I had an unusual seat for the Palin-Biden debate last week. Like Arianna Huffington, I was surrounded by female titans of industry, all of whom were gathered for a conference of Most Powerful Women organized by Fortune magazine. So my fellow watchers were leaders from Wall Street, insurance, design, Silicon Valley, aerospace--a truly impressive crowd. Only, Arianna and I had different listening experiences. Whereas she reported that the women around her were clapping and guffawing in a liberal-leaning kind of way, I must have chosen the conservative side of the room. My chunk of the audience was dead silent when Palin contorted sentences and cheered when she winked at the camera. Such was these women's sympathy for Palin that, when the governor strode onto the stage at the beginning of the debate, a woman sitting next to me, who had identified herself as a staunch Republican, leaned over to a friend and said, "I really feel for her."
Why was this woman "feeling for" Palin, I wondered? Was she identifying with Palin's underdog status, a place women in business know well? Or was she projecting back to a time when she herself might have had to best a man--a very experienced man at that--in public. These are scenarios any working woman is all too familiar with.
Or maybe she was feeling for the fact that Palin, after hitting her high note during the Republican Convention, was now having to rehabilitate her image after bumbling her way through a week's worth of interviews with Katie (Mad Dog!) Couric. Everyone's had a bad week at work like that.
Whatever her specific reason, this woman was saying: Been there, done that, and we're rootin' for ya Sarah! And I get what she means. Sexism still exists. It's alive and well even in women-centric industries like fashion, beauty, and publishing. In one way or another, we're all in the bunker with Sarah Palin. But here's my question: Is that enough to justify giving her thin resume a pass? For a job that puts her in line to become the leader of the free world? Plenty of us have experienced that moment when the job of your dreams seems to drop into your lap--but just too early in your career, when you know you're not really ready, not really qualified. When you just have to say, thanks but no thanks.
As a women's magazine journalist, and now Editor of More Magazine I've spent my entire career championing, celebrating, highlighting, supporting, and raising money for any and all women trying to shatter the glass ceiling. What surprises me, however, is how the passion for shards has gotten even smart women thinking with their hearts instead of their heads. First older women castigated younger women for being infidels if they didn't support Hillary Clinton. Now another group of women wants us to ignore Palin's flyweight credentials for a heavyweight job. My question is: Would any of these corporate success stories hire a similarly thin-resumed job candidate (male or female) to be their number two? To run their multi-billion dollar banking division? To launch their satellite into space? We've all interviewed the candidates who've been pushed too rapidly up the ladder, who can talk the talk but can't really walk the walk. They aren't yet equipped for success in the job that we have to fill. And if we're smart, we say to those underqualified up-and-comers, thanks, but no thanks. For now.