Daily Archives: December 17, 2006

How do you treat women?

I’ve just recent written several posts about women.

That is because the first — and I think most important — question I ask of any group, be it a family, school, company, government, nation, or religion, is

How do you treat women?

And, as we all know, the answer is always less than we would hope, often tragically so.

Looking back, I learned this lesson early on, as I was the child of divorce back when divorce was much less common than it is today. My family was just myself and my mother, Janet Shields, from the age of three on.

My mother was a very intelligent woman; for example, she was very well-read and had one of the largest vocabularies I have ever noted. Yet she didn’t have a college education, and so spent her working life in secretarial and clerical-like positions. I saw the price she had to pay of being a woman at a time when a woman’s lot was much worse than it is today.

This is also why you will find me writing from time to time on the accomplishments of women. Each such step forward brings us closer to a much better society.

But I also expect the journey to be long, and that is because of one question for which I can’t find an answer:

The male leaders, be they bosses, educators, politicians, or most importantly, religious leaders who are in a position to do something about this problem are almost all also fathers, fathers of daughters who will become women.

How can these leaders NOT try to improve women’s lot, knowing that their own daughters will suffer if they don’t?

Do they leave their paternal obligations at home when they leave in the morniing?

Are they blind?

I don’t know. If you do, please tell me.

How Suite It Isn’t: A Dearth of Female Bosses

The Sunday Business Section of the New York Times for December 17 contains a long, well-researched, carefully-written article by Julie Creswell, How Suite It Isn’t: A Dearth of Female Bosses. It is about the disappointingly small fraction of women who have achieved senior leadership positions in corporate America. It begins with a photo of Carol Bartz with the description, “Carol Bartz, the former chief executive of Autodesk, said that it was not uncommon for men in business meetings to assume that she was an office assistant, not a fellow corporate executive.”

It begins:

LIKE so many other women who entered corporate America in the 1970s, Carol Bartz simply wanted to make a little money. She did not harbor secret desires to run her own company or become chief executive of a large corporation. She just wanted to do a good job.

After working her way through college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison as a cocktail waitress (required uniform: red miniskirt, black fishnets and red feather in hair), Ms. Bartz graduated with a computer science degree in 1971. Tall, blonde, boisterous and ambitious, she entered the work force at a time when the promise of new professional opportunities for women was in the air.

What Ms. Bartz says she discovered, however, was that male counterparts and supervisors shook the corporate ladder ever more fiercely with each rung that she and other pioneering women of her generation ascended. But by combining a first-rate mind with hard work and decisive career moves, she managed to duck, bob and weave her way through Silicon Valley’s male-dominated technology industry in the 1980s.

By the early 1990s, Ms. Bartz had become one of the first women to run a large corporation. She garnered accolades from Wall Street and her peers for turning Autodesk into a leading international software company. This spring, Ms. Bartz stepped down as Autodesk’s chief executive, but she remains the executive chairwoman of its board.

Despite her hard-won reputation as an astute businesswoman, Ms. Bartz found herself repeatedly skipped over during a recent meeting of business and political leaders in Washington. The reason was that the men at the table assumed that she was an office assistant, not a fellow executive. “Happens all of the time,” Ms. Bartz says dryly, recalling the incident. “Sometimes I stand up. Sometimes I just ignore it.”

The contours of her long, bumpy journey to the chief executive’s suite reflect some of the gains women have made in navigating corporate hierarchies over the last 30 years, but also illustrate how rare it still is for a woman to get the keys to a company’s most powerful corner office. For decades, the pat explanation was that women simply had not been in the work force long enough; with patience, the pipeline would fill.

It goes on to describe the root cause:

Analysts and executive women also say that one of the biggest roadblocks between women and the c-suite is the thick layer of men who dominate boardrooms and corner offices across the country. “The men in the boardroom and the men at the top are choosing and tend to choose who they are comfortable with: other men,” Ms. Bartz says.

The article later says:

CORPORATE boards remain, for the most part, clubby and male-dominated worlds where members have attended many of the same schools, dress the same and represent a single social class, says Douglas M. Branson, a professor of corporate governance at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. In his new book, “No Seat at the Table: How Corporate Governance and Law Keep Women Out of the Boardroom,” he argues that boards can minimize their isolation from larger social issues by adding women. Others agree.

“Women on boards are the ones who pay attention to the pool of employees and succession planning and whether there are women and people of color coming up in those succession plans,” says Vicki W. Kramer, a management consultant and co-author of a study, “Critical Mass on Corporate Boards: Why Three or More Women Enhance Governance,” that was released this fall by the Wellesley Centers for Women.

Through interviews with 12 C.E.O.’s and 50 women who served on a combined 175 boards of Fortune 1000 companies, the study examined how the dynamics and issues discussed in the boardroom changed as more women were added to the mix. A single woman on a board is typically viewed as a “token woman” and is unlikely to drive female-related issues because she does not want to be seen as a one-issue director, Ms. Kramer says.

The addition of a second woman to the board only slightly changes the environment. The women sometimes feel the need to stay away from each other, worried that it will appear as if they are conspiring against the men on the board.

The tipping point is the presence of three women on a board. “Somehow, at three, gender goes away and they are much less concerned about being seen together,” Ms. Kramer says.

Still, the number of corporations with three or more women on the board is fairly limited. Only 76 boards among the Fortune 500 have three or more female members. Ms. Wilderotter herself started off as the lone woman on nearly all the 14 boards of which she has been a member over the years, with the exception of those at Xerox and the McClatchy Company. She says she is most proud of the fact that she never left a board without a woman on it. “I would finesse myself onto the nominating committee and try to populate boards with women,” she says, laughing.

It concludes with:

Ms. Mulcahy, who has been at Xerox for 30 years, says she was lucky to inherit a company in which “enlightened leaders” long ago had built an infrastructure of recruiting and sourcing and development that has created a diverse team of leaders at the top.

“I feel fortunate because this is a company that understood the value of inclusiveness before it was in vogue because it believed it was the best way to keep talent,” Ms. Mulcahy says. “But you have to keep focusing on it. This doesn’t happen by accident. But it helps to have a culture that has a history of practicing this.”

Looking forward, Ms. Wilderotter says change in the c-suite will occur only if chief executives lead by example and begin adding different voices to their leadership teams.

“I don’t think it’s about mentoring programs or diversity programs at companies — it starts with a C.E.O. who is willing to have a diverse leadership team to run his or her business,” she says. “If a C.E.O. declares through his actions that men and women are important to the performance of the company, the rest of the company takes notice and changes the paradigm.”

That is I think the key point — things will only get better if the men in senior leadership positions recognize the problem and show by example that their corporation will address it.

This is one of the reasons I’m proud to work for IBM. I’ve seen positive change in the almost twenty years I have worked for IBM. Three of my ten first-line managers have been women, among them are the two best managers I have had. I currently work for IBM’s Linux Technology Center. Its director is a woman, as are almost half of her direct reports.

IBM is also notable in allowing employees who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender to publicly acknowledge their sexuality.

And women are but one example of a minority group. Since they are half the population they constitute the largest minority group. But we need to work as hard to improve the treatment of other minority groups such as blacks, asians, hispanics and gays as we need to work to improve the lot of women.

For to not do so is to make us all a minority. To be blinded by prejudice that will not allow the talents we so desparately need to receive the proper nourishment and rewards will make our society less than it could be, at a time when — as always — we can ill afford to do so.

Barbara Friedman, Chair-Elect, Board of Governors, HUC-JIR

My son Mike is a student at HUC-JIR and so our family is on their mailing list. A recent post brought good news in the form of an article by Gary Rosenblatt that appeared in the The Jewish Week, A Woman for HUC:

Barbara Friedman, recently elected as the first woman to chair the board of governors of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, remembers how she first became involved in volunteer work for the 131-year-old Reform seminary.

She was on a UJA-Federation of New York committee discussing allocations to Jewish summer camps and was struck by one woman’s suggestion that priority be given to the Orthodox camps because “at least their grandchildren will be Jewish,” Friedman recalls.

“And as someone who was Reform, I thought to myself, ‘Am I betting on the wrong horse?’”

She took it upon herself to learn more about the movement’s activities by meeting with Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, an HUC professor, and taking part in an informal study group he had for women, which led to her joining the HUC board in 1993. [1]

A handsome, well-spoken woman in her 60s, Friedman says she has found that having women in leadership positions on the HUC board “changes the conversation” that takes place at meetings. [2]

“Relationships become important,” she says, “and women add a different kind of voice and perspective.”

More than one-third of the 55 members of the board are women.

During her 13 years on the board, Friedman says she has seen a “deepening of learning” taking place among the rabbinical and cantorial students at the seminary, and an emphasis on excellence under the leadership of Rabbi David Ellenson, the school’s president for the last five years.

Rabbi Ellenson described Friedman as a “very intelligent and personable” leader whose skills have “made the board much richer, powerful and capable.” He said he was not concerned that with women stepping into more leadership positions, men might become less involved, a problem many Reform temples are experiencing in terms of Shabbat and holiday attendance.

In recent years as many as two-thirds of the rabbinical students at HUC have been women, and some officials are concerned that there could be a tipping point above which men might be inhibited from applying. But Friedman, noting that this year’s ratio is about 50-50, said the gender issue “tends to balance out,” adding that recruiting is always an important element of the admissions process. [3]

Friedman, a graduate of Cornell University who started her career as a public school teacher in Harlem, has been very involved in Jewish volunteer work for the last three decades. She has been a lay leader of the Jewish Braille Institute, CLAL, the Jewish Outreach Institute, Central Synagogue (where she is a member) and UJA-Federation of New York.

“We want to be open and recognize that people won’t automatically come to us,” Friedman says. “We need to be able to reach people where they are.”

She says she also wants the rabbinical and cantorial schools to “grow leaders who can work with others, and who can show how our Jewish tradition speaks to a person’s sense of wholeness.”

Friedman is confident that the Reform movement, with its blend of tradition and innovation, can speak to the American Jewish community of the 21st century and provide the “authentic and inspired leadership” that Rabbi Ellenson says is required.

Toward the end of the interview, she takes from her purse a quote from business guru Jim Collins that she says she always carries around with her. Greatness, it says, is “largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.”

She hopes to bring evolutionary change to a proud institution, looking for new ways to show how Judaism continues to matter.

This story shows yet again how volunteering can lead to new opportunities, and in some cases to leadership positions.

Mazel Tov to Barbara Friedman and the HUC-JIR community.


1. Prof. Hoffman’s son Joel is a lecturer at HUC-JIR. He lives nearby and has taught and lectured at my congregation. He is a gifted teacher.

2. Why do interviewers of women so often feel an obligation to mention a woman’s appearance? “Handsome. Well-spoken” — as if these traits were unexpected. The mention of a purse later in the article is also gratuitous.

3. I noticed when I visited my son’s class in Jerusalem three years ago that at least half the rabbinical students were women. I often wonder how many Reform congregations are aware of the gender distribution of their future leaders.

Fadwa Hamdan – From Head Scarf to Army Cap, Making a New Life

Tne front page of the New York Times for December 15th has a fascinating, inspiring story by Andrea Elliot about a woman named Fadwa Hamdan: From Head Scarf to Army Cap, Making a New Life.

Ms. Hamdan is a Muslim woman who volunteered to serve in the U.S. Air Force to help start a new life. She began not in basic training but in a special program for those who had failed the basic English language competency test.

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Tex. — Stomping her boots and swinging her bony arms, Fadwa Hamdan led a column of troops through this bleak Texas base.

Only six months earlier, she wore the head scarf of a pious Muslim woman and dropped her eyes in the presence of men. Now she was marching them to dinner.

“I’m gonna be a shooting man, a shooting man!” she cried, her Jordanian accent lost in the chanting voices. “The best I can for Uncle Sam, for Uncle Sam!”

The United States military has long prided itself on molding raw recruits into hardened soldiers. Perhaps none have undergone a transformation quite like that of Ms. Hamdan.

Forbidden by her husband to work, she raised five children behind the drawn curtains of their home in Saudi Arabia. She was not allowed to drive. On the rare occasions when she set foot outside, she wore a full-face veil.

Then her world unraveled. Separated from her husband, who had taken a second wife, and torn from her children, she moved to Queens to start over. Struggling to survive on her own, she answered a recruiting advertisement for the Army and enlisted in May.

Ms. Hamdan’s passage through the military is a remarkable act of reinvention. It required courage and sacrifice. She had to remove her hijab, a sacred symbol of the faith she holds deeply. She had to embrace, at the age of 39, an arduous and unfamiliar life.

She belongs to the rare class of Muslim women who have signed up to become soldiers trained in Arabic translation. Finding Arabic-speaking women willing to serve in the military has proved daunting. Of the 317 soldiers who have completed training in the Army linguist program since 2003, just 23 are women, 13 of them Muslim.

There’s a comment further on by her on of her training officers. “Sergeant Brannon, an African-American Baptist from North Carolina, had never met a Muslim before coming to Lackland. He soon concluded that the Muslim women in his charge had survived greater struggles outside the military than anything they would face inside it.”

There’s also mention of some of the other women in the program:

Everyone, it seemed, had a sad story.

The women talked quietly after the lights went out. A Sudanese woman had come to the United States after most of her family died in a bombing in Khartoum. A 23-year-old woman had lost her Iranian mother in an honor killing.

The article speaks of her growth when faced with the challenge of having to wear shorts:

“What, we have a new soldier here?” Sergeant Brannon called out as she walked deliberately down the stairs.

“I am going to show the men I’m like them,” she told him later. “I’m a man now.”

“No, you’re not a man” he said.

“Yes, I’m a man.”

“No,” he said. “You’re a strong-willed woman.”

That became his nickname for her: strong-willed woman.

As Ms. Hamdan’s status rose with the drill sergeants, so did her standing among the soldiers.

The greatest shift for Ms. Hamdan came in her relationship with the male soldiers. They stopped taunting her about wearing shorts. When she gave orders, they listened.

“It seems like a heavy burden has been lifted from her,” Sergeant Brannon said.

Yet even as she felt herself changing, she remained steady in her faith. She never stopped praying five times a day. She attended the base’s mosque each Friday and fasted through the holy month of Ramadan.

The story has a mixed ending, as Ms. Hamdan fails the English language test and so can no longer stay in the Air Force:

Ms. Hamdan will be discharged on Dec. 15. She is unsure of what the future holds. She may stay in Texas and look for a job. She may no longer wear a hijab in public. All she knows is that she is different now, and no less a Muslim for it.

“I can face men,” she said. “I can fight. I can talk. I don’t keep it inside.”

She thought for a moment.

“I changed myself,” she said. “I’m a new Fadwa. Strong female. I like this.”

Ms. Hamdan has shown such growth that I am sure she will do well going forward.

And while I can appreciate the military must have its standards, I do wish there had been a little more flexibility in this situation. As the article notes, “Such female linguists play a crucial role for the American armed forces in Iraq, where civilian women often feel uncomfortable interacting with male troops.” Ms. Hamdam could have been one of a very, very small number of devout Muslim women willing and able to serve in Iraq with the U.S. military.

If I were a military commander in Iraq, I would be honored to be able to take M. Hamdan to meetings with local leaders, especially when meeting with Iraqi women, so I could to show them that the U.S. military had soldiers who were both women and devout Muslims. I might have to take along another translator who was more skilled at English, but I think that would have been a small price to pay.[1]

Good luck, Ms. Hamdan, and thank you for the example you have provided by sharing your story with us.

You are another in a series of brave Muslim wolmen who volunteered. I have written of others in the past and look forward to writing of more in the future. [2]


1. Then again, we’re all paying not a small price, but a big price due to the lack of flexibility in our Iraq strategy.

2. See Election Day Celebration: Christian, Jew, and Muslim

Catherine N. Pollard, 88, First Female Scoutmaster in U.S., Dies

The New York Times noted the passing of Catherine N. Pollard:

MILFORD, Conn., Dec. 14 (AP) — Catherine N. Pollard, the first woman to be a scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts of America, died on Wednesday in Seminole, Fla. She was 88.

Ms. Pollard ran a Milford troop from 1973 to 1975 because no men had volunteered. But her application for a leadership position was denied when the Boy Scouts contended that a woman was not a good role model for young boys involved in the Scouts.

The state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities sided with her, but state courts reversed the commission’s ruling. In 1987 the State Supreme Court upheld a lower-court ruling that boys “in the difficult process of maturing to adulthood” needed the guidance of men.

In February 1988, however, the Boy Scouts of America did away with all gender restrictions on volunteer positions, and Ms. Pollard, who was 69 at the time, became a scoutmaster in Milford.

“I do think that this is marvelous,” she said at the time, “because there have been women all over the United States, in fact all over the world, that have been doing these things for the Boy Scouts because they could not get a male leader, but we could not get recognition for the things we’ve done.”

Ms. Pollard was a volunteer who went on to achieve a position of leadership.

The arguments against Ms. Pollard were as wrong then as they are today.

“A woman cannot be a useful model for a young boy.” Balderdash!

It is also ironic — though more shameful than ironic — that those who wrongly argued 20 years ago that “boys in the difficult process of maturing to adulthood need the guidance of men” now equally wrongly argue that no homosexual male is capable of providing useful guidance.

I was a Cub Scout and then a Boy Scout over 50 years ago. In those days Cub Scout leaders were mostly women, and as noted above it took several decades for women to achieve leadership postions in the Boy Scouts. But sad to say, BSA seems to have retreated into the distant past, and I find its recent record opposing homosexuality shameful. [1]

My son made Eagle Scout before the age of 15 and he has considered returning his award. I was an assistant scoutmaster for a number of years. I am no longer active in BSA but were I to resume activity it would only be at the local level, one that would not imply endorsement of the national BSA organization’s current policies.

Catherine Pollard – may her memory be a blessing.


1. It’s also annoying that the public spokesman for the BSA, Greg Shields, shares my surname. I hope we’re not related. See for example http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/03/29/scouts.charges/index.html

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