By Ellen McGirt
Updated: September 24, 2018 4:33 PM ET

The news has not been a welcoming place for women, of late.

We are up to our collective bile ducts with the political theater of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, specifically whether two allegations (maybe more?) of attempted rape or other “shenanigans” decades ago should be enough to keep a privileged man from his dream job.

Well, if it was so bad, says the conventional power structure, why didn’t the women report the incident at the time?

That question is getting the answer it deserves.

Perhaps out of solidarity, perhaps because it feels like Anita Hill all over again, or perhaps because it’s just time to let the air out of their toxic secret, women are reporting now.

Over the weekend, the number of callers to the National Sexual Assault Hotline surged 42% over a typical weekend, triggered in large part they say, by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that Kavanaugh has assaulted her in a coordinated attack while in high school.

Some of the reports are also public. If you have the stomach for it, spend some time with the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag, which populated this weekend with heartbreaking stories from people of all genders, but mostly women, who shared intimate details of their sexual assaults and their reasons for staying quiet. Fear is high on the list: Of not being believed, of retribution, of being blamed, of being reputationally destroyed – the very same things that are happening to Blasey Ford now.

You can find a good recap here.

It is just one element of an ongoing conversation about women, men, violence, and power, that is both painful and long overdue. This was very much on my mind as I watched Fortune’s annual Most Powerful Women list come together this year. It’s out today, and in many ways, it’s a welcome counterbalance to the retrograde conversation about women that is taking place in the political arena.

Here’s the back of the envelope: The women on the list control $1 trillion in market cap. Four of five top defense companies are run by women, in fact, the CEO of Raytheon is now known as the “last man standing” in the top tier. (Not a compliment, right?) Our new number one on the list is Lockheed Martin’s Marillyn Hewson; the company’s share price is up 338% since she’s been in the top spot.

That said, the news is decidedly mixed. My brilliant colleagues Kristen Bellstrom and Beth Kowitt, who put the package together, put it this way. “If Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list is a referendum on the state of women in business, then the lesson of the 2018 ranking is clear: Progress still comes with a caveat.”

This year, the number of female CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies dropped from 32 to 24, and no, the list isn’t nearly diverse enough. As we reviewed extensively last year, the list reflects the biases that exist in the corporate pipeline. It’s a clear sign, they say, that momentum is never guaranteed. “Women of color know this too well,” writes Bellstrom and Kowitt, “our list mirrors the glaring lack of diversity that still plagues companies’ C-suites.”

So whether the conversation is about bias, harassment or leadership opportunity for all, it’s time to keep advocating for, believing in and advancing the underrepresented people in your workforce. Get creative. Here’s one thing our intrepid photo editor Mia Diehl did this year: For the first time, every photographer who took a portrait of a member of the list was a woman.

While you enjoy the list, I’ll end with a few thoughts about the women who may be currently seeking a safe harbor in this #MeToo redux moment. They’re in your talent pipeline, they’re in your family, they’re in every profession you can see, and many you can’t. And they may have a story to tell.

If you learn about an incident experienced by a friend or colleague, I hope you’re able to see it for the tender moment it is. The trauma of reliving or being blamed for an incident, whether it happened two days ago or two decades, is real.

There’s plenty of good advice out there about how to respond. Check out Start By Believing, a global campaign to help communities re-think their response to sexual assault. If the harassment is related to the workplace, start here for some good advice.

But I’ve found the simplest conversations are always the best. “I’m sorry this happened to you.” “This must be so painful to talk about.” It’s tempting to ask a lot of questions, to make it all better. But, really, sometimes all people need is to be heard and believed.

 

 

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