It’s funny how things stay the same. It was certainly a boys’ network when I worked in Fortune 100 corporations for over 20 years. If you didn’t play golf with the guys on Friday afternoon, or go to the local hockey games, certain projects never got discussed in your hearing. And that meant many exceptionally qualified women never got the choice assignments that garnered awareness from the execs. The domino effect was that women were often left behind when promotions were given out. The women I saw in charge, and by the 2000’s there were some, were mostly imported from other companies—and even different industries.
A recent Washington Post profile of Karen Pence, Mike Pence’s wife, helps make sense of the male power lock in business as well as in politics: “In 2002, Mike Pence told The Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.”
Understandably, it’s causing quite a stir.
On its face, this rule of Pence’s seems to be about fidelity, in keeping with his evangelical background. But a smart Atlantic analysis of Pence’s choice points out what many women have echoed in a Twitter backlash: if Pence can’t have a meal or meet one-on-one with a woman alone, then no woman can have the ear of the Vice President unless she is married to him.
As one tweet noted: “…how could a woman be Chief of Staff, or lawyer, or campaign manager?”
It’s not just Pence, either. Other powerful men in Washington follow the same guidelines, according to the article:
“An anonymous survey of female Capitol Hill staffers conducted by National Journal in 2015 found that “several female aides reported that they have been barred from staffing their male bosses at evening events, driving alone with their congressmen or senator, or even sitting down one-on-one in his office for fear that others would get the wrong impression.” One told the reporter Sarah Mimms that in 12 years working for her previous boss, he ‘never took a closed door meeting with me . . . This made sensitive and strategic discussions extremely difficult.’”
In the business world, the effects are similar:
“Social-science research shows this practice extends beyond politics and into the business world, and it can hold women back from key advancement opportunities. A 2010 Harvard Business Review research report led by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the president of the Center for Work-Life Policy think-tank, found that many men avoid being sponsors – workplace advocates – for women “because sponsorship can be misconstrued as sexual interest.”
This all has the effect of holding women back, because as The Atlantic mentions, according to some analyses, men hold more than 85 percent of top management positions in big companies. It’s a male-dominated world I know too well.
Reading this article reminds me of those the Friday golf games all over again, male-only spaces where my male colleagues were promised the next prime assignment or the next Assistant Vice President spot. As a mother with a young child, and many of those years as a single mother, I couldn’t even make it to the few events they invited me to. My women friends and I used to joke that we didn’t get the promotions at work because we were lacking a certain appendage.
Of course, let me qualify this to say there were a few male bosses in my career, or at least one, who didn’t subscribe to this kind of discrimination and to whom I am grateful for opportunities.
But the reality is, this kind of belief that women are inherently tempting, and not equals who can be met under platonic or business circumstances, is visible beyond Pence’s bizarre practice. Today in the White House, for example, this behavior on Pence’s part shows up in tandem with women’s exclusion from power. Just ask all four of the women cabinet members in Trump’s administration.
Four. Out of 24.
The truth is that until men in power truly view women as peers and give them a seat at any table where critical information is being discussed and decided upon, whether in business or politics, the world will continue to be deprived of the leadership of exceptional women.
And the conference table where women’s reproductive rights and maternity health care are decided upon will still be filled entirely with men.
It’s no coincidence that Pence cast the tie-breaking vote to defund Planned Parenthood yesterday. His entire worldview reduces women to something “less than.”