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O’Connor bucked social norms to lead

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

As an Arizona state senator in 1971, Sandra Day O’Connor began her campaign to have a woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Here’s the kind of foolishness she had to put up with, from a fellow senator:

“When you first meet Sandra, you think: ‘What a pretty little thing.’ Next, you think: ‘My, it’s got a personality, too.’”

O’Connor had to decide which social conventions to keep and which to toss. She decided to keep wearing dresses, but here are two “rules” she flouted:
  1. Women should be seen and not heard. Appointed to the boards of trustees for both Stanford University and a renowned Native American art museum, O’Connor jumped right in on board discussions instead of sitting back in silence until she could absorb how the men on the board interacted.

  2. Women should obey the rules of etiquette. During a Navajo/Hopi land tussle the U.S. government was involved in, O’Connor wrote to U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater urging a delay in action until after an upcoming election. O’Connor either didn’t know about or ignored trouble between Goldwater and the Navajo chief.

    After Goldwater sent a pointed reply, O’Connor remained unflappable, agreeing in her return letter with his position without acknowledging her gaffe or apologizing.
What “rules” could you benefit from circumventing?

—Adapted from Sandra Day O’Connor, Joan Biskupic, HarperCollins.

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