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raceAhead: On Women and Power

September 24, 2018, 8:33 PM UTC

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.



On Point

How do women of color get to senior management?These stories always start with the business case, and this one is no different: Firms with the most ethnically diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to be more profitable than their peers, and those with executive-level gender diversity had a 21% likelihood of outperforming their competitors. Further, black women are more likely to say that want leadership jobs. Diversity expert Cindy Pace conducted a case study to determine what was keeping black women out of the leadership pipeline by studying the women who got there. The advice was the same: Declare your intent, take stretch assignments, find a mentor. But the organization needed to play a role as an ally, by training managers to understand the specific barriers facing women of color in their lives, and taking on bias in the work place. Stay intentional. “[C]ompanies need to make women of color’s access to highly visible and critical business assignments a strategic priority,” she writes.HBR

Kenya lifts a ban on a film with lesbian themes to make it Oscar eligible
Rafiki — which means "friend" in Swahili — was the first Kenyan film to premiere at Cannes; a “sweet” film is about two women who live in the same Nairobi housing estate. Banned due to a colonial-era prohibition on promoting homosexuality, a local judge ordered the ban lifted for a week in order to skirt Oscar rules. "During the seven-day suspension period, the film shall only be open for viewing to willing adults,” says Justice Wilfrida Okwany. According to director Wanuri Kahiu’s, the first screening was a huge hit. “Oh my Nairobi!!! Thank you for selling out the first screening!! Thank you for watching our film! Thank you for believing!!!,” she tweeted. More on her landmark lawsuit here.

When employees overdose on the job
According to a survey from the National Safety Council, some 70% of employers reported that their workplaces were affected by the opioid epidemic last year, increasing absenteeism and accidents and putting managers and co-workers in the untenable position of becoming counselors or dispensing overdose antidotes. While the stories vary – a mechanic in Michigan, a barge worker in Rhode Island, and a stocker at Sam’s Club are among the many who died on the job last year — the pressure is increasingly on employers to step up. The same survey found that only one in five companies felt prepared to address the epidemic, and most don’t screen for the synthetic opioids that are wreaking havoc. “Employers have been asleep at the wheel,” says Dave Chase, co-founder of Health Rosetta, a company that certifies employer health benefits.
New York Times

Superheroes are evidently experiencing episodes of economic anxiety, y’all
The culture wars have a new battleground: comic books. The good folks at Reveal have a new podcast about the alt-right’s entrance into the comic book world with AltHero, starring characters like a busty, Confederate-flag waving red-head who is the newest recruit to the Global Justice Initiative. She and her racist pals capture immigrants and delivers them to ICE, among other things. “Cleaning up the streets one illegal at a time,” etc. Comic books, toxic fans and social media are coming together in increasingly dangerous ways, and have enjoyed a resurgence of support and crowdfunding after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. “The right is taking back ground that the left previously claimed,” says Alt Hero publisher Vox Dei (Minnesota-born Theodore Biel, a racism “thought leader” who now lives in Europe.) A must-listen.
Reveal News


The Woke Leader

It’s not the economic anxiety
The role of racial resentment in politics is not new, although it certainly feels that way to some. But this new research from Ryan Jerome LeCount, an assistant professor of sociology at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, shows that racial resentment has been a force in U.S. politics since 1986 and has had some key sentiment spikes: The first in 1994, which may be associated with the partisan polarization associated with the Clinton presidency, and the second in 2008, with the election of Barack Obama. The elements of racial resentment are now intertwined with one’s identity as a liberal or conservative, he finds. (LeCount also has additional research showing that white police officers express more racially resentful views, are more likely to see black people as violent and less likely to believe claims of anti-black discrimination.)  

Reframing “the resistance”
Civil rights lawyer, author, and advocate Michelle Alexander has made her debut as a New York Times opinion columnist with a crisp analysis of the Trump presidency to date. But, with regard to the movement that has become known as the anti-Trump "resistance,” she says that we have things completely backward. From a broader perspective of history, the current protests of the president’s racist rhetoric, overt corruption, attacks on civil rights and the press is not a reaction to a conservative norm being reasserted. Instead, she argues persuasively, the quest for a better, more responsive democracy is at the core of the American experience. We are the norm. “To the contrary, the struggle for human freedom and dignity extends back centuries and is likely to continue for generations to come,” she says. It is his followers who resist. “Donald Trump’s election represents a surge of resistance to this rapidly swelling river, an effort to build not just a wall but a dam.”
New York Times

Why is it so hard to picture black middle-class families and neighborhoods?
Courtney Bonam, a psychology professor and social science researcher,  has conducted a series of studies that show how white Americans hold persistent stereotypes about black communities, even if they express no personal racist beliefs. Even the presence of a single black family as part of a study made respondents more likely to think a neighborhood is “impoverished, crime-ridden, and dirty." Images of a white family in a similar house trigger no such association. As a result, white participants were almost incapable of seeing a black neighborhood as middle-class. She calls it the “invisible middle-class black space.” Writer Henry Grabar breaks down her research this way: “People who are ready to accept the middle-class status of a black person can’t do the same with a neighborhood,” he writes.


The predator wants your silence. It feeds their power, entitlement AND they want it to feed your shame. Our bodies are not the ‘spoils of war’… a trophy to be collected to fuel your ego. It’s OURS!!! It doesn’t belong to you!! And when you take it without permission, it DESTROYS…… like a virus!!! To the predators…Weinstein, the stranger, the relative, the boyfriend…. I say to you, ‘You can choose your sin but you don’t get to choose the consequences.’ To the victims … I see you. I believe you … and I’m listening.
Viola Davis