iron.jpgHillary Clinton brought up a great point this week on the campaign trail. She believes the media has ignored sexism against her campaign but have played up racism against Barack Obama.

It got me thinking about attitudes in the workplace. I’ve been writing about discrimination at work for many years, and it does seem sexist remarks don’t seem to carry the same weight as racist remarks among some individuals.

People seem to get more outraged when someone attacks a coworker for the color of their skin than their gender. I’m not basing this on scientific evidence, it is just what I’ve seen as an employee and in the stories workers have shared with me.

hillary.jpgHere’s what Clinton had to say in a Washington Post article this week:

“There should be equal treatment of the sexism and the racism when it raises its ugly head. It does seem as though the press at least is not as bothered by the incredible vitriol that has been engendered by the comments by people who are nothing but misogynists.”

Geraldine Ferraro, a Clinton supporter, recently made an interesting point. She was referring to the “Iron My Shirt” t-shirt that an idiot displayed at a Clinton rally:

“Suppose somebody at that Barack Obama rally said ‘Shine my shoes,’” Ferraro said. “The person would have been swamped by the media saying, ‘what, are you a racist?’ Hillary barely saw press on this. It is not only the Obama campaign. It is how the press has handled this.”

I have to take issue with Ferraro on one part of this. The press did indeed pick up the story, but I can’t help but think there would have been more outrage if a “shine my shoes” shirt was making the rounds.

What I have found is there still is a lot of racism in the workplace but that tends to be more discreet, where sexism is often overt.

Many of the high level executive women I’ve interviewed for my book “From the Sandbox to the Corner Office” told me about public displays of sexism.

One CEO had a guy put his hand on her knee in a restaurant as he talked about how she probably slept her way to the top. And so many women in power have told me how they were asked if they were secretaries during meetings. If they had been black males, I’m assuming that would never have happened.

Why? We don’t think of women in authority roles.

My husband has an even more interesting theory. He says it’s all about the fear of getting beat up that’s ingrained in boys from a young age. They take that fear into their adults lives. Basically, they’re not afraid women will beat them up. They most fear other men so they’re not as inclined to get in the face of another male no matter what race.

That doesn’t mean they won’t discriminate behind the scenes, keeping other men down by not advancing them or paying them less. But with women, they not only hit a glass ceiling because of forces behind the scene, they are also being deriding face-to-face.

Now I think I’m pretty strong and can take on many men at Fight Club, aka, the workplace. But alas it’s not just about getting gals to lift weights.

Women still make up a small minority of top executives in Corporate America, and the numbers have actually been declining. We have to start seeing women, and I’m talking to women here as well, as leaders.

“All through my career I underestimated what I could do, until the last few years,” a high level, female executive from Wal-Mart told me. “You build a perception of your potential based on what you see, the people who break out of a mold. I grew up in a blue-collar town in the 1960s where the most successful women I saw were beauticians and administrative assistants.”

How did the women CEOs I got to know handle the blatant sexism?

They confronted the sexist individuals head on, and they also often let stupid comments slide. And they had to get to a point where they believed in themselves.

Clinton’s battle for the White House has been eye opening. Whether you support her or not, it has sparked an important national conversation.

I think she has moved us all closer to visualizing a woman as a leader. We just need to translate some of that to our offices and factories.

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