It’s been a while since I’ve written about this topic, but little has changed. On Huffington Post today, I revisit it in terms of Hillary Clinton’s run for president. In They Don’t Get It, Do They? (re-released recently on Kindle), I wrote about the “cute-and-little effect” where young women are duped into thinking that those old feminists have in wrong. TDGI was published a while ago. Of course, so was Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Poetic. And while I’m not Aristotle, some things are true for a long time. One of those is that when it comes to preparing oneself for politics in the workplace, in nonprofits or in government, women often have a slow start.
Women, as a rule, start their careers enjoying male mentoring and encouragement. They begin to think that things have changed. They don’t need to be feminists, God forbid. They can sit back and reap the benefits of those old gals who worked so hard to level the field. The truth is that young women are eventually blindsided by politics. If you have a daughter, you might tell her this. There is no point too early to learn that negative forms of politics are inevitable in most organizations and your turn to deal with them is going to come. Most men know this as well they should.
Hillary Clinton knows this in spades. She has had to deal with politics in a very public way. She knows that she has to be twice as good to even get a chance at grabbing the gold ring. She makes mistakes. After all, who is there for her to learn from? Not many women. Much of what she does is trial and error. Given that, she’s doing well.
Some women try to stay in the cute-and-little phase for as long as possible. Recently, a woman told me that she used that phase effectively. Now, she can’t do that anymore. There comes a point where it’s up or out and up means becoming a threat to some people.
Women need to learn about politics as soon as they enter the workplace. Before is fine too. There’s no need to become demoralized or defensive about the inevitability of politics that get in the way of women’s progress. Once you know the terrain, navigation becomes easier.
Clinton has known the terrain for some time. Her navigation efforts may seem unnecessary to some young women. But it won’t be long before their cute-and-little phase runs its course. If they are ready, they won’t be blindsided. They may be criticized for being assertive or even aggressive, but nobody becomes a leader by being cute and demure and criticizing other women for not being sufficiently feminine.