Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why Pick on Her?

There is plenty of shame to go around among those who were directors of Lehman Brothers. But I can appreciate the outrage that women feel over the choice of photo by the New York Times to illustrate its article spotlighting directors of companies that collapsed during the financial crisis.

As you can see from the clip above, of all the Lehman board members that it could have chosen to splash across the top of the front page of its business section, the paper chose the one high-profile female director — Marsha J. Evans, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral who after her distinguished military career ably led such organizations as the Girl Scouts of the USA, the American Red Cross, and the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) as well as being in demand for corporate board service.

I personally witnessed the umbridge taken over this sexist slight. It happened last month at the all-day globally oriented Gender Balance on Boards conference held in Washington, D.C., at Johns Hopkins University that I previously wrote about. One of the principal speakers held up the NYT offending page for all in the audience to see. A quite audible groan reverberated through the crowd — a room largely comprised of senior women executives, directors, academics and diplomats.

It is hard to tell on whom to pin the wrap for this questionable choice of graphic — the co-reporters (one of whom was a woman), the photo editor, the business editor, the copy desk, the makeup department, and/or other. But the women called it for what it was — a cheap shot.

In light of my previous blog postings this month on the theme of gender balance on boards, I am reminded anew of this experience as another example of the hard path it is, with unpleasant potholes (such as this article treatment) tripping them up, that women traverse to gain access to and succeed in the boardroom.