Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs


……..of women

At The Leading Women Project, we focus on issues of women’s leadership. We are trying to keep politics out of our blogs.  But forgive me if I have to bring up the last Presidential debate as comments made fill my thinking.


I have been in many binders in my life. .  Not me physically but certainly my bio and resume.  In many companies and organizations there are real candidates (real=white men) and then there are alternate or stretch candidates (women and male minorities).  And this was very real.

I was first aware of the difference thirty years ago when I worked for a company that made military vehicles.  The role of Purchasing Manager (who spent $500 million a year) was a big job.  Reporting to that man were two women who ran the functions of the department.  Everyone else reported to the two women.  The head of the division kept pushing for a man to be in the department so that there was a succession plan for the manager.  After all we two women could not be real successors.  We needed more grooming to be made real candidates. The perception was that women should be in less risky jobs like HR. At a major executive review I dressed in a blue blazer, grey slacks and a tie (the standard uniform in that plant) so that they could see me as real. Then I left the company.

Over the years, despite my record of success in many difficult environments, I was rarely considered by executive management to be a real candidate for promotion as I was different (female).  But I could be pulled out at various times to balance the team picture and show some gender diversity.  When there was someone who believed in me, I was promoted but had to meet tougher standards.  And I succeeded.

When I headed operations at a major power company, the CEO was chastised by the Chairman of the Board for hiring me.  He knew operations executives and I did not look tough enough.  Clearly they had found me in a binder of alternate candidates—despite my having been successful in similar jobs in other companies. Yet I developed programs that brought major returns to the company.

I cannot speak for all women, but I would hope that we are at a point when we should no longer be in those “special” binders.  We do not need special accommodations for family.  We are real executives and solid leaders and make a difference.  We not only deserve equal opportunities and equal pay, smart organizations will take us out of binders.

Christine Jacobs is an experienced corporate executive and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

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