There’s a rule on live TV: the longer you do it, the closer you creep to the inevitable moment when you say something stupid. As the co-host of my own show on Bloomberg TV, Market Makers, I rarely make it through a week without a slip-up. The other morning it was a guest’s turn. In the middle of a complicated answer, AQR Capital founder Cliff Asness said: "You're giving me that look that I get when I talk to women about quant stuff.”
By saying “quant,” the implication was that I was ill equipped to follow Cliff’s sophisticated (quantitative) market analysis because of my gender. Now Cliff is one of the smartest investors in the world. The truth is that he outpaces people of all sexes, creeds, and colors when it comes to numbers. But he had singled me out—the woman sitting across from him on live TV—for a bit of gentle ridicule.
This kind of thing happens a lot to women at work. Usually it’s just a clumsy riff on old ideas of what’s gender-appropriate. If you believe that in 2014 men are still consciously fighting to keep a grip on their hegemony, then I suppose you could hear these kinds of comments and focus on the damage they do. They might make you angry, and that’s valid.
I happen to know Cliff, and the truth is he just made a dumb joke at a moment when his mouth and brain weren’t connecting. Which means the relevant issue isn’t the damage done, but the proper response. For me, in the moment, it was to stop the interview and call him out, with as much humor as possible, for a comment even the most ancient chauvinist knows is out of date. And to his credit, Cliff apologized and blushed and made all the proper gestures and noises a moral person should make when they’ve done something stupid. In the end, we both laughed.
I'm quite sure Cliff wasn't trying to insult me specifically, or women in general. But it’s on everyone—men and women—to knock down stereotypes and outdated assumptions, even when they’re just proffered to fill a little air-time. We don’t need to respond with rage. But we still haven’t come far enough to let such things go unacknowledged.