Women in Charge

Women in charge

March is the month we celebrate women. The 8th is International Women’s Day. The 24th is Equal Pay Day. Every day is Women’s History Month.

Having to set aside an entire month to remind us to honor thy mother and wife and sister and daughter, and every other woman, feels like a left-handed compliment of sorts.

When you have to elevate an entire gender with special recognition, it must be because they’ve been oppressed for, like, forever.

Against that shadowy backdrop, when an extraordinary public figure comes along, we acknowledge the systemic bias against womanhood in general by granting her iconic status.

We know about the indomitable champion of equal rights, late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was a petite person in stature whose trademark toughness earned her rock star status and a name to match — “Notorious RBG.”

 

INSPIRING COURAGE

We know about women’s suffrage changemaker Susan B. Anthony, and about “the first lady of civil rights” Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat to a white man in Alabama in 1955 was a singular act of courage that inspires people to this day.

We know about Gloria Steinem, the “women’s lib” superstar who helped popularize Ms. as the long-overdue counterpart of Mr. — rather than judging women by marital status with the sexist Miss and Mrs.

All those women through the years have become celebrities in their own right for the pivotal roles they played in breaking the mold of females being pigeonholed as submissive to men, whether in marriage or in the workplace.

Yet there are countless others whose names are not recognizable. Yet they also shattered the glass ceiling in their chosen fields.

 

FIRST FEMALE GM

Take Kim Ng. That name is probably not familiar to you, but in the world of sports, Kim is an MVP. She made history in the fall of 2020 by being the first woman hired as general manager (GM) of a professional sports team.

On top of that, the person who hired her was none other than Derek Jeter. The Yankee great is part owner and managing partner of Major League Baseball’s Florida Marlins, where Kim now runs the big show.

Note that her distinction is not limited to baseball. Kim Ng is the first female GM to be hired in any major sport. That’s quite an impressive stat to have on your resume!

By the way, how long do we need to keep saying that someone is “the first woman to …”

 

MAN-MADE CEILING

In so many areas, we should be way past having to make that distinction. By now, we should be talking about not the first woman to break a man-made ceiling, but the 1 millionth.

Case in point: It took the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences a half-century to nominate a woman as Best Director,  in 1977. Then it took another 33 years before a woman would win that award, in 2010.

As a CEO, at rue21 and elsewhere, my working relationship with women is best summed up by this chapter title in my book Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer (ForbesBooks, 2019): “Bob’s Club Is No Boys’ Club.”

Long before the #metoo movement, I never saw women in business as anything other than workers first. I pride myself on being gender-blind. Well, not exactly. I am partial — to the managerial skills of female employees. I trust their instincts and work ethic as much as, if not more than, I trust men’s.

 

THE STRENGTH OF PASSION

The same characteristics that women can be criticized for by prejudiced people are what I see as their strengths. Directly contrary to the cliche about women having a tendency to become too emotional when faced with a difficult situation, I value and admire that kind of passion.

The marginalization of women in business by fearful men in charge is counter-productive, and even at times irrational. Equal Pay Day serves to remind us that female executives commonly are paid, on average, 80% of what their male counterparts earn for the same job.

In some states it’s closer to parity (90%), while other states are stuck in the stone age, with the womenfolk earning on average 60% of a caveman’s paycheck.

One member of my Millennial Advisory Board, Nicole Campbell, told me about a group called Ladies Get Paid that was created to level the paying field of compensation for women.

 

SCARED LITTLE BOYS

That scared some men so much that they sued the group for discriminatory practices! Nicole told me they were men, but they sound more like little boys. My advice to them is to toughen up and deal with it.

Historically, women at work were not expected to speak their mind around male colleagues. The TV show Mad Men famously depicted how chauvinistic to the extreme our culture was in the 1950s and 1960s compared to today.

The women were objectified while the men wanted to be deified.

Women who worked for me in senior positions were not afraid to speak up. They could care less what a man in the room thought of their voicing a strong opinion, whether it agreed or not with the position of a male counterpart.

It wasn’t uncommon for male executives on my team to be challenged and flustered by the women in our midst. A submissive male easily could be chewed up and spit out. It was a learning experience for them, and I wasn’t about to coddle them.

 

A DECADE OF GROWTH

The positive and persistent attitude of women at rue21 was a distinct advantage for our business, which experienced a rare streak of continuous growth for more than a decade.

I’m glad to be in a Millennial era that empowers females without apology and without reservation.

That’s why I applaud in agreement when Bloomberg calls it “a milestone for an industry dominated by men” that Citicorp, with $2 trillion in assets, named as its CEO Jane Fraser.

And that’s why I’m not at all surprised that Rosalind Brewer — whose resume includes COO of Starbucks and CEO of Walmart’s Sam’s Club — made history by being named the first Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Walgreens Boots Alliance.

So the next time any guy tells you Adam’s descendants are inherently superior to Eve’s, give him a breathalyzer or take his pulse. Because he is one of two things: drunk or dead from the neck up.

Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer