Clark, with whom I spoke by phone, gives credit to the #MeToo movement for exposing and bringing to justice people such as Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who was found guilty Monday on two counts of criminal sexual assault, including third-degree rape.
She worries, however, about unintended consequences that could be harmful to women. She noted that her male friends on Wall Street today are afraid to be alone with a woman, lest something they say or do lands them in trouble. She says some now hesitate to mentor women or even to have dinner without a third party present. The downside may be that women will have a harder time finding jobs.
As we traded decades-old stories from first jobs when men did all the hiring, I wondered whether women were tougher back in the day. Clark at first said yes, and then she clarified that to mean that she and her friends were by training and culture less sensitive to things that would be considered unacceptable today. Perhaps this was a function of having little choice, but Clark didn’t think of her experience that way. For whatever reasons, she came to the job steeled for battle and then worked as hard as the boys.
This doesn’t mean that Clark endorses coarse behavior or subscribes to the boys-will-be-boys school of rationalization, but she says she doesn’t take off-color things personally. “The word bitch in a joke might offend someone today,” she said, “but it doesn’t offend me because it’s not directed at me.”
Even when something crass was directly aimed at her, she took it with the attitude of a casino card dealer working the night shift, which she did after graduating from Oklahoma University. On her first day at a subsequent job with a different firm — again as the only woman — Clark was streaked by the men, including the boss. Today, streaking might lead to a federal case. But when management investigated the prank, Clark says she shrugged it off as the price of breaking the glass ceiling in a males-only hierarchy.
“I knew what they were doing,” she told me. “It was a test to see if I could handle the testosterone club.” The answer, apparently, was yes. She became a trader, starting at Salomon, and she later became the first female trader at Merrill Lynch. At 76, she’s still going strong as managing director at boutique firm Beech Hill Securities.
I reached out to Clark after I heard about her from a mutual friend in the Bloomberg campaign. Clark supports Bloomberg, her former colleague, for president. She says she does not recognize the man described in recent media reports as someone who tolerated a sexist workplace and who settled cases with plaintiffs in exchange for nondisclosure agreements. The man she sat next to in 1968 — and later reported to — was 100 percent supportive, she says. “Sure, he (Bloomberg) told raunchy jokes. I told raunchy jokes,” she said. “He saw me as a team member and wanted me to do well. . . . I honestly don’t think I would have made it if not for Mike.”
Bloomberg, it should be noted, isn’t accused of criminal behavior in the vein of a Weinstein or other powerful men who physically assaulted and harassed women. But it is also obvious that the Bloomberg campaign feels it has lost some ground since the more unpleasant details of his workplace behavior have surfaced.
Context is everything, we say, because it’s so true. Bloomberg may have been formed by circumstances that have changed, but he too must change if he’s to stay a viable candidate. To his credit, under pressure by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), he ordered an end to using nondisclosure agreements in his company to “resolve claims of sexual harassment or misconduct.” And he released three former female employees who signed them under his watch. His greater challenge may be to convincingly convey that he’s sincerely sorry for making some women feel uncomfortable by jokes that weren’t, in fact, funny.
Whether voters are willing to overlook Bloomberg’s past will be determined next week on Super Tuesday, the first time his name will appear on primary ballots. I’d rather wonder whether a brilliant businessman with rational ideas has lust in his heart than listen to the car horn of Bernie Sanders’s voice promising socialist remedies to economic prosperity.
Assuming, that is, the coronavirus doesn’t ruin us all.