. These kinds of policies increase well-being, keep women more attached to the workforce and lower the need to turn to public assistance. Analysis has shown that the impact on business is typically neutral to positive. We could also focus on doing things such as raising the minimum wage or closing the gender wage gap. If women earned the same as comparable men, it would reduce the poverty rate of employed women by half.

The American family has changed and will continue to evolve. More than half of children born today to women younger than 30 are born to unmarried mothers. These trends require us to let go of myths such as “it’s optional for women to work,” and instead embrace truths: The overwhelming majority of mothers now do work, and must. We need to adjust to these new realities and have policies that reflect the world as it is, not the world as it isn’t.

Originally published on February 5, 2015 in the Washington Post