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Yes, I Can Walk in These

Gail Becker

More Than Just a ‘Plus One’

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I’m starting to feel bad for Amal Clooney. There, I said it.

Sure, she has the hats, hair and hubby that would hardly elicit pity, so I am quite surprised with this sudden bout of sympathy.

And yet, as a famed human rights lawyer, she often doesn’t get the respect she has earned. Just this week, a UK Tory justice minister claimed that that this Oxford educated expert only gets assigned high-profile cases because of her marriage to actor George Clooney.

Add that to AP’s sexist tweet last week that referred to Clooney as the ‘actor’s wife’ (a.k.a. George) in a story about three Al-Jazeera journalists. (Inquisitor)

Associated Press Tweet, Amal Clooney

George Clooney isn’t alone, of course, in having married a successful woman. Fellow actors Joseph Gordon Levitt and Eddie Redmayne did it. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg did it a few years back, and Presidents Clinton and Obama might have even started the trend. They each married today’s version of a trophy wife, as best summed up by Kristen Houghton in a Huffington Post blog.

The term ‘trophy wife’ has taken on a new, more upscale meaning. Men are finding the most attractive and sexually desirable women are not brainless beauties whose sole function is to look good and stay quiet, but women who are making good money and are in positions of power (See: Amal Clooney). The woman who got ahead on her looks by marrying a “sugar daddy” is now being replaced by the woman who is equal to her man in earning power and career position. That’s sexy.

Recently, I was invited to a professional dinner as the guest of a CEO. When the table seating assignments were sent in advance, I was surprised by what I saw: all the names and business titles of the guests (mostly male executives) were listed. Mine was the only one void of a title.

Then it hit me: I was a “plus one.”

The whole experience left me wondering how much do our titles really matter and do they matter more to women?

The answer, it seems, is debatable, though there is most certainly an emotional factor at play. As pointed out in, Job Titles: What’s In a Name? “Job titles have a much more significant effect than simply determining a pay grade and can have a deep psychological effect on employees – even determining how they perform in their jobs.”

According to a Career Builder survey, “more than half (55 percent) of respondents (men and women) said their job title isn’t an important factor in their decision to [stay with or leave a company]. When asked what’s more important than the job title, employees said pay, schedule flexibility, the ability to make a difference and challenging work, among other things.”

But for many women, titles may symbolize slightly more. I suspect I’m not the only female executive who has been mistaken for my CEO’s assistant.

Perhaps, in the same way the definition of trophy wife has evolved, society is now falling close behind. According to a recent piece in the Harvard Business Review, Rethink What You “Know” About High-Achieving Women, “the highly educated, ambitious women and men of Harvard Business School don’t differ much in terms of what they value and hope for in their lives and careers. Career-related factors figured prominently in their early definitions of success: Men and women mentioned job titles, job levels and professional achievements at roughly the same rates.”

So, I suppose that in today’s ever-evolving society we should be equally conscious of the proper title for all. Even when that title may (inadvertently) be as simple as a “plus one.”

Just ask that famous actor; you know, the one married to Amal.

Gail Becker is Edelman’s president of strategic partnerships and global integration, and is the founding chair of Edelman’s Global Women’s Executive Network.

  • Blair Donald

    Very interesting perspective, and an experience that I think tells a lot. Take a moment to notice something next time you address a group of men, or the next time you are talking to a male friend when another male friend comes along. More likely than not, you will either not be addressed or have to work much harder to have your voice heard.
    For these reasons, I think titles are even more important where women are concerned. It is not inherently ingrained into people’s minds to think of women as more than a “plus one” and a title can serve as an important reminder that indeed they are much more.

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