Equity & Diversity Opinion

Women Lead!

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — May 26, 2013 5 min read
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Mother’s day weekend has passed but Paul Tudor Jones has turned this Memorial Day into another weekend about women and mothers. The hedge fund manager was not a household name until a few days ago. On April 26, he and a few other men were invited to present a panel at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce. Apparently, there was a question raised that day about the lack of women on the stage. Jones fielded the question by saying there would never be as many women as men as super traders. Why? Because he learned in the 1970’s that “when the baby’s lips touch that girl’s bosom,” she loses focus.

Jones is a global macro trader, a billionaire, husband of a former model, the father of three beautiful young women, and a philanthropist. He labeled his remarks as “off the cuff” in an apology where he said it was only in the macro trading world that his statement applied...only in his own world were mothers were not equal. Because, he said, these roles required a high degree of skill, focus and repetition. He’d know better than make those remarks if he were on a panel at Smith or Wellesley. The University of Virginia is home territory for him. Often, it is in the protected, comfortable environment that the truth is expressed. That’s what really happened here. A bias held for thirty years or more slipped out. We wonder how many women (or girls as he called those mothers) were limited in their careers by the beliefs he articulated; we wonder also whether the other white men on that stage shared his belief. No one challenged it.

For decades, women have confronted the glass ceiling, the invisible floating barrier to the top of their professions. For lifetimes, girls have been encouraged into careers that were in service and care. Even there, they have been limited to roles. How often have we heard an exchange where someone says his daughter is working at a hospital and the response is “as a nurse?” “No, my daughter is a doctor.” The same is true in our field. There is an immediate assumption made that the daughter who works at a school is a teacher. Her role as building or district leader is seldom the first thought. The assumptions reveal the same mentality as Jones revealed. Social change comes slowly.

Meanwhile, on the same weekend this controversy rages, the President of the United States and Secretary of Defense find themselves speaking to graduates at our military academies, both adamantly calling for sexual assault in the military to end. This is a response to a recent Pentagon report that there were 26,000 sexual assaults last year in our armed forces; only a very few were actually reported. The speeches this weekend urged new graduates to be the generation to eradicate this stain from the military’s reputation by following a clear moral compass and acting with honor.

Honor is indeed the issue. If women are honored, can they be held back from greatness? Yes, apparently so. Paul Jones learned his values from family for sure and from a private boys’ academy where he attended school. Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, Lean In, Women, Work and the Will to Lead, offers a bit of relevant insight here. She relates a 2012 study investigating the relationships between a man’s marriage arrangement (traditional or with wives working outside the home) and his workplace attitudes. The results indicated that a man in a more traditional marriage “viewed the presence of women in the workplace less favorably. They also denied promotions to qualified female employees more often” (pg. 152). The researchers speculated that men in traditional marriages were not hostile toward women but were, instead, “benevolent sexists”, holding positive yet outdated views about women. This observation resonates with Paul Jones as he expressed his views from the 1970’s. We suspect there are a lot of men out there who would argue fatherhood changed their focus; at least, we hope there might be.

But, as we spin in the truth of these issues in 2013, we wonder about the old phrase “You’ve come a long way, baby.” As a society, we have much farther to go before issues of equality for women and minorities can be laid to rest in this country. Until then, highly capable individuals will struggle, keep silent at the offenses, work hard and hope. Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, a wife, a mother and one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, offers another path. She described the process and sorrow of watching other women drift away from their potential to lead. “I watched as the promise my generation had for female leadership dwindle...I realized the problem wasn’t going away. So even though the thought still scared me, I decided it was time to stop putting my head down and to start speaking out” (p. 144).

She brings the challenge home to those of us, women and men, who seek the support the best leaders of either gender. For us, as educational leaders and as women, this weekend’s news is hard to bear. In all these shadow revelations, a glimmer of light holds out. Daily, we interact with and create the future. Although our bias can be well hidden, even from ourselves, it is our responsibility to find it, look at it, and work with it. It is revealed even if we try to hide it, so it must be addressed. We can not allow it to leak out into our work. It must not color our decisions and our interactions. It is our work to discover and support the potential in every individual to become all they can....and want ...to be. As leaders we must think about this as we work with all the students who attend our schools - yes even the 5 year old ones, as well as all who work in our schools. We are in the position to teach and encourage, offer hope and support big dreams. That is how we help create the future. This is the highest work.

We suggest a new charitable foundation for Paul Tudor Jones. Rather than apologies by word, why not consider an action? The MacArthur Foundation awards grants, popularly called genius grants, to those creative people from many fields who are contributing to a more just, verdant and peaceful world. So, Paul Tudor Jones, why not create a foundation to offer grants to girls who want to break those glass ceilings and to women who are on their way to doing so in their careers? That would be a real apology and it would help the world as well.

Sandberg, Sheryl. (2013).Lean In. New York: Alfred Knopf
The Washington Post

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