If 2017 was the year of badly behaved men meeting their downfall, 2018 might just bring something better: well-qualified women replacing them.
For starters: Hoda Kotb is replacing Matt Lauer on the 7 a.m. hour of NBC’s “Today” show after Lauer was fired for allegedly sexually harassing his female coworkers. There is little justice sweeter than a woman taking over for a man with a habit of mistreating women, and little that feels quite as fair and fitting.
And Gretchen Carlson was named the new chair of the Miss America Organization after the group’s CEO was found to have made grossly sexist and insulting comments about pageant participants and other women in emails to colleagues. Carlson is the former “Fox & Friends” anchor who won a $20 million settlement after Fox CEO Roger Ailes allegedly harassed her at work.
This is as it should be. Men shouldn’t just step down if they abuse their power and influence. They should also see their jobs taken by women who won’t do that.
It is hardly an unfair move, or an elevating of the undeserving in reaction to a scorching year of sexual harassment cases. Women are more than half of the population, after all, and we’ve outnumbered men among college graduates for more than a decade now.
There’s no shortage of well-qualified women across nearly all occupational sectors, but women have seen our opportunities systematically thwarted — by policies that make it unnecessarily difficult to be a mother and an employee, by gendered perceptions of competence and intelligence that in the long term depress our trajectories and our pay, and, significantly, by sexual harassment that makes too many workplaces inhospitable and leads too many women to simply drop out.
Suggestions to replace harassers with women will be invariably met with accusations of “affirmative action” or suggestions that feminists are saying employers shouldn’t simply hire the best person for the job. The problem is that for too long, women have been the best people for all kinds of jobs, and we still haven’t been hired or promoted accordingly.
White men dominate powerful positions, and tend to hire those who look like themselves. And study after study has shown that maleness in and of itself offers men unearned advantages. They’re seen as more competent and are professionally rewarded for being perceived as promising without having to prove themselves.
Women have no such advantages, and so there is a massive under-tapped talent pool. As employers consider who to hire in the place of men who exploit their positions to prey on women, they should start there: with all the women who have been under-recognized and under-utilized because they don’t fit a masculine ideal of power and authority.
There’s little risk that replacing sexual harassers with women will mean a major loss of male talent. On the contrary, it may finally open up paths to power, influence, and the unleashing of a creative voice that have been blocked for so many of us.
Hopefully, this will extend far beyond the notorious and famous. As sexual harassment is taken more seriously in high-profile companies — and when it comes to high-profile men — women who aren’t famous may be more inclined to pursue claims about their non-famous bosses, too.
In this, women are already helping each other. A group of famous and visible women, including Hollywood actresses, agents, directors and producers, just published their plans for an anti-harassment initiative that pushes gender parity and legal accountability for companies that tolerate misbehavior. It also establishes a legal defense fund for working-class women who don’t have the name recognition of a Salma Hayek or a Rose McGowan.
These women hit the solutions on the nose. To be fully accountable, every workplace dealing with sexual harassment claims — and at this rate, that’s a lot of workplaces, perhaps most of them — should not only have procedures for reporting claims and holding perpetrators accountable, but for building a workplace less accepting of misogyny.
You can’t do that without women on board — especially women, like Hoda Kotb, in leadership positions.
This last year was a reckoning, and for many people (it seems men especially) a bit of a shock. This year, we can go from confrontation and dethroning to action and rebuilding — but only if we put women at the helm.