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Outliers: The Story of Successful Women

Books | December 26th, 2008 1 Comment

Some time ago, I found myself at the bookstore, seeking something new and exciting to spice up a reading list that my then attention-less brain couldn’t seem to focus on. As I reached for Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, my husband urged me, “You don’t want to buy that book.” He told me about the interview of Mr. Gladwell he’d seen on the Today Show that morning, in which the book’s exclusion of female outliers was explained in less than positive light.

Intrigued, I put the book down and went home to find the interview online

Malcolm Gladwell’s Disappointing Interview

Matt Lauer: Why no women outliers in the book? And I know you’ve gotten some heat for this.
Malcolm Gladwell: There are. I mean, the last part of the book is all about women. Um, it’s a long story about my grandmother who’s a true, remarkable outlier.
Matt Lauer: I guess people are saying…more recognizable…
Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. Because I’m talking about…One of the arguments of the book is that…um…successful people are a function of the world in which we operate, the rules of society and the cultures we have. Um, one of the sad things about our world and its rules is that for a long time it held women down. And so I was looking at fields where women just weren’t—the law or computer programming—where women haven’t been allowed to flourish in the same way.

I was saddened by Mr. Gladwell’s explanation, an explanation that essentially equated any successful woman to a fluke. To be fair, I have not read Outliers (and to be honest, I probably won’t), but I do know that Mr. Gladwell’s main argument about outliers is that most successful people fall into certain groups—groups born in a specific year, groups given specific opportunities, etc.—and that it is their inclusion in these groups, rather than individual talent, that makes them successful. I am certain each specific group he highlights in his book contains women, and I am certain that some of these women are successful. A bit more research and a more open mind would have found them.

Why Didn’t Mr. Gladwell Look Just A Bit Deeper

Surely Gladwell is able to see the contributions women have made to the world! Perhaps the great flaw in his book is not that he excluded women, but that he truly believes people are unable to step outside the confines society has created for them.

Every day, everywhere, women run corporations and homes, tech companies and universities, law firms and small businesses. Our boundaries have been stretched, but we must still step outside those boundaries on a daily basis to achieve our own dreams. The drawn borders have faded over time, but they exist, and it will take more time still for a woman’s success to be celebrated as a triumph and not looked down upon as an aggressive over achievement, a family’s sacrifice, or a simple fluke.

There are several female outliers I have admired for years. For starters, here are my top 10, in no particular order:

1. Hillary Clinton
2. Oprah
3. Edna St.Vincent Millay
4. Christiane Amanpoor
5. Andrea Jung
6. Susan B. Anthony
7. Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi
8. Madeline Albright
9. Amelia Earhart
10. Maud Mellish Wilson

I’m certain that Carrie & Danielle readers will have several interesting names to add to this list. Please join me in celebrating women. Simply add to the list in the comments section.

[Photo by Shashi Bellamkonda

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