While Hollywood is clearly prepared to embrace the rise of “woman power,” the strategies and lexicon of the movement may still trigger pockets of angst. The events of this week provided helpful focus. “I am being judged by my accomplishments, not because I am a woman,” declared Ann Sarnoff upon being announced as the new boss of Warner Bros. Her point was clear, but so was the context.
A study was released this week pointing out that women now spend longer hours on the job than men and also get less sleep. Arguably that data already is reflected in the changing landscape. Some 127 women now sit in Congress. Women now hold the top jobs at both the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. New data reports the emergence of more women directors in film and TV, even among the news chiefs at TV networks (Susan Zirinsky at CBS).
Women’s soccer has received unprecedented coverage in the media this month. Even the obit pages reflect change: The New York Times not only gives the most prominent coverage to deceased women but also publishes obits of famous women of generations past whose stories were first ignored.
Special sections in magazines and newspapers are now regularly devoted to “girl power” and are giving rise to a whole new lexicon. Well-paid consultants are regularly quoted exploring phenomena like “the imposter syndrome”– the feeling among newly empowered women that they aren’t deserving of their promotions. Other gurus cite fears of the “likability gap” – the concern of women that they alienate male bosses when they demand pay increases. “The motherhood penalty” also is receiving overdue examination, as women strive to combine work and parenting.
All of which leads to what has come to be called “gender judo” – the mastery of leadership traits that combine the virtues of both sexes. One role model is Jacinda Ardern, the 38-year-old prime minister of New Zealand, who advocates leadership empathy but argues that “It takes greater strength to be an empathetic leader.”
Real empowerment, say her adherents, avoids conforming to the conventional standards set by men, instead creating new disciplines banishing self-doubt. “The beauty and danger of the imposter syndrome is you vacillate between egomania and a feeling of ‘I’m a fraud and they’re onto me,” observes Tina Fey, who advises women to maintain their “inner weird.”
One senses that Sarnoff, having worked in a variety of media environments, has more than a passing acquaintance with these new disciplines.