How We All Lose When Women Are Devalued

A coaching client recently shared with me that while still a college student she was sexually assaulted by an important person at her school. When she told her guidance counselor about it, he advised her to say nothing to protect the reputation of the school. She said nothing. Now, many years later, and thanks to the #MeToo movement and some professional development work she’s engaged in, she has become aware that some of her physical and emotional problems are probably related to the buried trauma from her sexual assault. For the first time, she is starting to talk about what happened to her, which is so important for the healing process. Untreated trauma from sexual assault can cost victims their health, marriages, careers, and their lives if it is not addressed. As Sallie Krawcheck of the New York Times writes, it can seem like a seismic shift is taking place in our culture as the avalanche of sexual harassment and assault stories, previously unspoken, silenced, or disbelieved, come pouring out. While this outpouring is important, Krawcheck notes that sexual harassment is part of a larger problem in our culture: women are demeaned and devalued. The cost of demeaning and devaluing women is not only the high incidence of sexual harassment and a general culture of rape on our college campuses and elsewhere but a problem that’s costing all of us in other ways as well:

  • Women’s ideas are discounted and their talents ignored in all kinds of social, academic, and work settings. In a previous article, I wrote about Krawcheck’s direct experience with the ways that homogeneity on Wall Street resulted in the groupthink that crashed our economy in 2008 with the subprime lending debacle. Krawcheck was fired from a senior leadership position at Smith Barney for diverging from the groupthink of the financial industry and daring to be client focused. We all lost when the market crashed.
  • Krawcheck points out that, “despite research showing that companies with more diversity, and particularly with more women in leadership, offer higher returns on capital, lower risk and greater innovation than firms without such leadership, Wall Street has been, and is, predominantly male at the top,” as are most other sectors of our economy. Without diversity of perspectives and a broad range of skills, poor decisions get made that can have widespread impact on the lives of everyday people.
I agree with Krawcheck that the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are important, but that the current focus on sexual harassment is only one step on the change journey. Valuing girls and women means eliminating gender bias in our workplaces and institutions and creating safe, respectful and inclusive workplaces, schools, and social institutions.   Photo by Sam Valadi, CC BY 2.0.]]>