listen to the essay above, or read the text below; they both say almost exactly the same thing.
There are a lot of “firsts” for intelligent, experienced high-profile women in the past few days. On August 11, 2020, in the United States, Kamala Harris was appointed the first female, visible minority running mate on a presidential ticket. And on August 18, 2020, in Canada, Chrystia Freeland was appointed as the country’s first-ever female federal finance minister.
I’m bracing for the relentless charge of their gender being held against them. The refrain, which you’ve likely already heard a thousand times whatever your gender, goes like this:
“She only got hired because she’s a woman.”
Add a dash of visible ethnicity into the mix, as is the case with Harris, and that too is added to the charge.
Let’s look at Kamala Harris, running as the American hopeful future vice-president alongside Joe Biden in his bid for president. Not even minutes out of the gate, the announcement was immediately met with the feeble cry of “Not sufficiently qualified” from those who support a man who is grossly politically inexperienced and arguably tremendously unqualified to run a business never mind the world’s most influential country. Harris’s record runs long and deep.
In Canada, Chrystia Freeland was officially appointed as Canada’s first finance minister following the resignation of the scandal-ridden Bill Morneau. Previously, Freeland was Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister. She has been engaged in politics since 2013. Before that, this Harvard grad held editorial positions at the Financial Times, The Globe and Mail and Thomson Reuters. In 2012, she authored Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. Her book won the Lionel Gelber Prize for non-fiction reporting on foreign affairs, and the National Business Book Award for the most outstanding Canadian business-related book.
Freeland, like Harris in the US, is infinitely qualified for the job. Did they get their jobs because they are women? Maybe. But that does not make it wrong.
Here’s the thing, for millennia through to eternity, “He only got the job because he’s a man.” Hiring based exclusively on gender has already been rampant throughout the world. Every single reader knows at least one (and probably tens or more) of incompetent men working at jobs over which they have no-to-low mastery.
The accusation of gender-based hiring hits women particularly hard because it immediately invalidates their long-earned and hard-gotten experience, thereby forcing them to perform multiple times better than their male counterparts on the job, as they must re-assert their right to be there while working under a magnifying glass. Further, that accusation prevents women from helping other women up the corporate ladder. All to often, the qualified women who succeed at being appointed into positions of power must draw-up the ladder behind them upon their arrival, lest they be seen to favour any other woman.
What works for men (networking on the golf course and leveraging relationships) is simply not available to women.
Heaven forbid a woman is ambitious. Consider Sooke’s last municipal election, where our own young female incumbent mayor was accused of being too ambitious, that she would probably want to do something more with her career. She was up against a retiring male who, having accomplished his career climb in a large corporation was now ready to serve the community in the “near-volunteer” capacity as mayor. The mayor was moving up at the Union of BC Municipalities (she was on her way to becoming its president after serving as third, second, and first vice president). This ambition was held against her, with several posts on social media accusing her of using Sooke as a steppingstone for higher aspirations.
Sure, there are women who arrive at various stations in their careers because of their gender and race, just like there are (way more) men who arrive at various stations in their careers because of their gender and race. Every job is infinitely learnable, most emphatically evidenced by a drama-teacher-turned-party-leader-turned-Prime-Minister right here in Canada.
Another significant hindrance to women’s upward mobility are the roles that specifically women have in supporting those who are upwardly mobile.
Women are culturally raised to protect male vulnerabilities. There is nothing more achingly calling for a woman to nurture a man than when that man is broken, brought to tears. We woman rally around him, put a bandage on his emotional boo-boo, we build him back up, we use encouraging words to assure him of his right in the world, of his skill, his prowess and his confidence, we bundle him in bubble wrap, and then protectively send him back out into the world. When we do that, we are called a mother, a wife, a secretary, or an administrative assistant.
On the flip side, women are raised to emotionally obliterate other women, especially those who show signs of ambition, intelligence, integrity, and strength. Look no further than the schoolyard. Where male bullying more frequently involves direct physical confrontation (ie, you can look the assailant in the eye), female bullying is filled with back-stabbing gossip, secrecy, and innuendo. The source of female gossip is all-too-often easy to identify … and impossible to prove.
Yes, bad women make it to positions of power. So, too, do bad men. We have a nightmare male leader in power right now in the United States, adoringly surrounded by sycophants who protect this man from any measure of accountability. But bad women simply do not have the same number of willfully blind supporters to uphold their mal-appointments. Instead, the early supporters are quick to step back to watch an erring woman fall. Christy Clark comes to mind. When she served to bolster the leadership Gordon Campbell, she was adored and praised. When she ran to become premier of her province, many in her own party were happy to step back and watch, anticipating her failure.
But intelligent women internally guided by integrity, experience, confidence and strength, those who are deserving, they have a long climb ahead of them, even after they have supposedly “arrived.” Look at Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, having to deal with horrifying levels of racism. Or Dr. Blasey Ford, the woman who testified against Brett Kavanaugh (if you don’t remember, she had to present a stable emotional keel while he broke down and wept like a child).
Today’s latest female appointments deserve praise and support. Help them up, don’t tear them down. And, let’s hope to hell that they don’t pull up the ladders behind them, because there are a tremendous amount of bright, intelligent, and experienced women at the ready, waiting for an opportunity to shine. Not because of their gender but because of their brilliance, experience, ability and skill. And, yes, she needs a hand up. Just like every male who has received a hand up in his career, in his life.
“If I have seen further,” Isaac Newton wrote in a 1675 letter to fellow scientist Robert Hooke, “it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
It’s hard to stand on the shoulder of giants if no one is willing to help you up the ladder to get you there in the first place.
Publisher, Sooke PocketNews
If you have followed my career as the publisher of Sooke PocketNews, you are probably and rightly questioning my own role in the coverage of a particular female politician who hired a woman into Sooke’s top job. That politician had a pre-existing political and executive relationship with the hire AND that politician did not recuse herself as the head of the hiring committee during the hiring process. That failure to recuse herself put that politician into a perceived conflict of interest, just as it has for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his now-former Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Gender, in all of those cases, was not the issue. My coverage of the Sooke conflict-of-interest sprang from the pre-existing relationship between the two parties, which (like the federal WE scandal) warranted investigation and demanded public accountability. That, right there, is why media matters in a democracy. The subsequent articles covering the District’s boondoggles (hiring without competing, firings that resulted in significant payouts, unapproved contracts, and oh so much more) wrote themselves, and were covered to monitor the responsible spending of the public purse. You may also recall that I covered the mayor’s published statement that essentially rewrote Canada’s Freedom-of-Expression act. But where the mayor met with me promptly and owned the error, the politician in the perceived conflict of interest waited nine months before meeting with me, and the female hire never met with me in spite of frequent requests. My bottom line is that I support women who support women. I will ask for accountability of any political figure in my role as media in a democratic country. And, I will continually question my own biases and motivations, many of which are driven by the gender presuppositions under which we have all been raised.
 Sarah Cooper is among the many comedians who mock his inexperience, see the video below (not recommended if you are a Trump supporter, in which case you’ve probably left in disgust before getting to the bottom of this piece).
 And if you don’t know if they are deserving or not, let time and their performance be the judge, not discrimination and personal biases.
The video referenced in note 1 (just to lighten the mood, with Sarah Cooper, one of my favourite female comedians…)