Tuesday, 4 March, 2008 5:18 PM
Is America Ready for a Woman
What-It-Takes Tips for the Right Woman for the Job (Whoever She
It's an exciting time in America's political history. Regardless
of who is elected as our next president, he or she will be setting
a precedent. John McCain: oldest when entering office. Barack Obama:
first African-American. Hillary Clinton: first woman. Because of
these factors, the "Is America ready?" question has been
tossed about quite a bit. The "woman" angle seems to be
getting the most attention, proving that gender/power issues are
truly a national hot button. And Roxanne Rivera says she thinks
the country is ready for a female presidentbut she has to
be the right woman for the job.
"Sure it's possible
to be a woman and do really well in politics," says Rivera,
a former spokesperson for the New Mexico Republican Party and the
creator of nocryinginconstruction.com, a website aimed at women
currently working or planning to work in a male-dominated industry.
"A woman needs the same qualities to be elected president that
she needs to be successful in any male-dominated industrybasically
the right balance of strength and humanity."
And Rivera should know.
She led her own multi-million-dollar business in the male-dominated
construction industry for years, where she secured multi-million-dollar
contracts in both the government and private sectors. Those experiences
plus her years as spokesperson for the New Mexico Republican Party
make her an expert in what it takes to succeed in a male-dominated
industryand politics is one of the most testosterone-laden
of them all.
Women in politics (and
business) run into many obstacles created by the standards society
holds them to, says Rivera. If they are stern and serious, they
are portrayed as ice queens. If they show a sensitive side, they
are seen as weak, or worse, manipulative. In the '08 race, Hillary
has fought against all of these stereotypes with varying degrees
of success and failure.
"It is looking less
likely with each primary that Hillary is going to be able to secure
the Democratic Party's nomination," admits Rivera. "I
think she has fallen into a lot of the traps out there that are
set for women who are trying to be successful in male-dominated
industries. Still, I don't think her lack of success indicates that
America isn't ready for a woman to run the country. It simply indicates
that maybe Hillary isn't the right woman for the job."
So, what qualities should
a woman running for president possess? Roxanne Rivera provides a
few suggestions based on what it took for her to be a successful
CEO and business owner in the male-dominated construction industry.
There is NO crying in
politicsif you are a woman. If you are a man in politics,
you can get away with the occasional tearseveral of our past
presidents haveand it will likely only endear you to the public.
If you are a woman in politics, however, one tear causes voters,
bloggers, and members of the media to raise a million questions
about what it all means.
"When a woman in
power cries, people start to wonder if she has what it takes to
run a country, no matter how stereotypical or unfair such questions
may be," says Rivera. "After Hillary cried, it was Can
she handle the pressures she'll encounter as president? and Was
she being genuine or manipulative? By crying she threw herself right
into what I call the 'Can She Take It?' Test. As a woman in a male-dominated
industry, you must never give anyone an opportunity to question
your abilities. Next time around the female candidate must ensure
that she keeps the crying card off the table. Women should be direct,
honest, and meaningful when communicating, but they can't get emotional."
Act like a lady. Former
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher always presented herself
with grace and poise even while she met the challenges of her office
head on. And that doesn't mean she ever backed down from a fight.
(One Soviet newspaper of the time even called her "Iron Lady.")
Female political candidates should emulate Thatcher by believing
in themselves and their inner strengths. They should know and keep
their boundaries and show infinite grace under pressure. They should
refrain from ridiculing or bashing other women or men. If they do
these things, it will be easier for them to win people over.
"I think these are
rules to live by for any woman and especially those running for
president or any other political office," says Rivera. "One
place Hillary failed in this area was by not congratulating Obama
on his wins in Virginia, DC, and Maryland. It made her look like
a sore loser, not someone who values grace and poise. Consider how
Jacqueline Ingrassia, who was the first female to win the Triple
Crown, described her experiences in the male-dominated world of
horse racing. She said, 'It has been a delicate balance of standing
up for my rights while maintaining dignity and class.' Those are
two qualities that will never hurt a presidential campaign."
Let your emotional intelligence
show. Demonstrating a high level of emotional intelligence will
set women apart in the political arena. Essentially, emotional intelligence
is the ability to interpret your own feelings and emotions, gauge
the feelings and emotions of others, and then use that information
to guide yourself and others toward specific goals. In his book
Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman
found that women tend to be more empathetic than men and are better
at relating and interacting with others.
"Any woman who enters
a race for the presidency is going to be held to a higher set of
standards than her male counterparts," says Rivera. "Look
at Hillary: She is more critically evaluated and is under more intense
scrutiny. Fortunately, women are better able to sense emotions,
adapt to situations, and nurture relationships with potential voters.
I think people want a president who cares about their well-being.
The right female candidate will use her emotional intelligence to
show people that she empathizes with them. She will be a caring
woman who really understands what we Americans are feeling and going
through. And she can use that information to become a great leader."
Always be open and honest.
Any female candidate is bound to encounter men who are chauvinistic,
stubborn, and unthinking. It's a given. But in order to appeal more
to male voters, a female candidate need only share her thoughts
openly and honestly. "If you talk to men honestly and with
consideration, they will open up and become less rude, less stubborn,
and less unthinking," says Rivera. "Men, just like us
women, like it when someone else is curious about their thoughts
and opinions. Ask them what they think about an issue and watch
them open up. Be straightforward when you share your feelings and
thoughts. When men know that they are being dealt with in a straightforward
manner, they will respect you."
Learn the intricacies
of male/female dynamics. To succeed in this or any male-dominated
field, a woman needs a good understanding of gender dynamics. "Here's
what I have learned about men and women during my career: I think
men benefit more from male/female relationships than women do,"
says Rivera. "Men enjoy the nurturance of these relationships
and enjoy 'confiding' in women. I've also noticed that women are
less brutally honest and direct than men. I like the male directness
I've encountered over the years because I always know where I stand
with a man. And both men and women need to feel respected. If potential
voters, regardless of gender, feel that a female candidate respects
their ideas and their feelings, they will learn to like and trust
Reach out to other women.
Obviously, other women are key to getting a female candidate elected
as president. The right woman will be one who has an incredible
network of female supportersboth within and outside of the
political realmwho have helped her rise through the ranks
and whom she has helped in the same way. Women are great sounding
boards, and the more a female presidential candidate can interact
with and learn from them the better.
"The same characteristics
that men find appealinga decisive nature and honesty, for
examplewomen also find appealing," says Rivera. "When
a candidate has these natural qualities, or at least seeks earnestly
to cultivate them, she'll gain female supporters. I think there
is a special excitement among women during this political time,
because we are seeing one of our own up there taking on the men.
And whether Hillary wins the candidacy or not, she should be commended
for the work she has done during her campaign. I think women have
been a huge support system for Hillary, and that is sure to hold
true for other female candidates in future elections."
Be a consensus-builder.
Every great leader is a consensus-builder, but for women working
in male-dominated industries, a special effort has to be made to
bridge the gap between themselves and their male counterparts. This
becomes especially true for a woman trying to win votes in a presidential
"I think this is
an area in which Hillary failed," says Rivera. "I think
Barack has done a better job at being a consensus-builder and truly
connecting with others. At times, for me at least, it seems as though
Hillary has struggled to connect with others and has seemed tightly-wound
and off-putting. It seems as though Barack has listened to what
people in a variety of different groups want and need from the next
president, and he has been able to communicate to each of them the
way he can meet their needs both individually and as a larger population.
The next time a woman runs for president, she will have to do the
same thing. She will have to show both women and men that she understands
their needs, and she'll have to better communicate how she can meet
Show that you can make
good, strong decisions under pressure. Any time you are at the top
of the totem polewhether you are a CEO, a dean, or the President
of the United Statesnine times out of ten you are operating
under intense pressure. Part of what it takes to win the presidential
election, especially today when the war in Iraq is at the top of
everyone's list of concerns, is showing that you can handle the
pressure that comes with leading a world superpower.
"I'm not sure Hillary
has succeeded at showing she can make good decisions under pressure,"
says Rivera. "Many women in male-dominated fields tend to get
defensive when the pressure is on and then try to justify their
defensiveness. I have noticed this tendency in Hillary. For instance
in a recent debate, Hillary got the first question and came back
to the moderator with a shrill reply asking why she always got the
first question and seemed to begrudgingly say that she would answer
it anyway. Whenever I was under pressure and had the urge to become
defensive, I would consciously turn the situation around into one
in which I could be proactive. Had Hillary done that, her reaction
might have been, 'Oh wonderful, I love getting the first question
because it allows me to shine first!' By simply tweaking the way
she reacts to a pressure situation, she could have gone from looking
irritated and nervous to looking cool and composed."
Show your strength in
the right way. Women in male-dominated industries face a tough uphill
battle. They have to appear tough and capable of holding up under
pressure without being designated with the b-word by employees and
coworkers. Rivera says Hillary failed to find this balance.
"Hillary seems to
have suffered from the curse many women in male-dominated industries
have fallen victim to, which is that in order to be successful she
feels she has to be really tough and hard-nosed," says Rivera.
"As a result I think she comes across as too harsh at times,
yet another reason people have found it hard to connect with her.
In order for a woman to be elected as president, she will have to
be strong, yes, but also human. She has to prove to voters that
she can stand up for them and that she cares about them."
Don't attack your opponents.
The fastest way for a female political candidate to be labeled with
the b-word is to start attacking her opponents. In order to get
elected, the next female presidential candidate should stick to
the issues and take a pass on attacking her opponents. "Hillary
has turned off a lot of voters and members of the media by calling
Barack's campaign speeches 'rhetoric' and by constantly mentioning
his lack of national political experience," says Rivera. "Her
attacks on Barack have made her seem more like a desperate candidate
than someone who will make a great leader. Though both candidates
have given in to attacking each other to some degree, I think it
is best for a female candidate in a situation like this to take
the high road and refuse to reduce herself to using these kinds
of negative campaign tactics. Unfortunately this is not a perfect
world, and the double standard still exists. Until it is eliminated,
a woman needs to hold herself to a higher set of standards than
her male counterparts and avoid giving anyone the chance of associating
her with the b-word."
"Even if Hillary
doesn't win the candidacy, this has been an exciting time for all
women, especially those who are working in male-dominated industries,"
says Rivera. "Women have been fighting long and hard in order
to get the respect we deserve, and I think the fact that Hillary
has made it this far should be seen as a huge victory for womankind.
Perhaps Hillary will be able to turn things around. But if she doesn't,
I hope that whichever brave lady goes for the presidency next will
learn from Hillary's mistakes. Aside from being a strong, intelligent,
and caring woman, I think she will need to show a little more grace
under pressure to get the job done."
Source: DeHart &