Tag Archives: Glass ceiling

Hillary was too perfect in an imperfect race

I cast my vote on Tuesday, November 8, with tears in my eyes, a bounce in my step and a broad smile cracking my aging face.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, for me, was no compromise candidate. She was “amply qualified” to be president, as the Washington Post and many other old-media outlets declared. I supported her over Barack Obama in 2008. I supported her over Bernie Sanders in 2016. Turns out, she was the right woman at the wrong time.hillary_mic

Weeks later, her stunning loss is doubly difficult. Our country fell back into the dark reaches of protectionism and fear with the ascension of “the Donald” as our president. But I also can’t shake the reality, the awakening, that Hillary brought this loss upon herself.

Consider this less a political analysis than a primer for women well into middle age who need to step up, speak up and shake up a system that continues to marginalize and overlook us, both in politics and at work.

Lesson 1: Be real.

Bernie Sanders was wrong when he told Clinton, in October 2015, that “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” Instead of smiling and nodding and declaring, “Me, too,” Hillary needed to explain.

Why did she set up a private email server as secretary of state? Why did she delete 30,000 messages that she deemed to be private? Nothing is private in the digital hemisphere, and this bright woman is smart enough to know that.

Why did she not explain the logic behind the “zone of privacy” that she first made public back in 1994? The suspicions about her then never entirely were erased and may have obliterated her once-promising campaign.

A communications professional and the daughter of a onetime politician, I badly wanted to get inside the Clinton war room and advise her to drop the façade. To be real! (It’s advice that a female vice president once gave me, in commenting about my outsize work ethic: “You need to let your direct reports see that you are human, Amy.”)

“I made a mistake” with the emails wasn’t good enough, not even (or especially) for this diehard supporter. I wanted to know why. I wanted to understand her better. “That would require Hillary to look inside herself,” a friend and Clinton supporter told me days before the election.

Lesson 2: Be bold.

Perfectionism is the self-defeating disease of too many girls and women — evidenced by our obsession with looks and weight, our cautious tendency to play by the rules, our earnest efforts to be the hardest working participants in any venue, from the classroom to the boardroom.

Damned if the astonishingly accomplished Hillary Rodham Clinton — the woman who came closest to breaking the nation’s highest, hardest glass ceiling — isn’t hobbled by perfectionism, too. It may have cost the race for this candidate who can’t seem to be herself in public.

Straight talk, plainly and imperfectly delivered, played well in this election cycle. Hillary — ever the student — instead favored nuance and the latest talking points from her data-driven campaign. “She’s a policy wonk, and I like that because I’m a scientist,” a neighbor said the day after the election. “But she isn’t a politician.” She didn’t have to be.

  • When Trump paraded Bill’s former female conquests before a national audience at the second debate (two days after his own lewd behavior was revealed), Hillary could have squared her shoulders and declared that she was no more responsible for Bill’s behavior than Melania was for Donald’s.
  • When Sanders hammered on the Goldman Sachs speeches, which later revealed her reasoned preference for free trade, she could have explained global markets in terms that the average worker would understand.
  • If coal jobs and auto manufacturing are never coming back, she could have won over millennial voters (and scientists, like my neighbor) by talking about the environmental and economic benefits of wind energy, solar power and mass transit.

She could have helped us as Americans see beyond ourselves and come together as a nation for our common good.

Lesson 3: Be yourself.

Reportedly a charming and plain-spoken woman in private, Hillary could have risked speaking the bold, brazen truth in this “wild west” race. If it cost her the election, at least her supporters would have felt more pride in her defeat. At least then, I could have squared my own shoulders and declared: She lost, but she did not fail.

Too often, I felt Clinton was running for president rather than telling me how she would serve. “Make America Great Again” proved to be an irresistible tagline, and she didn’t articulate what she stood for in the face of it.

I supported Hillary, who is 10 years older than I am, for her lifetime of consistent service to women’s rights. I wanted her to play the woman card in 2008 — when instead she got caught explaining her 2002 Senate vote to approve the Iraq war.

Then and now, I wanted her to run as who and what she was: a path-breaking woman who naturally has been a target since her days at Wellesley College. I wanted her to talk about her evolution in the 1960s from a so-called Goldwater girl to a liberal activist. I wanted her, as an attorney, to talk about this president’s potential to appoint two to three justices to the U.S. Supreme Court and about the reality of what life will become — for poor women, for rural women — if women’s reproductive rights get reversed.

Instead, in long discussions with my Bernie Sanders–supporting sons, I came to wonder if Hillary would say anything to get elected.

And so, the final lesson: Be of service. Action and involvement are the only options left for those of us who believed in a future that did not come to pass. Hillary will go down in history as a courageous woman whose caution overrode her conviction, who — in the face of bigotry and misogyny — consulted her poll numbers and played it way too safe.

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Women and Money: Earn, Save and Spend (in that order)

St. Paul–based financial educator Ruth Hayden has been giving women the same advice about money for 25 years.

And it’s not because she’s out of touch with the persistent problems of the gender pay gap or the glass ceiling. Far from it. No, Hayden — who literally wrote the book about women and money back in 1992 — is discouraged about how little has changed for female wage-earners in the past quarter century.Ruth Hayden

“I get more sophisticated questions than I got 20 years ago,” says Hayden, whose “Women and Money” classes are consistently sold out and whose four books include one on couples and money. “Women know the language. They know they have to make money. But they’re still deferring too long on investing, and they’re not earning enough.”

Advice may be cheap, but a conversation with the ever-quotable Hayden — a regular with Kerri Miller on Minnesota Public Radio — is like striking gold.

On financial education: “To my toes, I am a teacher. And there are three areas of money I work in:

“One, how do I earn money? Is it enough? Is the income stream sustainable? Because I’ll likely work a lot longer than I thought I would. Two, how do I consume or spend my money? Am I in charge of it? Three, how much do I accumulate? Am I in charge of my savings and investments?

“Without the first one in place — a solid income stream — the other two don’t hold.”

On saving as a necessary discipline: “The biggest risk for women is that we don’t get enough money put away fast enough. Two factors are at work: We don’t earn enough in a job that is sustainable, and we are uneducated about where to put that money. Because we feel incompetent about investing, we ignore it.”

On learning to invest: “Financial advisors tell women to pay off their house. And women like that. They like the concept of home, and they can touch it. But that’s why so many women are living in a paid-off house but don’t have enough money coming in to have a decent life inside of that house.

“Instead of telling women what they want to hear — ‘pay off your house’ — we need to encourage women to come into a field they’re uncomfortable with, and that’s the stock market. It is the only game in town to create money over time that grows ahead of inflation and taxes. All the stock market is, is other people’s businesses.”

On how to have money when you’re old: “I can start a business that I later will be able to sell. Second, I can invest in other people’s businesses, and that’s the stock market. Third, I can invest in real estate, including my own house.

“Men prefer the first one. They assume they will build a business and someone else will highly value it. I like a mixture of the three.”Women invest

On why women resent work: “If you lined up 10 women and asked them this question, they’d say, ‘Oh, no, I don’t resent my job. I have to earn money.’ Then you let the conversation go informal, and it may come out. It’s the resentment at having to do it.

“The women who are always exhausted or resentful about work have an issue with work. Somehow, they expect to be taken care of — and it used to be by a man. It’s not politically correct to say that now. But when I push on this in the women’s class, the room gets very quiet.”

On the ambiguity inherent in making choices: “Very few decisions are either right or wrong. There’s always a downside. That’s how you make a decision: ‘I want this upside, and I can manage and live with the downside.’

“This is where couples get fussed up. They look for a right and wrong. Instead of getting tangled in who’s right and who’s wrong, ask the question this way: What is the upside and what is the downside? Find a process to work through it. Make it a brainstorming session.”

On career vs. job: “When women are really overstressed, they say they’ll work in a flower shop or bookstore. No, those don’t pay well. That’s a job, and a job is temporary. A job is something I wish I didn’t have to do.

“Women need to get more engaged in the way we make money. It’s about learning to develop a career: A career is part of me. A career grows with me. Emotionally and intellectually, I own a career. And then we have to find a way to make the career more sustainable long term, because most of us will be earning money a lot longer than we thought we would be.”

On discomfort with age: “A Twin Cities–based corporation brought me in because their younger employees weren’t enrolling in the 401(k) plan. They showed me a digitized photo of me aged to 80. My brain did not recognize me. If I can’t recognize myself, why would I put money toward that person? Why would I invest money for retirement?

“I recently had a client, at 56, take $18,000 out of her retirement funds to pay for plastic surgery. And she is so happy! But she’s not examining the back end of that choice. Three decades from now, that $18,000 could go a long way toward making her comfortable.”

On women and power: “Women still feel powerless in their lives. When we pull out the credit card and get what we want: In that moment, we feel powerful.”