Virginia Rometty and the Case for Progressive Social Policies

When Sam Palmisano, CEO of IBM announced that Virginia Rometty’s would succeed him as CEO he is reported to have said, “Ginni got it because she deserved it. It’s got zero to do with progressive social policies.”

I believe he meant to imply that Ginni Rommety earned her new position by virtue of her outstanding performance and that she wasn’t appointed as a token women (imagine a F500 board going along with such a preposterous recommendation). As well intentioned as his praise was, the statement itself indicates that Sam might need some progressive social thinking. When was the last time you heard a F500 CEO described as getting the position, “because he deserved it.”

Anyway, his message, while laudatory of Ginni, was technically inaccurate.  The very reasons she was able to earn her new position were because of progressive social policies.

For example, when it was founded in 1850, her alma mater Northwestern where she studied computer science and engineering in the late 70s had an all male student body. It was through the progressive social policies 19 years later that women were accepted “under the same terms and conditions as men.”

IBM is proud to tout on its website that the first professional women were hired by the company in the 1930s. But that effort didn’t shift the culture enough that IBM could hold itself as a paragon of women’s advancement. In the 1970s (about the time Ginni joined), as a result of the progressive pressures of the feminist movement, IBM launched its first women’s programs – and they continue today.

Alan Greenspan wrote in his autobiography that he loved to hire women because he could pay them less and their work was exemplary. If Ginni Rometty earned the equivalent of her male counterparts during her career at IBM, it was because of the progressive social concept of pay equity and the Equal Pay Act that became the law in the U.S. in 1963.

Ginni and her husband Mark have no children. I do not know whether this is by choice, so let’s have her stand in as an example of any woman and her partner. Progressive social policies about family planning make the decision about if and when to have children a choice for all of us.

So, to Sam Palmisano and all the women and men who believe that progressive social policies are irrelevant to women like Ginni advancing to top levels of corporations, I say, it’s not an either/or proposition. 

Progressive social policies have gotten women in the door. They have given us a chance to prove ourselves and to earn top spots. Progressive social policies and the women and men who fought for them deserve our thanks, not our dismissal.

Lead ON!
Susan Colantuono is CEO of Leading Women and author of No Ceiling, No Walls.
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