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BW Businessworld

Hillary Clinton & The Glass Ceiling

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Many see Hillary Clinton’s decision to run for presidency as a step towards shattering the highest of all glass ceilings — the office of the President of the United States, the occupant of which is often referred to as the most powerful person on the planet. Actually, the word mostly used in that hyperbolic job descriptor is “man”. The United States hasn’t yet elected a woman President, and if Clinton were to become one, it would certainly be a much-delayed, historic moment; 228 years after the US Constitution was adopted and signed in September 1787. 
 
While we are right in celebrating the chances of that happening, and rooting for a woman who has it in her to get there, I can’t help but shake off the thought that Clinton’s candidacy doesn’t quite suggest the equality of opportunities that gender-neutral initiatives campaign for, or the level-playing field workplaces and institutions must aim towards. Would we have Clinton for President if we didn’t first have another President Clinton, her husband Bill?  
 
It’s not that Clinton isn’t a deserving, formidable candidate. Of course, she is; the possible frontrunner amongst the others in the fray so far despite the polarising opinion she sometimes evokes. She’s had legitimate experience leading up to this: a stint as the US Secretary of State, the first woman elected from the New York state in the senate race in November 2000, the first First Lady to be senator, a shot at running to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in 2008, and more than three decades of living as a public figure with all its scrutiny. 
 
Yet, despite her intellectual credentials and ambition, could a charismatic Hilary, 67 years old now, have won over the American voters on youthful idealism in her early 40s, the way Bill Clinton did in 1992? Both Bill Clinton and later Barack Obama in 2008 rode a tidal wave of optimism and hope to secure their presidencies. Without first demonstrating her creds in high-pressure appointments, can a woman — even one such as Hilary Clinton — have a similar chance on hope alone? Or, did Clinton need all three — experience, talent and being half of one of America’s most watched couples — before a real shot at the top job? 
 
It got me thinking about our workplaces where deserving women professionals often have to wait longer, work harder and prove themselves more to make inroads. The imbalance is well documented and manifests itself in several ways, including unequal pay and fewer opportunities at challenging assignments. A 2011 McKinsey & Co report found that men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments. 
 
Sample this data: A recent study by Catalyst, an organisation that works to expand opportunities for women and business across North America, Europe and Asia, found that men get more of the critical assignments that lead to advancement than women do. Unequal access to those roles may be an underlying cause of the persistent gender gap at senior levels, Catalyst says. 
 
The Catalyst study, Good Intentions, Imperfect Execution? Women Get Fewer of the Hot Jobs Needed to Advance, found that on average the men’s projects had budgets twice as more and three times as many staffers as the women’s. Only 22 per cent of the women, but 30 per cent of the men, were given budgets of more than $10 million, and just 46 per cent of the women, versus 56 per cent of the men, received profit and loss responsibility. Yet, isn’t being spotted early and pushed to roles that help one learn rapidly and grants visibility a crucial advantage for one’s career trajectory?
 
So, as we root for Clinton to break a few ceilings, can organisations that want to fix leaking pipelines and gender gaps, make sure women, like men, are called out as much for potential as for performance? 
 
The author is former editor, Inc. India. [email protected]
 
(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 18-05-2015)


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