Donald Trump’s election conjured up a memory of something that took place a few years ago, at a meeting my colleagues and I took with a private equity firm.
The firm had just completed a successful deal for a food-and-beverage company. After spending several minutes regaling a female partner’s performance in the deal, the firm’s male founder instructed her to go into the break room for some of the company’s products. She walked back in with a tray, stocked with glasses and cans, distributing one of each for the reporters in the room to sample.
Something about the scenario felt off. And while it may have been banal, benign or completely unworthy of mention, I just can’t imagine the opposite — a female founder bypassing her office assistants and instructing a male deal partner to serve drinks to a group of reporters.
Private equity and venture capital have always struggled to attract, promote and retain female talent. And while Trump has few vocal fans in the industry, his election is being portrayed as an affirmation of latent and/or blatant sexism within society’s upper echelon. An acknowledgement that, at the end of the day, there aren’t many consequences for mistreating women.
And when I think about that, it reminds me of every off-color, boys-will-be-boys joke I’ve heard at private equity conferences or around the bar. The implicit sense of entitlement that certain men I’ve covered exude. Lastly, and most important, it’s forced me to look in the mirror — blonde-haired, blue-eyed, a former fraternity man — and reckon with my own complacency in varying degrees of chauvinism and misogyny.
And I hope that I am somehow better. That the man I was, the man I’ve become, the men I work with and the men I cover can leap over the shockingly low bar we set for ourselves. But that small accomplishment — and basic respect is by no means an accomplishment — feels false without reflection. It’s empty without acknowledging the moments in each of our lives that seemed benign, banal or harmless in the moment.
I sincerely hope and believe that we can. But without that, we have no hope for improvement.
Photo of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. Courtesy of REUTERS/Carlo Allegri