Dec 21,2007 00:00
Nine Tips to help Hillary Clinton win the Presidency … For the first time in American history a woman is in prime position to become the nation's next president. Roxanne Rivera says Hillary should resist the urge to become one of the boys and should embrace the femininity that helps her stand out from the pack.
England has done it. So have Ireland, India, Liberia, and more. The United States, however, has never done what these countries have—electing a woman for president. It looks like that could change soon. And in a political climate where there is a poll for everything, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton might be tempted to try to mask her femininity to blend in with her male counterparts. Roxanne Rivera—a woman with years of experience in a male-dominated industry—warns against it. She says Hillary should embrace the positive qualities that being female brings to the table.
"There has been much debate recently about how strongly Hillary should play up her femininity," notes Rivera, whose website, nocryinginconstruction.com, is a great source of information for any woman currently working or planning to work in a male-dominated industry. "Is it okay for her to show cleavage? Should she wear only pantsuits? Why is she laughing so much? Sure, these are ridiculous questions to ask about the possible future President of the United States, but they've been bandied about quite a bit. Well, there is a reason that Hillary has been so successful: She is a strong, determined, intelligent woman. She should definitely embrace her femininity."
Rivera knows what it's like to fight for success in a male-dominated industry. For twenty-two years she worked with mostly men as the head of her own construction business. She has also spent a significant amount of time researching women's roles in male-dominated industries and interviewing well-known women who are serious players in their respective testosterone-laden arenas. Her website presents some of the fruits of that labor as it explores her own and other women's experiences surviving and thriving in industries ranging from construction to engineering to academia.
"Hillary is the perfect example of what women can achieve in the ultimate male-dominated industry: politics," says Rivera. "I think many women feel as though she is representing everyone in our gender. That's only natural. My fear, though, is that because a candidate has to appeal to so many different types of people, she may at times downplay the fact that she is a strong, successful woman. I think that is a mistake, and a move that won't necessarily get her elected. I think she should strive to be herself."
Here, Rivera offers some tried-and-true advice to Hillary from one woman in a male-dominated industry to another:
Acting like a lady will take you far. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was known as a "lady" even while she met the challenges of her office head on. And being a lady didn't mean backing down from a fight. (One Soviet newspaper of the time even called her "Iron Lady.") Believing in yourself and in your inner strengths will set you apart as a lady. A lady knows and keeps her boundaries, has infinite grace under pressure, and takes care of herself. A lady never ridicules or bashes other women or men. A lady makes people feel at ease in her presence.
"I think these are rules to live by for any woman and especially for the one running for president," says Rivera. "Those aspects that define a lady are what will set Hillary apart from her competition. Jacqueline Ingrassia, the first female to win the Triple Crown, said of her career in the male-dominated world of horse racing, 'It has been a delicate balance of standing up for one's rights while maintaining dignity and class.' Those two things—dignity and class—are what can take Hillary to the top."
Don't be afraid to say no. At a time when Americans are looking for a presidential candidate who has all the answers, it can be dangerous to decline to answer a question. Hillary is and has already been faced with questions that are purely based on the assumption that she might have a hard time making tough decisions as a president simply because she is a woman. Should she answer all of them? Not necessarily, says Rivera.
"Women tend to answer every question asked of them because they do not want to be perceived as incompetent or uncooperative," she explains. "I suspect this is a challenge that Hillary has faced. On more than one occasion men made assumptions about how good a job I could do in the construction industry because I am a woman. When Hillary is faced with questions that are being asked of her simply because she is a woman, I think she should think before she speaks and weigh the pros and cons of answering. She'll have to set specific boundaries for herself in this area. Sometimes those types of questions will warrant an answer and sometimes silence will speak louder than words."
Reward directness with directness. In recent months, Hillary's laugh has gotten a lot of attention. Some felt the timing of some of her laughter was confusing and hypothesized that perhaps she was laughing in order to give the impression of a kinder and gentler Hillary Clinton. While the laughter did seem out of place on some occasions, such as the laughter that ensued when Bob Schieffer asked her how she felt about Republicans referring to her healthcare plan as "socialized medicine," at other times it came after an awkward question. Rivera says such questions are part of the "Can She Take It?" Test.
"The best way to handle the 'Can She Take It?' Test is to answer these types of questions as directly as possible. This style will win her fans among the men. I've found that men are linear thinkers, not conceptual thinkers like women, so when they make a 'Can She Take It?' remark or ask a 'Can She Take It?' question, directness back to them is better received and respected. If she does that, she'll pass the test every time!"
Let your emotional intelligence show. Hillary and her opponents have each established that they can be politically smart and manipulative when they need to be. But Rivera says that demonstrating her emotional intelligence will set Hillary apart from the other candidates. Essentially, emotional intelligence is the ability to interpret your own feelings and emotions, gauge the feelings and emotions of others, and then use that information to guide yourself and others toward specific goals. In his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman found that women tend to be more empathetic than men and are better at relating and interacting with others.
"One of the realities Hillary faces in the male-dominated race for president is that she is held to a higher standard than her male counterparts," says Rivera. "She is more critically evaluated and is under more intense scrutiny. Fortunately, as a woman she is better able to sense emotions, adapt to situations, and nurture her relationships with potential voters. I think people want a president who cares about their well-being. If Hillary really uses her emotional intelligence to show people that she understands and empathizes with them, she can be viewed as a caring woman who really understands what we Americans are feeling and going through. And she can use that information to become a great leader."
Be flexible. Sure, people want a decisive leader, but as the current administration has shown us, decisiveness for its own sake can get us in a lot of trouble. Continuing to back a decision—the war in Iraq, for instance—without being willing to consider that other alternatives could work can result in scary consequences. Americans want a decisive president, but they want a reasonable one as well. And when people think of a "reasonable" person, they picture someone who thinks rationally, has perspective, and is able to accept her fallibility. A reasonable person exercises sound judgment and has a healthy skepticism.
"I think more and more people are viewing President Bush's unmovable stance on Iraq as being unreasonable," says Rivera. "Hillary needs to demonstrate flexibility in her beliefs and show the ability to accept the unpredictability of life. She's often criticized for voting for the war in Iraq back in 2002, and I think she's right to explain her reasoning behind the decision she made then and the reason she no longer holds those positions. It's a great opportunity for her to show her ability to be flexible and to make decisions based on what's really going on rather than on a best-case-scenario situation."
Always be open and honest. In her political career, it's likely that Hillary has encountered her share of rude, chauvinistic, stubborn, and unthinking men. Hopefully, she realizes such behavior isn't characteristic of all men. The candidates she is up against have good reason to try and trip Hillary up any chance they get, but in order to appeal more to male voters, she need only share her thoughts openly and honestly.
"If you talk to men honestly and with consideration, they will open up and become less rude, less stubborn, and less unthinking," says Rivera. "Men, just like us women, like it when someone else is curious about their thoughts and opinions. Ask them what they think about an issue and watch them open up. Be straightforward when you share your feelings and thoughts. When men know that they are being dealt with in a straightforward manner, they will respect you."
Don't try to think like a man. Hillary has a tough battle ahead of her in that she has to appeal to voters—both men and women—who may not be sure what it will mean if a woman is elected president of the United States. It's true that she has had more success winning over women voters than male voters—for instance, in a recent USA Today/Gallup Poll, 50 percent of men said they wouldn't vote for her for president compared to 36 percent of women—but that doesn't mean she is doing anything wrong. She shouldn't try to start thinking like a man in order to figure out how to appeal to more male voters. If she does, they'll know in a second what is going on and will immediately call her out for being insincere.
"Hillary can still 'think' like a woman and appeal to men at the same time," insists Rivera. "I did it every day in my construction business. My advice for Hillary would be to remain open to the opinions of the men she encounters and to develop a good sense of humor around them. She also shouldn't be afraid to laugh at herself when a time calls for it. Hillary can use her experiences as a woman to help her approach issues from different perspectives, and I think that is something that male candidates will have trouble doing. Hillary has the advantage of being a woman while also having the emotional intelligence to better understand why men react and act the way they do."
Learn the intricacies of male/female dynamics. If Hillary is going to be successful in this male-dominated field, she will need a good understanding of how men and women interact. "Here's what I have learned about men and women during my career: I think men benefit more from male/female relationships than women do," says Rivera. "Men enjoy the nurturance of these relationships and enjoy 'confiding' in women. I've also noticed that women are less brutally honest and direct than men. I like the male directness I've encountered over the years because I always know where I stand with a man. And both men and women need to feel respected. If potential voters, regardless of gender, feel that Hillary respects their ideas and their feelings, they will learn to like and trust her."
Reach out to other women. Her fellow women will be an important asset for Hillary. Many women are still trying to decide who they should vote for. Hillary should embrace those female supporters that she has already won over in order to garner more support from other women voters. Women are great sounding boards and the more Hillary can interact with and learn from them the better.
"Ever heard the idea that people vote for the candidate they would enjoy having a beer with?" asks Rivera. "Well, I think that idea holds true with female voters. I think they will find Hillary more appealing if they feel like she would make a good friend for them. The benefit is that the same characteristics that men find appealing—a decisive nature and honesty, for example—women also find appealing. I think there is a special excitement among women during this political time, because we are seeing one of our own up there taking on the men without batting an eyelash. In the end I think women are sure to be Hillary's biggest support system, and she should embrace that!"
"This is an exciting time for all women, especially those who are working in male-dominated industries," says Rivera. "Women have been fighting long and hard in order to get the respect we deserve, and if America elects a woman as president, that will be a huge victory for womankind. Yes, I do think Hillary has the ability to win over both male and female voters. She needs only to show the world the strong, intelligent woman she has already proven to be."