On Election Day, I watched my social media feeds fill with posts from amazing, pant-suit wearing women taking their daughters to the polls and proudly casting their vote for our first woman President. All the polls told us she would win. It was mathematically impossible for him to get enough electoral votes. Until he did, and she didn’t.
This presidential cycle has revealed a dark underbelly of American society. We are more divided than ever. More racist than we care to admit. And even so, more willing to elect a man, any man, (gasp! even a black man) than to elect a woman who has been described as the most qualified candidate to run for President in history.
Throughout the process, we brushed off commentary about Secretary Clinton’s “strident and shrill” tone. The continued conversation about her wardrobe, something we know that fascinates the media when talking about women, and not about men. We allowed her opponent to continually describe her as weak and “lacking the stamina” for the job because she had pneumonia. (Can you imagine a male candidate powering through pneumonia?)
Then we donned our pantsuits and confidently headed to the polls. Except that many of us voted for him. Half of white women voted for Trump, despite his blatant and repeated displays of misogyny; his flip attitude about rape; and his clear contempt for high achieving women, unless he’d deem them worthy of dating. Women of color didn’t really turn out for her either.
So much for the year of the woman. Let’s not let a few women reaching C-level roles, or impressive lists like Forbes Most Powerful Women cloud the facts: the only thing more pervasive in America than racism is sexism. The glass ceiling is alive and well. We view women getting close as cracks in that ceiling, but it seems the opposite is true. The closer we get, the stronger it gets. In this case, people who hadn’t voted in 20 years turned out in droves to reinforce the glass ceiling and ensure that our next Commander in Chief would be a Mr. President, not a Madame President.
In response, we focus on building the self-esteem of young girls, urging them towards careers in STEM and boosting their confidence, while doing little to change the system they will enter as adults that is stacked against them.
They say the first step to solving a problem is recognizing you have one. And Secretary Clinton, in her gracious and inspiring concession speech, reminded us all that we still have work to do. Now, more than ever, it is important that we make our voices heard; and that we elevate and celebrate women in leadership roles and encourage them to tell their stories.
So many women in leadership shy away from talking about their experiences as women, for fear of being taken less seriously than their male counterparts. But our experience is different. We do overcome more hurdles, different challenges and bring a unique perspective to leadership as a result of those experiences. It’s time for accomplished, successful women to embrace their entire story, not just the sanitized, gender-free version of it we think that society will accept. Because gender bias is real. The first step to solving it is acknowledging it.