Over Thanksgiving vacation, my partner Gene shared an article he’d been reading at Salon.com. Brittney Cooper, a feminist author, was disagreeing with the assertions of a Politico.com article by Michelle Cottle, another feminist author. The subject? Michelle Obama, and whether she was a First Lady of achievement or disappointment. Both articles bugged me—but not because I’m for or against Michelle Obama. Instead, I was disappointed by an ongoing divisive narrative, in which women are encouraged to fight, instead of unite.
I’ll be the first person to admit that race, economics, geography and a number of other factors have the power to divide women across the globe—the Michelle Obama articles were about racial divides, primarily. These challenges have to be openly acknowledged and dealt with. One way to overcome these differences is to focus on women’s commonalities and achievements over the things that separate us.
Recent reports have reminded us that women can be accomplished leaders, some of whom run the world’s most powerful companies. This month, Mary Barra became CEO of General Motors, making her the first woman to lead a major automobile company. At the beginning of the year, Marilyn Hewson was named CEO of aeronautics giant Lockheed Martin. Between them, 21 other women of varying backgrounds are taking the reins at Fortune 500 companies. The numbers aren’t where they need to be, but they are growing.
I was privileged to join some very accomplished female leaders recently at the 2013 Seeds of Hope Annual Award Dinner in New York City. Dress envy aside, I didn’t encounter any woman trying to outdo each other. I overheard no cross words, or discussions about how one lady could have been better, or done more. Instead, I came across women (and men) who wanted to learn more about each other. Who wanted to collaborate and share ideas. Who wanted to celebrate the achievements of one another. There are always pockets of tension and division to be dealt with, but those tensions were shifted to the background that night. And that’s my hope for every night to come.
In 2014, I want to do more to promote and support female achievement. I also want to avoid narratives that encourage divisions among us. A recent excerpt from the new Noam Chomsky book, also in Salon.com (it was right after the Michelle Obama piece!), contained insightful views that can be applied to our common struggles. In the context of class divisions, the linguist and philosopher Chomsky noticed that, “If you care about other people, that’s now a very dangerous idea. If you organize, you might try to organize to undermine power and authority.” Women are encouraged to fight amongst each other because it distracts us from our bigger goal: equality in society and especially in the workplace.
In the coming year, let’s make a resolution to help one another, male and female—but especially female. Give a girl some good advice. Help a woman expand her network. Give a qualified woman her next big opportunity. Generate positive dialogues. Help a gal get organized. Care.
That’s my New Year’s resolution.