Amy Nelson is a contributor for Women@Forbes and shared the following article on Sept. 17, 2018.
As a working woman in America, Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings made me angry. All is not right in the world, and we all need to do something about it. The hearings are an interview for the top position in Kavanaugh’s profession, a role that interprets and preserves the most important American creed. There are few higher seats than the Supreme Court. Only 113 people have held this job in all of American history, a group that includes only four women and three people of color. This might be surprising given that roughly equal numbers of men and women have been graduating from law schools for decades, but it isn’t surprising given the distinctly different way men and women are viewed when applying for a job. And I have to ask: if a man like Kavanaugh can be promoted to the top position in his profession, what does it mean for women?
The reference check is a standard part of the interview process, meant to confirm or deny between the fit of the jobseeker and the job. Who you know matters, and reputation is paramount. Throughout the confirmation hearings, we’ve heard extensively about Kavanaugh’s experience as a basketball coach. One day, 20 young women – current and former players, including Kavanaugh’s school-age daughters, showed up in the hearing room in Catholic school uniforms. How is this relevant to whether Kavanaugh would be a “good” justice? In fact, the Associated Press called the moment an “irresistible, if contrived, photo op.” I have to laugh at the thought of bringing my three young girls to my last job interview for a senior in-house counsel role. That wouldn’t have gone over well.
If a mother of young children were to be nominated to the Court, I cannot imagine her talking about her children let alone bringing them to the confirmation hearing. To be fair, there hasn’t been a woman Supreme Court justice nominee with children under the age of 18 so we don’t really know how it would play out. But perhaps that fact in itself is answer enough and points toward the elephant in the room when it comes to motherhood and work. Motherhood is seen as a weakness in corporate America, where the maternal wall means men are more likely to be promoted than women, and women without children are more likely to be promoted than women with children. I watched the repeated references to Kavanaugh as coach and images of Kavanaugh as a father with a mixture of wonder and jealousy. The hearings put in stark light the different values we place on working mothers and fathers. Until motherhood and fatherhood are viewed the same by employers as either a strength or a weakness, women’s place in the workplace remains unsteady and unequal.
Another key aspect of a job interview is to thoroughly vet a candidate’s credentials so that the employer is confident that the person is up for the task. However, the Senators tasked with this check asked little about Kavanaugh’s skills and instead spoke summarily of his “impeccable credentials.” Instead of diving into his prior experience on the bench, the examiners focused on Kavanaugh’s kindness – and, yes, his coaching history. When Sandra Day O’Connor was nominated to the Supreme Court, she was grilled for hours on the cases she decided in her career as a judge. Women and men are asked different questions in job interviews.
I am an entrepreneur and the closest I’ve come in the past couple of years to an interview is pitching investors. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently concluded that women founders are asked about risk in pitches, while men are asked about opportunity. This attitude translates into more typical interviews where another HBR team found that the confidence that men portray – whether based in reality or fiction – is often mistaken as leadership potential and competence. In fact, the study showed that men are more likely to believe they are smarter than women – and when they fake competence, we are all fooled. These stereotypes make it all the more important to triple check references for any candidate across the board, including Kavanaugh.
The Kavanaugh hearings have taken on a different tone over the past few days, one that gives us yet another data point in the way men and women are treated differently in the arena that is corporate America. On Friday, The New Yorker Magazine reported an anonymous allegation that Kavanaugh tried to force himself on a woman when he was a 17-year-old high school student (she was 15). Shortly after The New Yorker piece ran, professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward and identified herself as the author of a letter setting out the allegations against Kavanaugh. Some reacted to the news with a question as to why Ford didn’t come forward publicly for decades. Others, like me, responded with a simple question: Why would she come forth at all knowing that it would release a torrent of questions and doubts? As she said to The Washington Post, “Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?”
In America, we have a history of not believing women when they come forward with allegations about the bad behavior of men. Anita Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his 1991 confirmation hearings. Thomas was confirmed regardless – largely, it must be noted, after a hearing based around Thomas’ “good character” as he had been a judge for less than one year. Sound familiar? At the time, Hill faced repeated, disturbing questions from 14 male Senators including a query about whether Thomas’ questions to Hill about “large breasts” in the workplace were really “that bad.” A recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission study found that one in four women is the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. But very few women report such misconduct, fearing loss of their job, reprisal, or worse.
Sexual assault survivors are even less likely to report the crime, and it isn’t hard to imagine why. It is important to stand up and say that I believe women. I believe that no one wants to put themselves into the shoes of Anita Hill or the women who survived the terror of men like Harvey Weinstein, only to have to grapple with seeking unguaranteed justice or losing it all. We are coming up to the year anniversary of the recent #MeToo movement, a watershed in which society started to grapple with the disbelief shown to survivor women naming their attackers. Even still, the Senators tasked with Kavanaugh’s ongoing interview are using all the words of doubt in response to Ford’s accusations. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley went so far as to publish a letter signed by 65 women Kavanaugh knew in high school saying he “treated women with respect.” If the fact that a man is nice to most women is a sufficient defense to allegations of misconduct made by a single woman, why would any woman ever say anything? I am grappling with the hardest questions. Who am I meant to be in a country where women are routinely questioned when we share our stories about discrimination and assault? What will happen to me if I share my own stories? Will people believe me?
Almost 20 years into walking the tightrope of being a woman in the American workforce, I’m still not sure how I should show up in the workplace. Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings left me with more questions than answers about how men and women handle – and survive – a job interview. I don’t believe that I can use my motherhood to convey strength the way Kavanaugh used his fatherhood to convey likeability or ability to perform the job with the Supreme Court. I am not convinced that I would have the strength to report assault as bravely as Ford did under such a large spotlight nor do I believe the system (or, here, the Senate) would believe me.
If this is America – and it is – I am angry. We should all be angry. Over 75 million women in America show up to work every day. We deserve an equal chance, an even playing field. The good news is that anger can be a motivator, and I’m ready for the fight. I hope you’ll all stand with me, because women are incredible leaders. Just imagine what the economy will look like when we’re at the helm.
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[IMAGE] Brett Kavanaugh, U.S. Supreme Court associate justice nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. Kavanaugh yesterday steered clear of trouble in a marathon day before a Senate panel, refusing to say whether he would overturn the constitutional right to abortion or disqualify himself from any case directly involving Trump. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg