“Particularly for women in my field and in general you have to persist.”
Nine days before Christine Blasey Ford broke her silence on allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh and forced the nation to confront how the trauma and societal pressures push most women into silence, Wendy Sherman talked about the career pressures women face as they scale the same professional ladders as men. The situations are not at all the same. And yet her discussion of the Washington “boys club” and how it looks out for its own takes on a new significance.
“You know, Jonathan, here in Washington in particular, there is a boy’s club, writ large, and folks are very tight and the guys’ club look out for each other,” Sherman told me in the latest episode of “Cape Up.” “And if a job comes open, they recommend each other for that job. Women are behind the curve in that way.” This was part of a larger discussion of her new book “Not for the Faint of Heart: Lessons in Courage, Power and Persistence.” In it, the former undersecretary of state for political affairs who was the United States’ lead negotiator in the Iran nuclear deal writes about her personal and professional lives and the lessons learned along the way.
Sherman explains that persistence must be coupled with courage and confidence. “There’s a Hewlett-Packard study that I refer to in the book that shows that men believe when they apply for a job, if they have 60 percent of the qualifications, that’s good enough. They’ll either bull—t their way, pardon me, through the rest of it or they’ll learn it along the way,” Sherman said. “Women believe that they have to meet every qualification before they take the job. And quite frankly, there have been times in my life where I’ve been asked to do things, and I’ve even wondered, ‘Well, can I do this?’ And then I think about what I’ve accomplished in my life, so far, and I say, ‘What is holding me back? How ridiculous is this?’”
“Confidence is a little different than courage,” Sherman went on to say. When it came to specific models of courage, she turned to the life of the late-Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “Whether you agreed with him or not, and he and I disagreed vociferously quite often, he certainly had courage,” Sherman said lauding his sacrifice while a prisoner of war in Vietnam. But she also talked about her own father’s courage to advertise open housing in Baltimore. “Within a short period of time, he lost 60 percent of his business. He was willing to pay the cost. He never looked back. He changed the history of residential real estate and open housing in Baltimore City,” Sherman shared. “So courage is about being willing to pay the cost and hard things usually don’t come without a cost.”
“I like power,” Sherman said with a smile when I asked to talk about that part of her book. And one of the more potent examples of her use of it was internalizing the lesson imparted to her by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright to prepare her for her role negotiating the Iran nuclear agreement. “I’m not Wendy Sherman. I’m not a woman, I’m not in my case, an American Jew, which is interesting when you sit across from Iranians. I am the United States of America,” Sherman said of the Albright advice. “And if you understand the power of being the United States of America, it’s really quite something, and quite useful.”
Listen to the podcast to hear Sherman talk more about power, how to wield it and how not to. She gets into America’s standing in the world in the age of President Trump. “A lot of our allies and partners have stepped away from us,” the former diplomat said. “The president has isolated us from the rest of the world.” She examines how she dealt with negative assertions that, she said, “Every strong woman hears along the way.” And how she “did the same thing that I felt was being done to me to my mother” who was also in real estate.
“I’d always thought of her as competent and capable, but not as a rock star. My father was the rock star,” Sherman said. But it was at her mother’s funeral “filled with hundreds of people” that Sherman had a realization. “I had stereotyped my very own mother and not seen her in the fullness of what she was.”
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj
Subscribe to Cape Up, Jonathan Capehart’s weekly podcast