Judging Our Leaders Should Be Unbiased

As I was preparing to head to Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women Conference, I happened to read Maureen Dowd’s column entitled, “Too Many Secrets, Not Enough Service.” It reminded me that, as businesswomen, we have made progress on one hand and, on the other, we are still moving slowly.

Dowd’s column focuses on Julia Pierson and how many believe that she got the top job to run the Secret Service because, as Bryce Covert wrote in New Republic, “Time and again, women are put in charge only when there’s a mess, and if they can’t engineer a quick cleanup, they’re shoved out the door.” There is data to show that women are often given the top job when a company needs a cleanup or turnaround. However, Dowd goes on to say in her column that, “in Pierson’s case, she earned her abrupt exit fair and square.”

With Dowd’s column top-of-mind when I reviewed the agenda for this week’s conference, I noticed that there are several women who may not have gotten their jobs if their companies were doing well and it was easier to stay the course and have a man take the steering wheel.

Instead of looking at female C-suite members to step in when times are tough, I believe they should be judged on their ability to navigate through the treacherous terrain. I wish women had an equal chance of getting the job when the going is good, and I hope that we continue to move in that direction as women prove themselves to be strong leaders.

For me, the ability to acknowledge success and failure equally in male and female leaders is considered progress. As women, we are slowly getting more at-bats and, with the numbers still small, the scrutiny on each leader is a bit more microscopic. As a society, we need to be able to judge leaders on their merit and not on an X or Y chromosome.

I look forward to a time when there’s no longer a need for a women’s-only conference, because there is parity in C-suite numbers, compensation for a job well done, and criticism and praise of all our leaders – male or female.

To me, progress occurs when we begin focusing on the reasons why a woman or man deserves to be fired, rather than their gender. Progress will also include more women stepping up and being groomed for succession at large corporations.

Barri Rafferty is Ketchum’s former CEO and current head of communications at Wells Fargo.