Woman’s History Month – Path to the White House

The 2016 theme of the U.S. National Women’s History Month is Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government.

“…it’s…a very unique American experience…It’s such a great adventure…If the experiment in human living doesn’t work in this country, in this age, it’s not going to work anywhere.” ~ Hillary Rodham, Student Commencement Speech,
Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, May 31,1969

“I would argue that right now we have rationed care throughout this country. There are literally millions of Americans who don’t have access to the same quality or quantity of healthcare as millions of others. I heard Dr. Koop say the other day that an uninsured person who enters a hospital with the same problem as an insured person is three times more likely to die than the insured person. And that’s a shocking statistic.” ~ First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Testimony to Congress on the President’s Healthcare Reform Proposal,
September 28, 1993 

“If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be
that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.” 
~ First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Remarks to the United Nations 4th World Conference on Women, Beijing, China – September 5, 1995

The echoes of women’s voices throughout history — or herstory, as some feminists would say with a smile — include one that resonates today. That is the voice of Hillary Clinton, who has managed to wear more hats in service to her government and various communities than just about anyone in the nation’s history — woman or man. And now she is poised to become the first female Presidential nominee of a major political party. If she succeeds, it will only have taken 240 years for an American woman to accomplish this feat.

Others have tried. Since 1872 (before the 19th Amendment had been passed and ratified!) a relative handful of women have thrown their hats into the ring, but none has become her party’s nominee. Some notable aspirants of recent decades include:

Margaret Chase Smith-Republican, ran in 1964 at age 66
Shirley Chisholm-Democrat, ran in 1972 at age 47
Patricia Schroeder-Democrat, ran in 1988 at age 47
Elizabeth Hanford Dole-Republican, ran in 2000 at age 63
Carol Moseley-Braun-Democrat, ran in 2004 at age 56
Hillary Clinton-Democrat, ran in 2008 at age 60
Michelle Bachmann-Republican, ran in 2012 at age 56
Carly Fiorina-Republican, ran in 2016 at age 61
Hillary Clinton-Democrat, running again in 2016 at age 68

Held To A Different Standard In The Private Sector…

If you’re a woman in the workplace who aspires to a leadership position, do you sometimes get the feeling that you’re playing by a different set of rules than your male coworkers? If you do, trust your feelings. A 2015 report by the American Management Association, Women Fortune 500 CEO’s Held to Higher Standards, detailed some unsatisfactory tidbits that include:

  • “36% of female versus 28% of male Fortune 500 CEOs hold undergraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).
  • The average undergraduate school ranking is 163.5 for Fortune 500 female CEOs versus 167.2 for their male counterparts (based on 2014 Forbes rankings). ƒ
  • The average graduate school ranking is 18.1 for female versus 20.7 for male Fortune 500 CEOs (based on 2014 US News & World Report rankings).”

However, while the statistics show that Fortune 500 female CEOs generally hold higher degrees and graduate from more prestigious colleges and grad schools, barring a few exceptions they earn only 80% of what male CEOs earn. Other reports show that it takes women longer to achieve the role of CEO, making them more experienced when they do arrive (proving that old adage that women must work harder than men to reach the same goals); the average age of a woman reaching the top rung of the corporate ladder is 52.8 versus 50.2 for men.

But for women the most frustrating statistic is the fact that they comprise 45% — and growing — of the workforce but only 4% of CEO positions at major corporations. Women are also generally underrepresented in STEM fields, the medical and legal professions, and in blue-collar industries.

One of the reasons for the slower ascent of women to leadership positions might be the professional development curricula that are supposedly designed to speed advancement. Or are those “mentoring” programs and “leadership” courses merely paying lip service to women’s expectations of getting ahead? In a Harvard Business Review article, a female mid-level sales manager at a multinational consumer goods company is quoted as saying, “I am going to be in a wheelchair by the time I get to be vice president, because they are going to drill me into the ground with all these extra-credit projects.”

…And In the Public Sector

In government, as well, female political candidates are held to a different standard than male candidates.

Back in 1964, Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith faced the typical and overt objections: women should not be President, they do not have the stamina (!), and Senator Smith personally didn’t have the money or organization to mount a successful campaign (those last two issues might be perceived differently by male candidates!).

In 1968 when educator Shirley Chisholm ran for Congress on the Democratic ticket her Republican opponent, CORE founder James Farmer attacked her saying, “women have been in the driver’s seat” in black communities for too long and that the district needed “a man’s voice in Washington,” not that of “a little schoolteacher.” Wow. I met James Farmer in 1968 when I was a member of the National Association of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS) and assigned to interview him for the NATAS forum, “Is Television Color Blind?” Mr. Farmer impressed me and I deeply respected him and his work, but I found his strategy in opposing Shirley Chisholm to be misguided and, yes, sexist. That “little schoolteacher” — whose motto was “unbought and unbossed” — went on to beat James Farmer’s “man’s voice” and became the first black woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress! In 1972, Congresswoman Chisholm declared her candidacy for President of the United States.

In 1984 the first Vice Presidential candidate on a major ticket, former head of the Queens District Attorney’s Special Victims Bureau and three-term Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, Democrat, stood up to what some considered to be gender bias in the paternal and patronizing attitude of her opponent, the incumbent Vice President George H.W. Bush. Second Lady Barbara Bush called Gerry Ferraro a ”four-million-dollar–I can’t say it, but it rhymes with rich,” and VP Bush’s press secretary “characterized” the dynamic Congresswoman as “too bitchy.”

And in 2012, Congresswoman and Republican Presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann was asked in an interview by FOX News’ Chris Wallace, “The rap on you here in Washington is that you have a history of questionable statements…are you a flake?” Wallace later apologized, but that’s like an attorney making a statement in court and then saying, “withdrawn.” The comment is already out there. But, really, how many male politicians have made “questionable statements” and not been called “a flake” to their faces in a media interview? Why is it okay to do that to a female politician?

Women continue to be underrepresented in all areas of government. In the 114th Congress women represent 19.3% of the House and 20% of the Senate; out of all 50 states only six women serve as governors; women represent less than a quarter of all state legislators and roughly the same percentage of state senators; and women comprise only 18.4% of mayors of cities with more than 30,000 citizens.

And then there’s the U.S. Presidency, which, again has had 0% of female officeholders.

But Here Comes Hillary Down the Path, Again

Starting with her Wellesley College commencement address on the state of the political landscape, Hillary has never looked back. Her accomplishments are many, including:

  • 1972-1973 – As a law student and newly minted lawyer, respectively, Hillary went undercover to determine whether a southern school was complying with the recently implemented integration law and conducted research for the Children’s Defense Fund‘s first report, Children Out of School in America. In the latter role, Hillary visited homes where she discovered blind, deaf and otherwise disabled children who were being kept from attending schoolher work has been both scrutinized and honored. She also volunteered for Senator George McGovern’s Presidential Campaign in Florida and helped GOTV for him in Texas.
  • 1975 – Married Bill Clinton, and moved to Arkansas where he was elected Attorney General (this is more of a list of accomplishments for future President Bill Clinton!).
  • 1976-1979 – Became first female partner in the Rose Law Firm and, separately co-founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
  • 1979-1991 – Twice First Lady of Arkansas, in which role she launched several initiatives that improved the state’s healthcare, education and juvenile justice systems.
  • 1993-2001 – Twice First Lady of the United States, in which role she became known for her attempt to create a universal healthcare system (known as “Hillarycare”); her success in establishing the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP); her historic speech on international women’s rights in Beijing, China; among other accomplishments.
  • 2001-2009 – As Senator from New York, Hillary went to work in the wake of the September 11 attacks helping New Yorkers recover and obtaining health coverage and compensation for first responders and workers at Ground Zero, and with Senator Charles Schumer secured a $20 billion commitment from the Federal Government to rebuild New York. As a New Yorker and survivor of those attacks I was grateful for Hillary’s efforts and my daughter, Lyn, saw up close Hillary’s policies in action when she worked as a student intern in 2002 in the office of constituent services at the Senator’s Manhattan headquarters. Other achievements included bipartisan legislation to expand the Family Medical Leave Act as well as provide better health care access for the National Guard and reservists.
  • 2009-2013 – As Secretary of State, her many accomplishments included rebuilding and strengthening relationships among U.S. friends and allies, orchestrating the pivot to Asia and the Russian reset, reopening relations with Burma, negotiating a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas resulting in Israel’s most peaceful year in a decade; navigating the aftermath of the Benghazi attack; and making LGBT rights and fairness a priority globally and in the State Department.
  • 2015-2016 – As a candidate for President the second time around, Hillary is making the case that her experience, knowledge, skills, international relationships and connections and rational solutions to problems at home and around the world will move the nation into a new era of economic equality, social fairness, homeland security and world leadership. She has also made the case that she is tough by deflecting attacks, countering unfairness and standing up to sexism and pettiness.

Thus, just as in other workplaces women are viewed differently from men in the political arena. As such, Hillary’s approval ratings have varied wildly, depending on whether she has been perceived as being competitive or cooperative.

“That Highest, Hardest Glass Ceiling”

For many women who are financially secure and/or have achieved a satisfactory level of personal or professional success — however they have done so — looking down that long road from the 1970s it might seem as though women have “come a long way, baby to get where you got to today.” But we haven’t come far enough; not by a long shot.

With this long-running social revolution for women’s equality that can be traced back to 1792 to Great Britain’s Mary Wollstonecraft, we have experienced periods of great advancement interspersed with periods of frustrating stagnation. To extend equality on all levels to the greatest number of women it is imperative to continue steadily to make gains in equality and not rest on our laurels. Resting causes ground to be lost.

The path to the White House is fraught with political minefields, especially for women. But it’s not impossible to navigate. Hillary, in particular, might have it figured out. She certainly is positioned to shatter the ultimate workplace glass ceiling — the one she managed to crack eight years ago. If she does, she will continue to inspire girls and women as President and Commander-in-Chief, just as she has done throughout her career. Democratic Senator from New York Kirsten Gillibrand has said that Hillary’s 1995 Beijing speech inspired her to pursue her dreams of becoming a U.S. Senator and wrote, “I decided that if I were truly going to make a difference in my community and on the issues I cared about, then I needed to become engaged in government.” If former attorney, First Lady of Arkansas and the United States, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton does manage to “shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling,” will Senator Gillibrand follow her through? And then another and another woman? Of that I have no doubt.

Until next time,



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