Does achievement have a gender?

Does achievement have a gender? That’s the question that kept nagging at me after I read an obituary of a well known and well respected journalist.

The obituary’s first line read: “Arguably, the best female reporter/writer in the history of Chicago journalism……”  And my first reaction was… female? Why the restriction? Why isn’t she just one of the best reporters?

The paper’s online ombudsman is on Twitter (it was his tweet that brought the obit to my attention) so I Tweeted a quick comment about my reaction. And his response was even more intriguing to me: “Give her the “female” as a badge of honor….one more hurdle to overcome in that era.”

I don’t disagree with him in principle. I know he and the author of the piece are great at their jobs and meant no disrespect. I just wondering if that’s an honor, or a limiting label – then, or now.

Do we still need to measure gender? Or for that matter, any other label? Do we only compare Asians to other Asians? How about LGBT people? Or differently abled people?

I don’t know how objective or important my opinion is on this one – I am a guy, after all, and have never had my gender limit the possibilities of what I could achieve in a job. In my career, I’ve worked almost exclusively for women, and with one Cruella de Vil-esque exception, they were all great managers and great leaders. The women I’ve worked for have had more consensus-based, flexible, results oriented management styles, and they were always more aware of a need for life/work balance.

If I think about it beyond that, however, I’d realize that all of those women reported to male managers or executives. The glass ceiling may be less obvious, but it seems to still be in place.

So….I’m thinking it IS still a matter of importance how we describe people – and how we describe their accomplishments.

Am I being too sensitive? I’m curious to know your thoughts. 

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