Oprah put a fork in it with her speech at the Golden Globes. We are experiencing a tectonic shift in attitudes about sexual harassment. Every woman I know in business and the professions is celebrating the dawn of zero tolerance. In conversations at the gym, over lunch and dinner we share our personal stories. And breathe sighs of relief that predators like Harvey Weinstein are being ousted and ostracized.
During a long career as a business owner and a corporate executive, I’ve experienced my share of overt and covert discrimination—like almost any woman of my age. But I’ve realized something else that gets buried in all the noise about harassment. For me there are also good guys, who are unsung heroes of my journey. These smart, talented and supremely decent men supported my ambition and encouraged me to pursue greater opportunities along the way. Even when it wasn’t popular or easy to support a woman’s advancement.
In graduate school I had an internship at the LA bureau of Time magazine. The bureau chief recommended me for a permanent position with the magazine, then in its heyday. He engineered a company-paid trip for me to interview at their NY headquarters. This was unheard of in an era when Time did not hire women as reporters. The only women hired were graduates of elite colleges, who were consigned to work in the female ghetto of “reporter-researchers.” I was offered a position with Time Life Books doing cookbooks—despite the fact that I didn’t cook. This obviously went nowhere. To this day I remember Dick Duncan (who later rose to chief of correspondents and executive editor) lobbying the powers that be to hire me, contrary to their normal practices.
As I moved through my 30s and 40s working at corporations, I advanced in my career, and in my last major corporate job, I managed large teams with multi-million dollar budgets. But like many senior women in corporations, my career plateaued at the upper-middle management SVP level. Why? At least part of the reason is that the next level up closer to the C-suite was all-male territory.
I left and started my own public relations/communications business. My first client was the brilliant and gracious general counsel of an investment company. He took a risk on hiring someone who was starting her first business. My company worked with him and senior leaders of this firm for a decade. That was the beginning of a successful career as an agency owner. After years of hitting my head on the glass ceiling in corporate America, it was sheer joy to be limited only by my own drive and ability.
What did the men who “helped” at key points in my career have in common? They didn’t care if I was male or female. They recognized hard work and ability and simply gave me a chance. Throughout my career, I have sought and fought for the opportunity to exercise my talents to the fullest through my work. Isn’t this pretty much what we all—both men and women—want? We expect and deserve the opportunity to compete for income, advancement and growth on the job. Without harassment and discrimination.
Oprah called it right: let’s recognize all the amazing men who have been there for us–and encourage the rest to get on board. Because this train has left the station.
By Patricia Harden, President