Between them, they run one of the world’s most prestigious universities, one of its biggest companies and one of its most powerful institutions. It’s hard to imagine anyone telling Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, Drew Faust, the president of Harvard, or Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi, that they couldn’t succeed because of their gender – but that’s precisely what happened.
In different situations, these three women were effectively told the same thing: that girls and women shouldn’t aspire to the same goals as boys and men. It’s a message that’s stubbornly pervasive in every society in the world, reinforcing a global gender gap. Unsurprisingly, Lagarde, Faust and Nooyi refused to listen to it. Here’s how they reacted when faced with overt sexism and dubious advice.
Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, walked out of a job interview
Long before she was appointed managing director of the International Monetary Fund in 2011, Lagarde started her career as a lawyer. CNN reported her telling the following story:
“It was when I applied to the biggest law firm in Paris and I was told that I would be a great recruit and that I would be given good work to do – but that I should never expect to make partnership because I was a woman.
“I thought to myself: ‘You don’t deserve me, I’m going.’ And I had that sense of extraordinary freedom, walking down the staircase and thinking to myself: ‘What would I do in this firm? Why would I work with that kind of attitude?”
Rather than just “making partnership”, Lagarde went on to became the first female chair of the international law firm Baker & McKenzie, the first female finance minister of a G8 economy (and ranked the best in the Eurozone by the FT in 2009), and the first woman to head the IMF. Here she is on the stage at Davos earlier this year, discussing the outlook for the global economy in 2016:
Although the kind of overt sexism Lagarde encountered in her interview is – thankfully – increasingly rare, a World Economic Forum survey showed that “unconscious bias” from managers was still seen as the biggest barrier to success for women in today’s workplace.”
President of Harvard: Drew Faust
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