I have had the good fortune to live a long and productive life, and enjoyed success mixed with my share of failure, I suppose. I am a white, middle-class professional man who has been lucky enough to live the American dream and to survive the stresses and pressures of my ambition in the process. I am in my 82nd year, and I marvel at the fact that I am still here, still active and still able to function reasonably well,
So, what’s this about? It’s about women. Not just those in my life, but in general.
Where are the women like Golda Meir, Benazir Bhutto, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi and other great women leaders when they are needed most? Instead, we have the likes of Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi as leading standard bearers for women in American government.
What a travesty!
Despite all the complaining to the contrary, women aren’t automatically disqualified from ascending to power in America. There are already many highly qualified women in leadership positions in America — both in business and politics. The problem is finding the right ones. Clinton and Pelosi are not among them, but both have already risen beyond their respective levels of ability and competence in a classic example of the “Peter Principle.”
My experiences have brought me to the point where I think I finally “get it.” I have come to understand the importance of women. By now you must be thinking, “This guy is off his rocker if he thinks he understands women!” And you would be right, if that’s what this is about. But it’s not. It’s actually about recognizing the role and influence of women in the modern world.
I’ve had the good fortune to work with many women throughout my career, which has given me the opportunity to observe and learn from them — not just through the usual involvements with friends, family and as co-workers, but working with them in positions of responsibility and complexity.
As a certified public accountant, my partner and I were among the first small accounting practitioners to begin hiring women. In our case, we hired young college women who were majoring in accounting. We began training them while they were still in school, then hired them after they graduated and helped them qualify for their licenses. That was in the early 1960s, long before women became the important part of the profession they are today.
Women CPAs were a rarity then. Today, they outnumber men in the profession, as licensed professionals, partners and independent practitioners, and leaders. The industry couldn’t function without them. They are smart, shrewd, clever and creative, and capable managers. And sometimes they are dumb and do dumb things. Just like men.
One of the most troubling things to me is the treatment of many women in other cultures throughout much of the world, especially in those societies where they are repressed by their religious beliefs, which deny them freedom, education and opportunity — generally relegating them to positions of servitude. Extreme examples are seen in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and parts of India. I have a hard time understanding why the men in these cultures are unable to grasp the immense loss this represents to their societies, both current and future.
Women have other characteristics in business that took me awhile to recognize and appreciate. For example, their decision-making processes generally seem to be more collaborative and less command-driven than those of men. I ran a hospital for about seven years during which the staff was about 70 percent women. I was responsible for organizing and directing the organization, both strategically and operationally. Not only are women naturally caring in roles such as nursing, but I also found that they were very capable in management and administrative responsibilities.
Today, we see American women in roles that demand great courage, such as fighter pilots (who are reputed to have a greater willingness to push the button to “take out” an enemy than are men), police officers and firefighters, to name just a few.
An example of the courage and cool-headed conduct that is often displayed by women is the incident in a Colorado Springs church, where a member of the congregation, Jeanne Assam, a former police officer, served as a volunteer security guard. When the church was attacked by an armed assassin, she advanced under fire and shot him, saving the lives of many other congregants.
One of the great things about America is the continuous expansion and acceptance of the role of women in our society, and the increasing recognition of this reality by American men. We could use more of the same, including as president of the United States. My only criterion is that they be qualified.
— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who as lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.