A friend sent me an email this week which showed pictures of the leaders of countries that have handled the COVID 19 crisis well (Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland) and the leaders of those countries that have handled it poorly (US, Italy, Russia, Brazil, Spain, UK, France).
The leaders of those countries who have successfully managed the COVID 19 pandemic were all women.
This caused me to reminisce on my own career.
When I began my career as a scientist at Bell Labs in the 1980’s it was a tough climate for women. Many people (both men and women) expected us to fail; the prevailing belief was that women were too emotional, too stupid, too fragile, too silly to work in a company. As a pioneer, especially a single one, I knew that I was going to have to take some abuse. The concept of sexual harassment hadn’t been accepted when I appeared in the workplace. So I had to attend lunches at establishments where waitresses were scantily clad; or worse, after dinner “meetings” at strip clubs; and if I didn’t come…well that was proof that women didn’t belong in the workplace. I had to call the wives of the scientists I was traveling with to let them know that I wasn’t interested in having sex with their husbands, lest I be forbidden from traveling due to a spouse’s objection. I worked in offices and conference rooms adorned with calendars and photos of nude women. It wasn’t a glass ceiling; it was a concrete one and, in the beginning, the women who got promoted either emulated men or were having sex with them.
Many younger men came to my aid; but most older men did what they could to make my job difficult. I have dozens of stories. But to give you a simple example, one day, I got pulled out of my meeting by the secretary to let me know that my father had been in a terrible accident and doctors were not sure that he would survive. I returned to my meeting with red eyes, it was obvious that I had been crying, my demeanor was immediately reported to the senior leadership. Several weeks later I was reprimanded for being too emotional and was required to complete a training course in how a leader should behave. Silly, of course, but for women to be viewed as equals, we had to suppress who we were and emulate men.
A lot has changed in the almost 40 years since I began my career. Sexual harassment has banned most bad behavior. Equally important, women demonstrated that they were good enough to compete in a man’s world. We had the intelligence, dedication, interest, ambition, and commitment to succeed. One of the executives from Bell Labs told me that he preferred women to men; as he said: “A woman wants to get the job done, she will do whatever it takes; a man is more interested in his career and what his reward will be.” Of course, this is also a prescription to be taken advantage of; but baby steps.
Since women have proved that they can excel; we can now be women employees, not employees who happen to be female. We can be comfortable with our differences and can take advantage of our interpersonal skills, nurturing skills, empathetic and empathic capabilities. Women are more willing to work as a team; and less likely to require credit.
This is not to say that women are always better leaders; my best and worst bosses were women. But our perspective is an asset; not a detriment as was previously believed. The world is a better place when gender and cultural differences are appreciated. More perspectives and opinions ALWAYS result in a better solution.
So, let’s learn from the women leaders about this COVID 19 crisis. Why did they make the decisions they made? What were their considerations? What was their perspective? What can we learn from them?
It makes me wonder what would have happened in this country had we had a woman leader during this pandemic.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.