Reviews | What the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes mean for ambitious women

When I was a Harvard student at the start of the year, Mark Zuckerberg and other classmates gave up to become the Young Kings of Tech. They were smart, competitive, and hardworking – like most people there. But I was never able to identify myself exactly. They had a confidence that was hard to describe, a particular kind of ambition that seemed anything but entitled them to success. As I got older, I realized that the quality that I imagined as special was not. They were only men.

Then I heard about Elizabeth Holmes, a rare female paragon of super successful genius. With her health tech company Theranos, she was crowned America’s youngest self-made billionaire woman in 2014. She broke into the exclusive Silicon Valley Wonders Club, not as an employee or same framework, but as a founder.

She and I were each approaching their 30s, but we were on very different paths. I was an overgrown assistant, hunched over my desk, detailing receipts for other people’s dinners, and starting to worry that these jobs were no longer a stepping stone, but my career. I saved up for Aldo’s work shoes, while she filled her closet with those black turtlenecks from a designer whose clothes I had only seen in pictures. I couldn’t tell if I was setting limits on myself or if it was like that. She seemed to have cracked the code. How did she do it?

Although it is somewhat ashamed to admit it now, I was a little jealous of what Mrs Holmes had accomplished. She wasn’t struggling to climb a ladder; she had jumped straight to the top. She came across as intellectual and cheesy, unlike the stylish “boss girls” filtered out on Instagram with their marketing stuff. I didn’t know we could do that.

Of course, we now know how Elizabeth Holmes made her rise. She lied. On top of all the obvious wrongs she’s accused of committing, this is what seems so deflating about her tale. It has become almost a cliché to say how much ambitious women suffer from impostor syndrome, but it is quite real. For a moment, my admiration for what Mrs. Holmes had accomplished served as fuel. What she symbolized largely contradicted my thinking about genre, work and achievement, leading me to believe that I could lay claim to greater ambitions as well. Then she turned out to be the biggest impostor of all.

I’m not saying that Elizabeth Holmes, even in her mythical character, was a perfect role model. I know all the caveats – that she was already rich and well connected. White. Blond. Supported by a team of powerful male mentors including Henry Kissinger and James Mattis. But other female entrepreneurs to admire were few – in fact, I can’t think of any other young woman who has been so celebrated and honored for her professional achievements.

It hasn’t really changed. Even with its supposedly progressive values, Silicon Valley mirrors most of this country’s power centers. He suffers from the same issues as everyone else, including a shortage of women at the top.

So instead of being a symbol of progress, as I saw her for the first time, Mrs Holmes turned out to be a symbol of how far we have come.

Even now, nearly 90 percent of the world’s billionaires are men. A few other women have joined the billionaire club this year, including singer and entrepreneur Rihanna and CEO of dating app company Bumble, Whitney Wolfe Herd, but more than half of female billionaires are heiresses.

I am not claiming that the solution to gender inequality lies in creating more women billionaires. But until we create a fairer society and actually tax the rich at reasonable rates – instead of just bickering over a congressman’s formal wear – the idea that money doesn’t not matter is a lie. This lie favors men. As Jessica Knoll wrote in 2018, “Rich is still a man’s word. This remains true.

If there’s no way for women to thrive at the top, it doesn’t get any easier down the line. In 2020, women earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. And despite all the recent criticism of how our performance is leaving men behind academically, a recent study found that women a decade after business school working full-time at for-profit companies didn’t earn. that 74 cents for every dollar earned by men. .

It always seems that in order to be powerful women have to outperform men, which sometimes means behaving as recklessly as they are. I hate that in the end, this is where Mrs Holmes seems to have crossed the line.

There were those who exalted themselves in his fall. I still remember the joy a male acquaintance my age gave off when he showed me the allegations about Mrs Holmes’ fraud on her phone the night they appeared in 2015. He had nothing at stake. But he looked so triumphant.

Of course, we cannot attribute Mrs Holmes’ downfall to a discriminatory system. In the end, she was a spectacular liar whose product didn’t do what she said it did. But the is a discriminatory system, one that rewards women for presenting their projects in a voice lowered to the baritone to sound more “dominant”.

Instead of breaking that system, Mrs. Holmes made it worse. The fallout from her fraud has served to calcify barriers, especially when it comes to intelligent women trying to execute their own visions in her wake: Several recently recounted in a New York Times article that they have met more than skepticism from potential investors after the fall of Theranos.

Now we are all grown up. Elizabeth Holmes is on trial. My friends and I are still working to move up the ranks in our chosen fields. When I see them getting promotions – or being ignored – I know exactly how they got to where they are. Hard.

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