Good morning, Broadsheet readers! GM’s board will soon have more women than men, elections in Japan see some progress for women, and we learn the lessons of Sterling Jewelers. Have a wonderful Wednesday.
• Women’s ‘precise algorithm.’ It’s worth spending some time with Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s two-year investigation into the toxic culture of Sterling Jewelers Inc., the parent of U.S. strip mall jewelry giants Zales, Jared, and Kay. The New York Times Magazine story pulls together—in dramatic fashion—devastating accusations against the company; that it underpaid women, that its saleswomen faced sexual harassment, and that its ‘good old boys’ club helped maintain a workplace steeped in misogyny.
Sterling says that it is innocent. It denies the claims of gender discrimination in pay and promotions and argues that the lawsuit at the heart of the saga is unrelated to harassment. It says that the accusations are “decades old” and untested by litigation (which is part of the problem to begin with).
Brodesser-Akner writes of alleged incidents that will make you squirm: a manager’s invitations into a hot tub during an off-site, groping, obscene texts. Then there are the accounts of women who say they were passed over for promotions in favor of less qualified men.
But one line of the story sticks out at me: “The thing is, it was a good job.”
Brodesser-Akner reports that many of the women found the work of selling jewelry glamorous, fun, and empowering. They were part of customers’ love stories, and many of them made decent money.
That bit of the narrative can be lost in this #MeToo moment; that women can at once enjoy their jobs while being mistreated or downright abused in them; that parts of their work can provide personal fulfillment even as other aspects deeply offend. The basic fact that women—just like men!—find incredible self-worth in work should go without saying but often does not. And in some instances, the good of a job outweighs the bad, even to the most discerning among us. It’s not a calculation we should have to make, but we do. Remembering that helps us understand why women brush off sexist language or laugh at a crude joke or stay in a hotel room, attempting to move past a boss or colleague’s inappropriate suggestion or gesture. Sure, it could be that they’re caught off-guard, or frozen with fear, or embarrassed beyond words, but it could be that they’re simply doing the math.
It also undercuts the reflexive response to tales of workplace harassment—Why don’t you just quit? Giving up the bad also means giving up the good, and that can ruin not just women’s income but a sense of pride and purpose.
But for the women of Sterling, the scales shifted at a certain point. “There is a precise algorithm that lives in the heart of every woman,” Brodesser-Akner writes, “one that alerts her when the injustice she is experiencing outweighs the joy.” New York Times
ALSO IN THE HEADLINES
• Speeding ahead. After two male directors retire, GM’s board will include more women than men. It’s a first for the auto industry—and still rare for business at large. Best Buy is the only other company in the Fortune 500 with majority-women boards; note that both are led by female chief executives, Mary Barra and incoming Best Buy chief Corie Barry. Bloomberg
• Text me. Fortune‘s Michal Lev-Ram gets the story on a new product from Textio, the text analytics startup led by CEO and co-founder Kieran Snyder. Textio’s technology helps businesses determine which words to use in job descriptions in order to attract more diverse candidates—the new tool adds predictive A.I. to the mix, actually writing the descriptions for users. Fortune
• Incomplete investigation. Whitney Davis, CBS’s former director of entertainment diversity and inclusion, writes about the racism she encountered during her years at the network. When CBS started digging into the company’s culture in the wake of sexual assault allegations against Les Moonves, Davis shared her concerns about racism and discrimination—but found that they weren’t addressed as part of that investigation. Variety
• Japan’s election day. Elections throughout Japan on Sunday saw six women elected as mayors, beating a previous record of four, and one city elect its very first female politician. Misuzu Ikeda will serve on the assembly of Tarumizu, a 15,000-person city. Japan is still behind in female representation in government compared to other countries, with 20% of assemblies including no women at all. Guardian
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
• Accountability journalism? The nonprofit news site The Markup was an exciting project pursuing accountability journalism about the tech industry, attracting donors including Craig Newmark of Craigslist. But founding editor-in-chief Julia Angwin was allegedly forced out from the job before the site’s launch, sparking a still-unfolding controversy. New York Times
• Theranos trial date. Elizabeth Holmes’s trial over fraud at Theranos won’t get a start date until at least July, after a judge agreed this week to delay setting that date. Defense attorneys cited trouble gathering witnesses—”billionaires and others of their ilk who are very difficult to schedule”—and the “millions of pages” of evidence to review. Wall Street Journal
• Big business, big risks. Egg donation is a big business—but the risks and side effects are often downplayed to women who sign up as donors. In many other countries, paying donors for egg donation is regulated or illegal, making the U.S. an especially lucrative market. Wired
• Hobbyhorses aren’t just a hobby. Have you heard about the hobbyhorse craze in Finland? Once the secret domain of teen girls, it’s now a proud national pastime and export. New York Times
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