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Double standards in the workplace, advice for young women starting their careers, and whether or not Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2016 all sound like pretty typical topics for a women's conference. The difference at the 5th Annual Women in the World Summit, which kicked off in New York City on Thursday, however, was that it was Clinton herself discussing them. She and International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde both sat for an interview with Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist at The New York Times and didn't hesitate to share stories about the sexism they've both seen and experienced over their careers.
When asked whether female politicians experience public life differently than men, Clinton shared a memory of when she was a young lawyer, reading an advice column in an Arkansas newspaper. One of the questions was, "I got a promotion and will have my own office and don’t know how to decorate it. Any advice?" The columnist responded with the advice that if you’re a man, decorate your desk with family photos so people will think you’re a family man, but if you’re a woman, don’t show family photos because people will think you distract easily. “These attitudes still persist…we need to talk about them. The double standard is alive and well,” Clinton said in front of the crowd.
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Lagarde added, “When I was interviewed as a young associate by the best law firm in France, they agreed to hire me but said, 'Don’t expect to make partnership.’ I said, ‘Why?’ They said, ‘Well, you’re a woman.’ I don’t know if that [attitude] has changed massively. During board meetings with gray suits, when I speak about women’s issues, I see them smile. I say, ‘Yes, I am the lunatic woman who talks about women.'”
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The women also had advice for budding female pioneers battling sexist attitudes in the workplace. Clinton cited her predecessor and heroine, Eleanor Roosevelt. “She said, ‘If women want to be in politics, they have to grow skin like the hide of a rhino.’ Too many women are harder on themselves than circumstances warrant — they sell themselves short and take criticism personally instead of seriously … you can’t let it crush you …You have to be prepared and willing to take chances when they come your way.” The former secretary of state also shared her observations of the differences between male and female employees — when she asks a female employee to handle a task, she typically asks, ‘Do you think I am ready?’ When she asks a man? “He says, ‘When do I start?’” said Clinton.
Lagarde was equally as blunt: “Women are better equipped than men to deal with all sorts of situations and better able to adjust, which is a sign of intelligence. As a consequence, we are a threat to men … This is something I learned from my sons.
And, of course, the question of the evening — will Clinton run for president in 2016? — could not go unasked. “Secretary, is there any job you would be interested in?” Friedman asked.
As the crowd erupted in cheers, Clinton answered, “Not right now!”
But Friedman wouldn't give up — he went on to suggest that Clinton become the next president of the United States and Lagarde the president of the European Union Commission. The women shared a high-five and the audience (and Twitter) went wild.