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When Gender Protects The Underqualified

About a year ago, Hillary Clinton showed her chops during the eleven-hour farce more commonly known as the Benghazi hearing. I wrote about the heightened scrutiny that women, including Hillary, face. I also wrote that, when listening to Hillary in the final hours of that day,

I heard poise. I heard patience. I heard graciousness when she was interrupted (over and over and over again). I heard an astounding mastery of details from long ago, a depth of emotion around the tragedy that was, and a careful focus and precision. One might say she was downright Presidential.

So I had high expectations going into this evening (expectations that she met).

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According to the Washington Post, this debate could make a real difference with more than a quarter of folks in my own age group.

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I’m both encouraged and worried about this.  With razor-thin margins, having (relatively) younger voters and Sanders supporters tuning in, it seems like there is some room for real progress coming out of this debate.  But I’m worried because I know (from my younger clients) that many younger professionals have not yet experienced enough discrimination in the workplace to be able to see how it is playing out in this election.

Or even how gender dynamics played out in the debate.  Under twenty minutes in, and Trump began interrupting Hillary and then yelling over her when that didn’t seem to work.  While Hillary followed the rules, Trump ignored them.  And while Hillary tried to discuss facts, Trump used buzzwords, abstractions, and soundbites.  He relied on his media experience to lean heavily on the cult of personality he has cultivated.

What we saw playing out on the national stage isn’t that unusual.  Experience litigating employment cases across the country teaches me that the same dynamic plays out from the mightiest boardroom to the smallest office.  So many women master the details, identify the challenges, strategize the real-world solutions, build the resumes, and otherwise follow the rules only to see their male colleagues ignore or change those rules when it suits them.  So many women watch men who are less qualified (or even woefully under-qualified) get promoted over them. So many women are blamed for things outside of their control, while male colleagues are given a pass for those same things.  So many women I represent are held responsible for the details and facts of how things actually work, but find men (in the same positions) getting rewarded for talking in abstractions and big ideas despite the fact that those abstractions and big ideas can’t work because of the details and realities they have ignored.  Workplaces depend on these under-appreciated, vital women; things would collapse without them.

All of which gets back to how much of the facts and the real world actually got debated.  I’ve never been a huge fan of politics because of the pressures to come up with snappy soundbites rather than nuanced policies (although I personally think Hillary does a pretty good job on this).   Once the election is over, the government won’t run on abstractions.  It won’t run on interruptions.  It won’t run on bluster or buzzwords.  It won’t run on soundbites or applause lines.

The debate confirmed there is only one candidate who has the capacity to move beyond campaigns and soundbites to real governance — Hillary Clinton.  And while Hillary’s gender isn’t what makes her qualified, Trump’s gender is what has allowed him to get to this point despite his shenanigans and general unpreparedness.

Katherine Kimpel

Katherine Kimpel

Kate Kimpel is the Senior Editor of Shattering the Ceiling and is also an accomplished civil rights lawyer. She represents women and people of color in discrimination cases (and other kinds of employment and civil rights matters).  When not lawyering, she likely is bragging about her hound dog Ulysses, inventing cocktails to serve at her next dinner party, or convincing her husband to watch reruns of a Joss Whedon television show (any of them will do). 

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