Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina each took their respective presidential debate stages surrounded by men. It's an image that was impossible not to see, but one that is all too familiar to successful businesswomen who have had no choice but to adapt to being only woman in rooms filled with men in male dominated businesses.. On stage were two women who are the products of those kinds of backgrounds. Clinton and Fiorina represented their gender simply by being there, but their presence as women said much more. It's the first time that two strong women, despite their vast political differences, have been front and center on that stage. And strong is a key word.
For years strong women have been viewed as threatening by many men. The psychology of that thinking has been studied, reviewed, and studied again. Strength alone, that attribute viewed as a golden commodity in men, has blunted many a female career. But it seems we have reached an important turning point. While Hillary is today's Democratic frontrunner and Carly is trailing in the single digits, the fact that each woman is being taken seriously by their challengers (Trump aside) and the public is a landmark in its own right.
Watching Fiorina at the Republican debates showed a woman who had learned her presentation skills well as she climbed the corporate ladder. She knew how to firmly and clearly deliver her thoughts. The fact that her thoughts regarding women's issues struck a raw nerve with many women when she stated that paid maternity leave should be left up to the private sector to decide and not the government cannot be disregarded. Reality check. If businesses had been providing such leave all along, there would have been no need for the government to get involved. Her attacks on a woman's right to choose and factually incorrect statements about Planned Parenthood showed a woman who forgot the importance of the word choice for women in the whole matter.
Hillary was a strong woman comfortable in her own skin at the first Democratic presidential debate. She has been a strong supporter of women over the years, but it has taken her until this point to bring those issues front and center in her campaign. Family leave and work life balance now have a formal candidate champion.
Europe has set the bar for strong women in positions of political leadership showcasing British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Is the United States ready to do the same?