You may have read about some of the mean and disturbing reactions to the first U.S. president of mixed race. What is it about someone being different that gets some people off balance and a little bit crazy? But I’m not surprised that the reaction is so strong — and I do think that current events will impact women in business in different ways.
Do you wonder what people would say if they could choose their boss? Which do you think they would prefer — a woman or other minority? Now that Obama is President-Elect, I know what I think they would say.
There’s a persuasion principle known as contrast. What it says is that we’re able to make decisions when we get to compare different things to each other. Ever notice that you can’t tell if a sock is blue or black? Put it next to a blue or black sock. It definitely looks blue in contrast to the black sock. That’s what contrast does. If you can think like intolerant people (sad thing to have to do), which do you think they would think is harder to do? Would it be to work for a woman or another minority? They might think it’s preferable to work for a woman. I think in the near future, women moving into management might find it a little easier to get acceptance in their new management roles.
Things may be different in another way. Obama got elected because people trusted that he could do the job. His experience was an issue early on. After all, he only had a few years in the Senate. Voters weren’t going to cut him any slack to be less competent as President just because he is a minority. After the financial crisis unfolded, there was a distinct difference in the two candidates’ approach to it. Enough people thought that Obama demonstrated competence and he got their vote.
I think it’s time that competence expectations are equal for everyone. That includes women. I know, from seeing how business selection decisions were made in the past, that some women got the benefits of consideration because of their gender. So did other minorities. In my case, I know my gender got me management visibility. I was a major oil company’s first female lubrication engineer. I was able to perform the job because I was prepared. Had I been male, I know it would have taken me a lot longer to get that job.
I’m hoping that gender and other areas of past consideration will not be primary factors for consideration now. Instead, selection should be made after a lengthy discussion of competence and merit. Performance expectations should be equal for everyone. If you think it’s about time we had a minority President, it’s also about time that everyone should be considered on merit, too.
I hope that I’m right that breaking the color barrier in the presidency is good for women in business. I could be horribly wrong. The idea that a minority could have such a powerful job in America could make some people so angry that they bring their resentment to work. I sure hope that this negative attitude doesn’t enter into business. That would be terrible for women — and men — in business today.