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Should we make a big deal about Diane Sawyer becoming a network news anchor?

Categories: Career Talk, Working Women Issues


Image from LA Times

I’m a fan of Diane Sawyer — she is smart, seems to treat her show guests with respect and just stunningly gorgeous — so I was happy to learn that she is taking over the nightly news anchor spot at ABC. Not all, but part of my happiness had to do with the fact that yes, here goes another woman into a highly visible position not often occupied by women. Katie Couric paved the way as the nightly news anchor for CBS and to have another woman in a coveted position is just cool. (If you want to have an “I can’t believe this moment”, consider this: Women occupy only 3% of the “clout” positions in media.)

But then I started to wonder whether we (read, we = women) should be celebrating Diane Sawyer’s new gig, as some women’s organizations are doing. Apparently she has been passed over for this job twice before and the evening news anchor job has much less panache (and many fewer viewers) than previously. OK, but I still think it’s a huge personal achievement for her. What I’m not sure about is whether by making a big deal every time a woman gains a position of power — in media, business, politics, anywhere — we are not just reinforcing the idea that it’s rare and uncommon and something out of the ordinary for women to have these positions.

Fact of the matter is, women still occupy the minority of power positions in most career fields. In some, they occupy an extreme minority. And after my five-year stint in venture capital - where women make up less than 10% of decision makers — I know how tough it can be to get to the top and to even imagine doing it in an industry where there are so few women in leading positions. At the same time, if we continue to make a big deal when a woman does reach a position of power, I feel like we keep harping on the idea that it’s something out of the ordinary and that may not be a good thing. It’s awesome, it’s great, it’s cool, it’s an accomplishment, but we maybe we should treat it more like business-as-it-should-be.

What do you think? Do you think it’s possible to over-celebrate women’s accomplishments or there’s no such thing?

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4 comments so far...

  • Women’s and men’s accomplishments should be celebrated in the same way. The first person who does X should be celebrated, whether he/she is a woman/girl or a man/boy. The same goes for whatever color his/her skin is or whether he/she was born in a different country than wherever the feat was performed.

    Recently on another site, there was a discussion of a teenaged girl who had some sort of accomplishment - in aviation I think. She was far from being the youngest person ever to do this, but they made a big deal out of it because she was the youngest African-American girl. Something to add to the African-American history timeline! But it concerned me because the message that really sends is that nonwhite children are less capable than white children, all other things remaining equal. (For those who will conclude I’m racist, my children are non-white, and the last thing I want for them is a celebration every time they do something the white kids can do.)

    I have similar feelings about gender. I have been successful in a very male-dominated field, not because I marched on Washington with NOW, but because I chose a course of study, chose to interview with certain companies, chose to work long hours, etc. In some respects my struggles were greater than those of my male colleagues, but not to the point where I was unable to pursue my calling. The main reason I didn’t “make it to the top” was that I wasn’t interested in making the additional sacrifices, i.e., denying who I am fundamentally (introverted, highly principled). Similarly, my daughters’ personalities will determine their future more than their gender. DD2 may do many things most men could never could do, because she has a very assertive and fearless personality. (My best friend [female, brown-skinned, and foreign-born] is the same way - her get-it-done reputation is 100x more important to her success than her gender - and she’s in a very male-dominated industry.) I don’t see how my kids would benefit from being told “that’s impressive for a woman.” Just “that’s impressive” is more than enough.

    To me, it makes more sense to celebrate companies that have developed strategies for making the most use of both male and female talent. Not just based on numbers, but based on the ability of both women and men to contribute productively to the extent they choose to pursue opportunities.

    SKL  |  September 9th, 2009 at 11:33 am

  • The only big deal that should be recognized is an elevation from one level to the next. Diane Sawyer is my absolute favorite news journalist with accolades dating beyond my memory. Although I celebrate Diane’s achievements, I hope that we have grown beyond the “shock” of the impact that a woman can contribute to society. Approaching 2010, we should expect that women will not be noted for being the “first” in any industry or for any professional recognition. I feel that this is a perfect transition for a woman of Diane’s distinction. Way to go!

    Stephanie Robertson  |  September 9th, 2009 at 12:26 pm

  • It shouldn’t be treated with awe, but it should be celebrated beyond the quick mention of promotion in business journals. But more because she’s a known entity. I would say she actually was already considered in that 3% media clout group so in that way it isn’t new.

    Is it possible to overcelebrate? Sure. But generally we undercelebrate and the accomplishments are undercut. Because there were barriers for so long, the celebration should focus on the barriers coming down as much as on an individual person.

    Mich  |  September 9th, 2009 at 6:16 pm

  • When I entered my career field, there were 800 of us world wide - and less than 1% were women. Those numbers - the total of us world wide AND the number of women in the field - have grown exponentially in the last 8 years. I’ve gone from being the only woman to being in a shop with nothing but women.

    Should we celebrate that? I don’t think so…but I think that it speaks volumes about the ability of women to be successful and accepted into my field.

    I think it also speaks volumes louder about the success of women in general than does Ms. Sawyer’s promotion. But on this, no one listens or cares simply because it’s not a high profile position in the media.

    I wonder what percentage of the overall population actually holds high profile, high power positions? I bet it’s miniscule. Her promotion is an anomaly for all reporters/anchors. Not every male can expect to hold such a position either.

    Phe  |  September 10th, 2009 at 12:03 pm