Friday, January 20, 2012

Reality for Black Women in Corporate America



Last week I came across an article that revealed "in-depth details" about US First Lady Michelle Obama and her relationship with White House Staff. The book titled "The Obamas" was written by New York Times Reporter, Jodi Kantor. In the book, Kantor reveals details about the First Lady's negative interactions with her husband's most senior advisers and attempts to label her as someone dictating US policy through the President. Kantor's sources are current and former white house aides. Without promoting this book and going into an in-depth report, basically Mrs. Obama is summed up as an "angry black woman" and someone who is overly ambitious of her husband's agenda and an overall force to be reckoned with in the West Wing. After reading through the various reports, it appeared to me that Mrs. Obama is simply supporting her husband (which is what a good wife is supposed to do), acting as a confidante and serving as a voice of outside reason to the President. As cited by Kantor through her sources, allegedly Mrs. Obama was unhappy with the line up of her husband's staff and often times felt they didn't have his best interests at heart with regard to certain policy matters.

Michelle Obama Debunks Kantor's Claims


This is not a new story and I am afraid we will continue to hear this story. We've entered an era of progressive women who are successful in their own right. We can anticipate seeing more US First Ladies like Michelle Obama in the future. In the 1990's while President Clinton was in office, his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton was crucified as well for her active role in her husband's administration. It was often joked that Hillary was really President during the Clinton years - in my opinion a very biased and sexist assumption/joke. I hate to sound like some righteous feminist, because I am far from that, but we all know that this mess would not even be taking place if the genders were reversed. The deeper issue that comes to my mind and is most alarming to me, is the perception that all of this places on women in Corporate America - specifically black women in "Corporate America." The mislabeling of First Lady Michelle Obama and the negative images of her portrayed in this book are directly related to the plight of black women in Corporate America.



Today, there are six African-American CEO's who sit at the head of America's Fortune 500 companies. Of those six, one is a woman, Ursula Burns of Xerox. As a young black woman working up the ranks, I can't even begin to tell you how sad and depressed this makes me. In 2012, we have one woman at the helm of a Fortune 500 and there doesn't appear to be any other black women in sight who could help increase this number. Woman continue to be deprived of development and the leadership opportunities early on in their careers, that prepares them to ascend to the top of organizations. Yes we have come a long way, but we still have a lot of work to do.

In her interview with Gayle King last week, Mrs. Obama acknowledged that there has been an active campaign to bring forth proof, that she is an "angry black woman." Imagine that, the nations first African-American First Lady, who happens to be whip smart, beautiful, was successful in her own right along with her husband, and most importantly, she is highly educated. All of these positive attributes and she still has to fight back against negative stereo types? Her strength is mistaken for arrogance. However, at the end of the day, Michelle Obama only has to fight back against these stereotypes to perfect an image that is inspiring and serves as a role model to young women like myself. If we really think about it, she could keep quiet on all of this and go about her merry way. Post Obama Presidency, the First Lady will be well off and will probably lend her time to philanthropy and become a global ambassador for a cause that is near and dear to her heart. Let's just say Mrs. Obama will not be job-hunting, going on interviews or seeking professional development or promotions in a particular field. She will not be subjected to the scrutiny or placed under the magnifying glass that black women in Corporate America are placed under.

It's no secret that I admire Mrs. Obama and look at her an example of the type of woman I hope to be in the future. Her role as first lady was supposed to give the world a better image of black women, especially in America. After the 2008 election I was most excited about Michelle Obama's role, because I finally had a woman who looked like me, spoke like me and most importantly had ambition that mirroed my own. Most positive images of black women were not in the work place, they were in entertainement or sports. As much a people dislike Condoleezza Rice, she actually personified the image of a successful black woman who was motivated, ambitious and highly educated. Taking policy or political views out of the equation, Ms. Rice suffered the same negative stereotypes that Mrs. Obama is being subjecteed to, today. Why can't black women get a break?




In reality, this is all very revealing and lets me know, we have an even further way to go until black women are respected for their thoughts and ideas and their ambition is not mistaken for arrogance. If Mrs. Obama is being labeled, what does that mean for me?




Do we share the same sentiments.....




What can black women do to change the "Angry Black Woman" stereotype that is often associated with them?


Is Michelle Obama an "Angry Black " woman?


Did you have any expectations for Michelle Obama and her image impacting black women across Corporate America?


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