What would Hillary do?

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This article was published 22/1/2015 (2308 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


What would Hillary do?

That's becoming my new rallying cry following a busy week for discussions about women in leadership positions. It began last Thursday, as I attended the day-long SHEDay 2015 conference on women in leadership roles organized by Economic Development Winnipeg and it culminated with me meeting women-in-leadership personified: Hillary Rodham Clinton Wednesday at the RBC Convention Centre.

This has led me to start examining my life through the lens of 'what would Hillary do?' She's a woman of enviable firsts. First female senator from New York. First first lady to become a senator. And one of a few female secretaries of state. The air she is breathing is pretty damn rarified and it has not been without its problems.

Her bid for the democratic nomination in 2008 was met with vitriol and to this day, she remains a target for those who believe she is, to quote US News and World Report, "the overbearing yuppie wife from hell."

But even those who seem to support her do her few favours. Sen. Clinton spoke to Wednesday's sold-out lunch crowd as part of the CIBC global perspectives series. After her keynote, she sat with the CEO of CIBC for a more relaxed chat about global issues. The first question out of Victor Dodig's mouth was about her granddaughter.

Wait. What? Seriously?

Once again, a woman of incredible power is reminded subtly that she is first and foremost a mother/grandmother.

But here's what Hillary would do, or in this case, did. She responded politely, making a joke about the fact she and her husband Bill (former president Clinton) make excuses to stop by and visit their granddaughter regularly in New York. Former Winnipeg MP Anita Neville shrugged afterwards that women politicians get asked that question so often, they just have to deal with it and move on.

Perhaps more insidious was Dodig's supercilious treatment of Clinton's three-point response to the situation in Ukraine. Dodig brought up the ongoing conflict, pointing to the large population of Ukrainians living in our city. Clinton suggested the Ukrainian government should receive more financial support, that more should be done to help Ukraine protect its borders and finally that eastern Ukrainians need to feel they, too, have a seat at the table in government so they don't feel marginalized. Dodig praised Clinton for her good grasp of the situation.

Again, what? Seriously. You did read her C.V., right? You know, where it talked about her being a former secretary of state?

Much of my response to the way Clinton was treated by someone who should know better was also discussed last week at SHEDay, with many of the speakers talking about the difficulties they faced while trying to get ahead in male-dominated leadership roles. Michelle Aitkenhead, a regional vice-president at the Royal Bank of Canada, drew my instant admiration when she bristled at a question about how to react when people call you bossy. As she rightly pointed out, being bossy means you're being a leader. Men get called bosses. Women get called bossy.

Methinks Clinton got called bossy a lot. And so, what would Hillary do? Well, one of Clinton's main supporters, Facebook chief administrative officer Sheryl Sandberg, has actually mounted a "Ban Bossy" campaign to encourage people to stop using the word bossy. Let's hope it works.

And if Clinton is too bossy, she's apparently also not qualified enough to run as for president in 2016. A 2014 Gallup poll suggested people would vote for Clinton because she is a woman, but six per cent of those polled still felt she wasn't qualified enough to be president.

Let that sink in for a while.

At SHEDay, we heard about that, too. Keynote speaker Gail Stephens, the interim president and CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, talked about the corporate glass ceiling that prevents women from getting too close to the top. Despite the fact women now make up more than half of undergraduates at universities, but hold only 15.9 per cent of board seats in corporate Canada. Around 40 per cent of companies had no female board directors, and although one-fifth of companies have 25 per cent or more women serving on their boards, more than a third have zero women on their boards.

It's really a recruiting problem. And as IBM's Beth Bell pointed out, companies need to go after women to fill these leadership positions. And they have to remain vigilant to ensure those numbers don't go down.

It's pretty clear Hillary Clinton is raising funds as she ponders her future. Wednesday's talk in Winnipeg is one of several she's given in Canada, including Saskatoon last night.

She's also been making the circuit in the United States, attracting support at dinners around the country. If she wins the nomination and then the presidency, she'll be the first woman president, breaking yet another glass ceiling.

That's what Hillary could do.


Shannon Sampert is the Free Press perspectives and politics editor.

shannon.sampert@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @paulysigh