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Told’ja

So, the truth comes out about what it’s like to work as a woman in the White House. In Ron Susskind’s new upcoming book, Confidence Men, Women in Obama’s White House felt excluded and ignored:

A new book claims that the Obama White House is a boys’ club marred by rampant infighting that has hindered the administration’s economic policy and left top female advisers feeling excluded from key conversations.

“Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President,” by journalist Ron Suskind due out next Tuesday, details the rivalries among Obama’s top economic advisers, Larry Summers, former chairman of the National Economic Council, and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. It describes constant second-guessing by Summers, now at Harvard, who was seen by others as “imperious and heavy-handed” in his decision-making.

In an excerpt obtained by The Post, a female senior aide to President Obama called the White House a hostile environment for women.“This place would be in court for a hostile workplace,” former White House communications director Anita Dunn is quoted as saying. “Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.

[…]

It says that women occupied many of the West Wing’s senior positions, but felt outgunned and outmaneuvered by male colleagues such as former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Summers.

“I felt like a piece of meat,” Christina Romer, former head of the Council of Economic Advisers, said of one meeting in which Suskind writes she was “boxed out” by Summers.

Dunn told Suskind that the problems began during the 2008 campaign. At one point she was viewing a television ad with other campaign officials and was shocked to see no women in the spot.

“There isn’t a single woman in this ad,” Dunn said. “I was dumbfounded. It wasn’t like they were being deliberately sexist. It’s just there was no one offering a female perspective.”

The ad was later reshot, with women included.

“The president has a real woman problem,” an unnamed high-ranking female official told Suskind. “ The idea of the boys’ club being just Larry and Rahm isn’t really fair. He [Obama] was just as responsible himself.”

Based on interviews with more than 200 people inside and outside the White House, Suskind’s book comes as Obama faces the lowest poll numbers of his tenure, and deep discontent over his economic policies.

According to the book, female staffers, like Dunn and Romer, felt sidelined. In November 2009, female aides complained to the president about being left out of meetings, or ignored.

Dunn said in the interview that her husband, now-White House lawyer Bob Bauer, was “surprised to see me as someone who could be talked over in meetings.”

The short story, it’s typical corporate under-the-radar discrimination.  The women staffers and cabinet members will no doubt be told that they are being too sensitive or paranoid but after their work fails to get the recognition it deserves or requires, she’s going to feel the stress of always being on the outside looking in and missing the crucial milestones necessary to get a promotion and exercise power.  When the crucial decision making meetings happen, she won’t be aware of them.  They might be impromptu, like during lunch at a table where few women are invited to join.  Or at golf games.  Or a meeting may be arranged where the scheduler has a propensity for the hierarchical and no juniors are invited, most of those juniors happening to be women.  Or the female staffer may need to gather information and sends out a survey email, which for some unknown reason, several more senior sycophants fail to respond to.  Or at a department meeting during your presentation, the guys talk over you or interrupt you or speed up your presentation or slow it down so they can ask you questions that were not in the scope of the presentation.  If you’ve been taking data, you’ll have realized by now that men rarely receive this kind of treatment, but it all contributes to making you look just a little bit unprepared or not quite knowing what’s really going on (because you weren’t there when they told the guys what was really going on).  Heck, you’re lucky you get a chance to present at all.  The stars get their 45 minutes of fame at every meeting while you have to book a slot months in advance.  That kind of stuff.

Oh, Ladies, I have seen it all.  These are deaths by a thousand paper cuts.  It’s disrespectful, isolating, humiliating and prevents you from looking like you’re doing your best job.  But it’s not grabbing and propositioning.  Without the sexual aspect, this more pernicious and devastating career stalling form of discrimination never gets the proper attention it deserves.  The fact that this is happening at the Obama White House does not surprise me at all.  I’ve seen this report coming for two years now, ever since the bunch of guys who run Obama’s campaign thought it would be a great idea if Michelle took on a more traditional first lady role.  Let her stay at home with two school aged adolescents who no longer require full time care.  She can garden in her spare time and lecture all the other mothers about nutrition.  It so fits the upper middle class suburban mother demographic.  Her sphere of influence is to set an example of what a demure, respectful, “had my fun in my career but now find complete fulfillment as a full time mother with a lot of time on my hands to make you feel inadequate as a mother” should be.  This is the game in the suburbs, who can outmother.  Who chauffeurs more, who is more alert to safety issues, who sets more limits on their childrens’ {freinds, TVtime, sugar ingestion, independence}  She is a throw back to the woman who defers, whose identity depends on her husband.  I’m sure the evangelicals are eating it up with a genuine jesus plated spoon.  But her example does not help the women who are tasked with working with her husband and his cabinet.  The specter of Michelle, digging in the garden like a good PTA mom, contributes to an attitude that women don’t put their careers first.  They can’t handle it.  They’ll stress out and go home.  But the worst type of stress is caused by male generated obstructions that keep you from getting your work done efficiently.

The kind of behavior described in Susskind’s book results in a lot of lost opportunities.  There won’t be a lot of thinking outside the box if half of the staff doesn’t get heard or taken seriously.  It’s a waste of talent.  It costs us money.  Think of Christina Romer, giving the right answer as to the size of the stimulus package, overridden by Geithner and then having to fight for the privilege to give her input during meetings when guy after guy were called on and she was passed over.  If I were her, I’d be pissed.  But let me guess what happened when she brought it up.  She was told she wasn’t being a team player, that she was too sensitive.  What she really meant to say was, “I had something important to say and now you are going to make your decisions without hearing it”.  And they probably did.  Romer stuck it out for a couple of years and then had enough and went home.  It’s real discrimination all right but there’s no definition for the disrespect and dismissal that happens day after day.  It’s pervasive and nebulous.

What could the White House have done differently?  Well, first, it could have refrained from running such a bloody relentless, sexist campaign.  Second, it could have instituted a training program and guidelines and hold violators accountable.  That might have included instructing male staffers to answer all phone calls and emails promptly no matter who was requesting, it could have monitored the response time to those requests and analyzed the data to determine who were the biggest offenders, if could have had meetings videotaped and analyzed for inappropriate indifference to the input of female attendees or interruptions of her presentation.  It could have analysed the words used to comment on the presentations of men and women.  A computational linguist might have been hired to to this.  The White House might have made a rule about golf outings.  All golf outings must be composed of equal parts men and women.  Same with any on-site activity.  Male or female only lunch groups should be discouraged.  It’s hard to monitor off-site activities but any opportunities that result in the male staff taking their shirts off in a bar while their female companions remain clothed should be discussed as to the messages sent to all members present and the public at large.  How about a dress code?  You can’t force guys to take off their ties but there has to be a female equivalent to give them power.  Find a way to get rid of symbols of male authority and female subordination.

Have training sessions that explain how damaging it is to refer to assertive women as “not team players” or “hard to work with” or any other code word used to undermine her authority.  For too long, women are coached to walk a thin line and never be too assertive or two passive so as to not upset the mens folk.  It never works.  Women can always be criticized for something.  This coaching of female staff is completely wasted because the violators of creating this hostile workplace (and trust me, it is very hostile) are never held responsible for their behavior.  That behavior makes it very difficult for women to present their ideas and work in a manner that will be recognized and will get things done.  And when you hire women on your staff and let the men act like cock-of-the-walk assholes, the only ideas you’re going to get to work with will be the ones generated by cock-of-the-walk assholes and women will despise you because none of your solutions seem to have anything that will make their lives better.

What we’re seeing at the White House is the same kind of cut throat, kill your enemies behavior seen in corporate culture.  That culture is exacerbated by the business school class that is always trying to climb over the broken back of the person who stands in their way of the next position up the ladder.  It seeps down to all levels of the corporation and becomes intensified among the rank and file where keeping one’s job becomes a vicious and nasty game of musical chairs.  Most upper managers are men and they identify with men and many women are left without mentors or the respect they need to stay in the game.  That’s why you can see departments lose 80% of their women staffers during a layoff and never blink an eye.  Of course, some areas and fields of expertise are different than others but when the women of MIT set out to document the atrocities, they found that it wasn’t just all in their heads.  It’s real.  But it can be fixed, if there is the will to do it.  It doesn’t look like the White House thinks this is an important issue to tackle.

The fact that it’s happening at the White House and that Obama hasn’t done anything in 3 years to mitigate it, speaks volumes to me about just what kind of president he is.  Corporate, sexist without even knowing it, probably dismissive of complaints, oblivious that there’s a problem at all and incurious about why it is that so many of the people he promotes and listens to are male.

Ladies, we KNOW these guys.  Why in world would we ever want to vote for another man for president is beyond me.  Obama seems to be taking this country backwards to the 60’s.  He has learned nothing.  And sexism, far from being unimportant in the whole scheme of things, like rescuing the economy, it is the linchpin as to why the economy is in as bad shape as it is.  Sheila Bair wanted to nationalize the biggest banks, Christina Romer wanted to double the stimulus package.  They were both overruled.  The next in line to be press secretary, Karen Finney, was passed over so that Jay Carney, a dude on Biden’s staff could take the position.  What happened there?  What was even more shocking is that Nancy Pelosi wasn’t initially invited to the talks about the debt ceiling crisis.  That’s inexcusable.  No-, really, I’m amazed that the media let them get away with that.  The only person who seems to know how to command attention and respect in Obama’s cabinet is Hillary Clinton.  And we don’t even know the whole story there.  (I’m betting she doesn’t put up with un-returned phone calls and emails)

This book should be good.  I’m using one of my last 2 audible credits to snag one.  But if I were one of the Obama girls who latched onto him to look cool and aspirational instead of old, stupid and menopausal, I’d be feeling pretty stupid right now.  Big mistake.  Massive.

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