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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! The office stands accused of enabling misconduct, Nell Diamond made the ‘nap dress’ go viral, and someone needs to give Ursula von der Leyen a chair already. Have a great Wednesday.
– Take a seat. When we talk about women’s struggle for equality, we often talk about “having a seat at the table.” While the phrase has become a cliche, it derives from something very real, and, occasionally, rather literal—as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen discovered at a recent diplomatic meeting in Turkey.
The incident, which quickly picked up the hashtag #CouchGate, occurred when von der Leyen, the first woman to head the EU’s executive branch, watched in dismay as her colleague, European Council president Charles Michel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed the meeting room’s two central chairs, leaving her with no choice but to sit on a couch near the side of the room.
The parties involved have put forward plenty of excuses (ahem, explanations) for why such an embarrassing diplomatic screw-up took place, but von der Leyen has her own thoughts on the matter.
“Would this have happened if I had worn a suit and a tie?” she asked Monday, speaking to European Parliament. “In the pictures of previous meetings, I did not see any shortage of chairs. But then again, I did not see any woman in these pictures, either… I felt hurt and left alone: as a woman and as a European… This goes to the values our union stands for, and this shows how far we still have to go before women are treated as equals, always and everywhere.”
It’s striking to see a woman in von der Leyen’s position call out the moment so plainly. In the past, women in powerful roles have so often tried to avoid mentioning the sexism they encounter, much less the emotion that such experiences dredge up. Indeed, the Washington Post notes the difference in that respect between von der Leyen and her ally Angela Merkel, quoting a 2019 interview in which the German Chancellor responded to a question about sexism by saying, “I believe that, as a politician, you have to be able to take it, that you can only do this job if you aren’t overly sensitive. You have to concentrate on the real issues. I merely take note of the rest.”
It’s an understandable impulse. No one wants to be seen as whiny or as “playing the woman card.” And I get why female leaders—be they politicians like Merkel or private sector executives—so often try to steer the conversation away from anything that emphasizes their gender. Who wouldn’t want to be known as a “leader”—without that annoying adjective in front?
But the idea that slights like the one von der Leyen faced are not, to use Merkel’s phrase, a “real issue” feels outdated. If someone with her clout cannot speak out when she experiences such a dismissal, what hope is there for the rest of the us? I think that’s something powerful women are starting to acknowledge more and more these days. Be it a generational shift or something broader, opening up about their experiences as not just leaders, but, yes, as women leaders, can have significant impact. It raises awareness, shifts expectations, and demystifies the women at the top. The reality of those shared experiences is a reminder that none of us is alone in our personal struggle against sexism and bias.
So when your next “where’s my chair?” moment occurs, perhaps you can think of von der Leyen and demand that seat.
The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe.
ALSO IN THE HEADLINES
- In the driver's seat. In a new interview, GM CEO Mary Barra weighs in on everything from the company's competing vision—compared to Tesla—for the future of electric vehicles to her favorite song with a GM product in it (It's Prince's "Little Red Corvette."). Of her famous decision to cut GM's dress code from 10 pages to "dress appropriately," she says, "These are people we’re trusting to do really important work on the behalf of the company, and yet we’re not going to trust they use good judgment to decide what to wear to work?" Time
- Office problems. How did the office become such a common hotbed for misconduct? The closed doors, open floor plans, "phones and staplers to throw, the files to slam on desks, the ability to dress down employees in front of their peers" all intensify "physical and psychological vulnerabilities." The Cut
- Women's health. Why has endometriosis, a disease that affects one in every 10 women, been ignored in science and medicine for so long? There are three reasons: the illness doesn't kill you, it affects women, and it has to do with often-taboo menstrual problems. Linda Griffith, director of the MIT Center for Gynepathology Research, is trying to change that. New York Times
- Bipartisan bill. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been fighting for years to change how the military handles cases of sexual assault. Adding GOP Sen. Joni Ernst to Gillibrand's bill removing commanders from roles prosecuting service members for assault is a "defining moment" for passing it, the Democratic senator says. Ernst says she never wanted to take such cases out of the military chain of command, but "we are not seeing a difference" without doing so. New York Times
MOVERS AND SHAKERS: JPMorgan Chase's Winnie Ng is set to join Bank of America as head of Hong Kong coverage. Fertility clinic Kindbody hired Meredith Whitney as CFO. Varo Bank hired Carolyn Feinstein as chief marketing, growth, and design officer. Southwestern Health Resources named Carey LeMener chief network and physician experience officer. Marcie Vu, former head of the consumer tech group at Qatalyst Partners, will join thredUP's board of directors. Global Strategy Group hired former Case Foundation VP of communications Jade Floyd as SVP, communications and public affairs.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
- Eternal censorship? China's censorship of Beijing-born director Chloé Zhao's Oscars speech doesn't bode well for her next project: the Marvel blockbuster The Eternals. The Chinese government's censorship started after Zhao's 2013 statement that China is "a place where there are lies everywhere" resurfaced earlier this year. Marvel-owner Disney has a major incentive to work to smooth things over. Fortune
- Nap time. How did Nell Diamond design the dress for the pandemic era? The Hill House Home founder never meant the viral "Nap Dress" to be for those stuck at home, but her pre-pandemic design took off anyway. Fifty percent of Hill House's sales are now nap dresses. Harper's Bazaar
- Literature + history. A Jane Austen museum in her last home in Chawton, England has started to incorporate more history—including Austen's family's connections to the slave trade (her father was a sugar plantation trustee)—into its exhibits and tours. The decision has upset some Austen fans, but others say it's necessary to tell "England’s story" in full. New York Times
ON MY RADAR
Norton takes Philip Roth biography out of print New York Times
Australia to boost childcare subsidies in women-friendly budget Bloomberg
Why aren't more moon craters named for women? New York Times
Roblox queen MeganPlays is making millions with a blocky digital empire Bloomberg
"This is a public health need."
-Tennis star Naomi Osaka on why she's launching Kinló, a skincare and sunscreen brand for people of color
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