Reading the newspaper this morning about women and the word bossy and the need to “lean in’, it struck me once again how clueless American society is about privilege, sexism and racism. We do not need to develop women leaders. Women are natural leaders. Instead of conducting seminars for women in how to become a leader we need to break down the barriers that keep women from being leaders, the good old boy network. Sexism and racism are two sides of the same coin.White women do not rise as easily or as often as men into leadership positions because they lack intelligence, education and skill. They do not rise into leadership positions because they are blocked by men, or sadly sometimes other women, who do not want them there. The same is true of blacks and other minorities. It is not lack of education, intelligence or leadership skills, it is being blocked by people who do not want them there. In the black race we have people who are F&Os ( First and Onlies) and BBs (Black Blockers). They think as long as they are the only blacks in power they can pretend to speak for all blacks, be the resident expert and reap the benefits. Unfortunately, a large number of these people have no allegiance to anything but self-promotion, not to social justice or their race or anyone else’s. They say what their masters want them to say about their constituents, Nobody wants to hear bad news, even if it is the truth.
I have worked at four colleges and one public schools system in my career. I have spoken or consulted or given workshops at a dozen other universities and colleges. None of the leadership positions at these educational institutions was held by the smartest, most charismatic or best leaders. The positions were held by people who were bland enough not to cause controversy and who knew the right people, or knew people who knew the right people.
At one point in American history Horatio Alger’s story may have been accurate. It no longer is. I live in a small town ( around 28,000) and the area has been targeted in the past as so typical that we sometimes get products to try, presuming if it will play in Xenia it will play in suburbs and country towns everywhere. Our minority population is almost exactly that of the country. We are, in oh so many ways, average. I have seen over the past forty or so decades so many people do well that have no skill, no education and no charisma. What do they have? They know the people who own things or control things. Our police force and fire department have few if any minorities or white women, certainly none in leadership positions . Why? Because no white women or minorities want to work in the fire or police department?Nope, because the fire and police departments have always been controlled by white men and white men hire white men.
It is so frightening to Americans to see the truth that they go to any kind of lengths to deny it. ” Well they did not have any white women or minorities apply.” Why not do you suppose? This is the old canard that shifts the responsibility to be inclusive onto the people you are excluding. Nice trick. Or, ” “There were no qualified white women or minorities for the position.” Really, I want you , each and every one of you dear readers to send me a message if every white man you know has been great at his job. How many times are the qualifying requirements even adhered to? At every institution I know of and that is not a small number, the person hired often bears little resemblance to the job description/requirements. Institutions and businesses engage in qualification gerrymandering on a regular basis if they have someone they want to give the job to.
Yet, all over America we have constant conferences, initiatives, workshops, symposia and publication about empowering white women and minorities. Programs for minority males are springing up on white campuses like mushrooms after a shower. Virtually none of them are based on research, but on what people think is true, and almost every one of them concentrates on what is wrong with the black male rather than what is wrong with higher ed that it is such a bleak place for black men. An equal or even larger number of programs for women are on campuses. Although they tend to veer away with what is wrong with women, at least recently, they still concentrate too much on what the woman must do rather than what society must do to stop impeding their progress. I received a message this morning from a former student who is now an administrator at a Research 1 university. He sent me a description of a new program they are starting that enables conversations between women students on how to succeed. Note there is no mention of how the system is stacked against them and how they can change that, no, this is all about learning to “play the game” even though the other team has 10 players to your five and get 5 points for each goal they score where you get 1. It reminds me of slave days when some black overseers tried to convince their fellow slaves that the way to success was to do as they were told and smile about it, not to fight for their freedom.
If I could draw I would produce a cartoon that showed white women and minorities being loaded down with advice and “shoulds” and strategies to enable them to climb while the stairs in front of them are blocked with bias and prejudice and ignorance and stereotypes, all protecting the status quo.
If there are no, or only token, white women in leadership positions in an institution, business, or government agency it is because they have been kept from the positions unfairly. If there are no minorities in leadership positions, ditto. The only other explanation is that white folks or men or white men are simply better.
I I have never had a boss that was excellent at his job. I have never had a boss as smart as I am, something each and every one of them told me themselves at one point or another. I have had clever bosses, self-promoting bosses and bosses who were smart enough to hire people to make them look good, but is that what we are encouraging by all these seminars? ” Listen, you do not have to be smart, or ethical, or have great leadership skills. You have to be able to dodge standing up for anything that might be controversial , whether it is right or not, or moral while pretending to be a champion for good, you have to keep the people above you happy and trouble free and you have to hire good people to do the work and generate the ideas you can then take credit for. Most of all you must be committed to protecting the status quo at all costs. ” America is in trouble. We are picking our leaders based, not on traditional leadership skills of vision, honesty, intelligence, ethics, hard work, innovation and charisma, but on the ability to pretend to lead and yet protect the status quo. We are discouraging individuality, courage and honesty. These are disadvantages for women who tend to speak up when they see things that are unjust.
I will close with this suggestion for your own research. How many of you have always had a boss who is smarter than you or better than everyone else at what you are trying to accomplish? How many of you have not known someone else at work who could have done it better but was not given the chance?
See what I mean? We don’t need to lean in, we need to throw out the good old boy network and watch what happens.