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Kavanaugh And The American Woman's Guide To Surviving The Workplace

Amy Nelson is a contributor for Women@Forbes and shared the following article on Sept. 26, 2018. 

In America, women don’t tell other women how to tear down the patriarchy; we tell one another how to survive it.

I was 11 years old when Sen. Howell Heflin asked Professor Anita Hill, “Now, in trying to determine whether you are telling falsehoods or not, I have got to determine what your motivation might be. Are you a scorned woman?” I was young and I don’t remember much about the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings or Clarence Thomas’ eventual confirmation to the Supreme Court, but I recall watching my mother watch the news. I can remember the crestfallen look on her face. I recognize that look today in the mirror and in nearly every woman I pass. “Yes,” it says.“Of course. Me too.”

It feels like 1991 all over again as we watch the story unfold around U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Professor Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations of attempted rape, and the additional allegations of sexual misconduct from Deborah Ramirez and another woman who remains anonymous. Like many of you, I’ve read opinion pieces and watched the #ididntreport stories flood my Twitter feed. I nodded silently at Jennifer Weiner’s piece in The New York Times where she exclaimed: “I want to burn the frat house of America to the ground.”  I do, too. But the thing is, we - women - cannot light the whole thing on fire. We have to work here.

Twenty-seven years ago, American women (and girls like me) watched Anita Hill testify that her boss asked her out, discussed his penis size at work, and encouraged her to look at pornography. Mr. Thomas was awarded for his behavior with a seat on the Supreme Court.  Later this week, America will live stream Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony about attempted rape and while the Senate has agreed to “listen to the lady,” Sen. Lindsey Graham has assured us that he and his colleagues will “bring this to a close” because, as Graham said: “What am I supposed to do? Go ahead and ruin this guy’s life based on an accusation?” Sen. Mitch McConnell, among others, has begun the drumbeat of messaging that this is a “shameful smear campaign.” Although the media this week - from print and broadcast to the online bazaar - is all Kavanaugh all the time, we have failed to ask a simple question that has enormous consequences: How can women succeed in work when men like Kavanaugh, Graham, and McConnell make the rules? 

Then again, we do not ask men to follow rules in America.  How could we? The entire system is built to reward them for breaking the rules. Take Uber founder Travis Kalanick. Before launching Uber, Kalanick’s first startup, Scour, filed bankruptcy following a $250 billion lawsuit for copyright infringement. Despite this, Kalanick went on to raise venture capital funds for his second startup, Redswoosh, which was acquired for nearly $20 million. During his Redswoosh days, Kalanick and his partner took tax dollars from employee paychecks - which legally must be withheld and sent to the Internal Revenue Service - and reinvested the money into the start-up.  Although Kalanick’s behavior was well-known in the entrepreneurial community, Kalanick went on to raise millions more in VC investment to found and grow Uber. Kalanick built Uber to disrupt transportation options as we know it, but he did so by breaking the rules repeatedly - from using data collection tools to avoid law enforcement to taking company trips to escort bars in South Korea. Kalanick was rewarded repeatedly for his behavior with more investment and more accolades until June 2017 when he resigned as CEO following revelations of over 200 sexual harassment claims at Uber. But here’s the thing: How could we expect Kalanick to follow the rules when he’d been rewarded for breaking them for 20 years?

I’ve spent 17 years in the American workforce and I know men like Kalanick. We all do. I also know that the rules are very different for me as a woman and that, if I step out of line, there will be no reward. Kalanick was able to secure investment despite breaking the law. Women, on the other hand, are playing with a different set of cards altogether as all-female teams secured less than 3% of venture capital dollars last year. While I can’t be certain, I doubt any of those funds went to women who stepped afoul of the IRS with their earlier startups.  

And if we’re looking at the code of conduct on how to pull a seat up to the table, sometimes it’s not just the rulebook that has changed - the game has changed altogether. Just last week my chief marketing officer and I spoke about our startup, The Riveter, with a female founder in Silicon Valley. I was walking through my credentials with her and she stopped me mid-sentence. “Can I give you some advice? Next time you’re talking to an investor, you should have your CMO share your credentials and then you can explain hers. It goes over better with male investors when women introduce each other. You don’t sound boastful.” I looked at her and nodded my head. It isn’t advice I’ll take, but I know where she’s coming from.

In America, women don’t tell other women how to tear down the patriarchy, we tell one another how to survive it. We - like Blasey Ford and Ramirez - have to wake up every morning, pack the lunches, get the kids ready for school, and go to work. We’re nearly half of the primary breadwinners, but only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs. We know that we are less likely to be promoted than men, and studies tell us it will be hundreds of years before we can earn the same dollar as a man. Over 80% of us have experienced some form of sexual harassment. Given all of this, it shouldn’t be surprising that almost half of women offramp from corporate America after they have children. But what remains surprising to me - and always will - is that we aren’t moving mountains to fix this crisis. An American economy that tapped into the economic power of women would be unstoppable. It is clearly time to rewrite the rules.

Want to learn more about what the future of work looks like? Sign up for a free day pass to any of The Riveter's five locations.

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[IMAGE] A protester holds a sign that reads "...and by the way...I still believe Anita Hill #YaleLaw" in front of the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. A second allegation of sexual misconduct has emerged against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a development that has further imperiled his nomination to the Supreme Court, forced the White House and Senate Republicans onto the defensive and fueled calls from Democrats to postpone further action on his confirmation. President Donald Trump is so far standing by his nominee. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)