At the United State of Women Summit in Los Angeles on Saturday, former first lady Michelle Obama talked with actor and activist Tracee Ellis Ross, star of “Black-ish,” about gender equality.
Obama expressed that girls, and women, are held to a higher standard than men, who could fail repeatedly without repercussions. Some even “fail up” and become president.
“I wish that girls could fail as bad as men do and be OK,” she said. “Because let me tell you, watching men fail up — it is frustrating. It’s frustrating to see a lot of men blow it and win. And we hold ourselves to these crazy, crazy standards.”
Obama also said that often women in the workforce “have to take some risks for our girls.”
“So many of us have gotten ourselves at the table, but we’re still too grateful to be at the table to really shake it up,” she said.
“That’s not a criticism, because for so many, just getting to the table was so hard, so you’re just holding on. But now we have to take some risks for our girls … just holding onto our seats at the table won’t be enough to help our girls be all that they can be.”
Women executives from Hilton (No. 10), The Hershey Company (No. 33), General Motors (GM) (No. 31) and Humana (No. 48) discussed strategies that have helped shake things up and move women into leadership roles at their companies during the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies event on May 1 in New York City.
For example, GM CEO Mary Barra, the first woman to lead an auto manufacturer, began her career at the company as a co-op student, and Alicia Boler-Davis started as a manufacturing engineer and now is executive vice president of global manufacturing.
DiversityInc COO Carolynn Johnson asked panelist Laura Jones, Global HR Director of GM’s Cadillac, to share why the company is successful in developing women’s talent.
“It’s a behavior we are all accountable to own,” Jones said.
She explained that Barra appointed Boler-Davis as chair of the company’s women’s advisory board.
And Boler-Davis “says boldly, we as women leaders in the company have to pay it forward,” Jones said. “It’s a behavior that we have to own and it’s on us all to engage with women in the business and actually take them forward with us.”
She continued, “Formally, Mary gathers in all the women senior leaders on a frequent basis. And she opens up the discussion of ‘Where are you engaging with certain women in the organization? What exposure are you giving them? What education can we give them?'”
Jones said that she, herself, is a recipient of that kind of mentoring at GM. She also added that the company has women’s boot camps, which are run through manufacturing, global product development sales, service and marketing.
At the United State of Women Summit on Saturday, Obama also criticized the role of women in electing President Donald Trump.
“In light of this last election, I’m concerned about us, as women, and what we think about ourselves and about each other,” she said. “What is going on in our heads where we let that happen. So I do wonder what are young girls dreaming about, if we’re still there?”
Obama continued, “When the most qualified person running was a woman and look what we did instead, I mean, that says something about where we are, if we as women are still suspicious of one another, if we still have this crazy, crazy bar that we don’t have for men … if we’re not comfortable with the notion that a woman could be our president, compared to what?”
Watch a video from the United State of Women Summit: