Some of the worst bosses I've ever had were women. They were unqualified for the position, had little or no experience in the subject, and seemed more interested in placating their boss than in getting the job done. Not only did they fail to support the women under their supervision, they seemed to actively denigrate their work product and work ethic.
While this bothers me no less today than it did in the beginning, I've begun to see a pattern emerge that explains why it happens all too often. These women were often hand-picked by their male bosses solely because of their perceived loyalty and supportive natures towards the men and/or the company. No, it isn't some vast conspiracy to prove women aren't up to job, it's simply that when told by human resources to hire more women into middle management, men look for the person most closely aligned with their own agenda. They end up hiring a less qualified person who won't rock the boat and that person is, all too often, a woman without the experience or expertise to fill the position.
Of course this happens with men, as well. Unfortunately, men don't stick out like women do because there are just so many bad ones out there. Female middle-management failures are trotted out by corporations as examples of why women aren't fit to lead while simultaneously being patted on the head by their boss and told they are doing a good job. They aren't paid as well, overlooked for training opportunities, and are actively discouraged from looking at other jobs because they're being fed lies about how invaluable they are.
I've seen this first hand, both as the underling of a bad female boss and as one of those underqualified female managers. It was a heady experience to be chosen from a pool of highly qualified personnel and given an important job. I actually did it well, but had no time left over for anything else by the end of the day. It's an unpleasant truth, but women do have to work harder and do better just to remain in the game.
One afternoon I found myself abusing another woman, a former co-worker and friend, for not completing her projects on time, despite the fact she'd been in and out of the hopsital for a recurrence of breast cancer. That night, my conscience finally kicked into operation when I realized I'd been parroting the same words my male bosses had about this woman's productivity. These men had no idea of the day-to-day terror this woman was facing, yet she was still coming in to work most days and doing as well as her male counterparts. Sure, her productivity was down. Rather than having the highest sales, she was now third out of thirty-one!
I took a good hard look at myself and didn't like what I saw. I was struggling in a job that I didn't like because my immediate supervisor was willing to thank me for doing all his dirty work. The praise turned my head. I was neglecting the people, my staff, who really did the work. Because my nose was buried so deeply in the sand, I had no clear view of the office around me.
Vowing to do something about it, I confronted my boss. I began supporting my staff when they were right and protecting them when they needed it. After a while, I regained their respect and support, which was critically important to me. I was in a position to help them, provide training and growth opportunities, and still turn a corporate profit. However, with my blinders off, I saw all the disparities between management and staff so clearly that I had to take action.
Long story short, my attempts to improve the environment and morale led to my dismissal. In my defense, I did nothing out of line or damaging to the company. I simply stopped blindly following orders. When I turned on my brain, I turned off the Powers That Be.
They didn't hire me to think. They hired me to fill a quota and to do shit work that no one else would do, correctly assuming that I would be grateful enough for the promotion to do tasks distasteful to others.
An article by Gloria Steinem about Sarah Palin caught my eye. (See my Links section to read the article.) Ms. Steinem points out that the 2008 election is even more radical than we realized. Sarah Palin represents almost the polar opposite of the important issues and values that underly the feminist agenda. Yet, despite that, she has been named as the Republican Party's Vice Presidential candidate. How often in history have women been in the glorious position of being able to vote AGAINST a female candidate? It's an embarrassment of riches.
The Democrats did not choose a female candidate, but the people who were nominated, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, are men who can be expected to live up to their promises to provide opportunities to women. For the first time in my life, I can choose between a woman and a man, knowing that my choice will support women everywhere, no matter how I vote.
That is not to say that a vote for Palin is a vote for women's rights. She is the antithesis of my personal political beliefs and I cannot and shall not vote for her. She opposes pro-choice rights even for victims of rape and incest. If you were raped, would you want to spend the next nine months of your life carrying that baby? It would be like a new rape every day, even the day you gave up the baby for adoption. Punishment of the rape victim over and over isn't humane.
Palin is an avid hunter who opposes gun control and supports aerial wolf hunts. She made repeated efforts to silence the biologists in her administration who warned her about global warming. Polar bear habitat is disappearing at a greater rate than enyone predicted, even the gloom and doom folks, yet she not only tried to gag her own staff, she is taking the Federal biologists to court to stop them from listing the polar bear as endangered.
Because of less polar ice and longer summer seasons, the North Slope drilling operations face shorter drilling seasons. They work primarily in the winter, when the tundra is frozen, because their equipment does less permanent damage to the environement. Has Palin shortened the drilling season? No. The oil companies are actively lobbying for lengthening the seasons! If past practices continue, their requests will be honored. Add to this that any oil spills to the water or land pose greater hazards when the ground is not frozen and you have the recipe for disaster. Experts have proposed stricter cleanup standards on the North Slope to accomodate warming trends, but these people are quickly silenced.
Returning to the subject of women supporting women, the Palin Administration does not endorse policies and issues most often in the hearts of women voters. Where is her health care plan? What is her stance on family leave? Gay rights? The environment? Gun control? Education? Military? You name it - Palin seems to oppose it.
While I am enthused and encouraged that a woman has broken through the glass ceiling far enough to be name the Republican Vice Presidential running mate, I am even happier that I have a viable alternative in Obama/Biden. A vote in either direction will encourage debate on women's issues, though I do worry that a vote for McCain/Palin will set the feminist agenda back a decade or more.