“Why can’t a woman,” asked Henry Higgins, “be more like a man?”

The fate of the 2020 election just might hinge on that question. Your evaluation of female management candidates, and their strategies for persuading you to hire or promote them, might hinge on it as well.

Caveat first: Selecting a presidential candidate is, at best, imperfectly analogous to selecting a manager, just as running for office is imperfectly analogous to applying for a management position. Among the differences: Candidates for management jobs won’t debate each other in an open forum, nor will they assemble large organizations to lobby you to hire them.

Filters second: While the original field of Democratic candidates included six women, only three are worth talking about. Kirsten Gillibrand was embarrassing, providing little more than vague generalities, and not many of those. Tulsi Gabbard’s contributions to our political dialog have been puzzling at best. And as a candidate, I’d say Marianne Williamson was a joke, except that jokes are supposed to be funny.

That leaves Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren. Was sexism the reason none of them made the cut? Do you or should you have similar concerns about your management team?

Opinion: Ascribing the Democratic Party’s results to sexism oversimplifies the situation. After all, in 2016 the Democrats nominated Hillary Clinton, who then received three million more votes than her opponent in the general election. The Democratic Party can and has nominated a woman; American voters were willing to elect one.

So while women, whether in politics or business, still have to contend with the Ginger Rogers syndrome (she had to do everything Fred Astaire did, only backward and in high heels), sexism is not the sole reason Harris, Klobuchar, and Warren lost.

Another reason: Imagine you’re interviewing a management candidate and she makes an impassioned case for why one of the other candidates isn’t fit for the job.

It’s a bad interview move, and roughly equivalent to Harris resurrecting school busing as an issue to flog Joe Biden with, likewise Warren’s verbal assault on Michael Bloomberg. Credit where it’s due: while Klobuchar did go after Buttigieg, her heart didn’t seem to be in it.

Regrettably, her heart didn’t seem to be in her policy proposals either. She seemed more interested in asserting she could do the job than in explaining how she’d go about it.

Warren? Her “I have a plan for that!” tagline made her interesting, but her plethora of plans violated the sponsor-no-more-than-three rule effective leaders follow. Having a detailed plan for each thing meant she had no plan for everything. At least, no plan voters could keep in their heads all at once.

So a non-sexism-based interpretation is that Biden and Sanders haven’t survived because they’re old white guys. It’s that Sanders has focused passionately on what he would do as president; Biden has emphasized how he would lead the country. Neither has wasted time and energy attacking the other candidates.

But Biden and Sanders made plenty of mistakes too. These weren’t exactly ignored, but neither Sanders’ praise for Fidel Castro nor Biden’s non-arrest in South Africa did much damage.

Is it a clear case of Ginger Rogersism?

Maybe. But I think something else has been at work too: Which of the candidates was more “presidential.”

Personally I found Buttigieg, who had, based on his resume, no business even being in the audience, more presidential than anyone else. He was thoughtful, imperturbable, focused, and genuine. And, he left a positive impression that’s hard to describe and articulate.

For me, Biden and Sanders seem more presidential than Warren, even before her strange and pointless Bloomberg take down; likewise Klobuchar and Harris.

But … and this is the point of this column … how I define and gauge presidentiality, and, similarly, how I define and interpret business leadership and management potential, is to a significant extent a matter of conditioning. I have a lifetime of exposure to and working with and for business leaders who were, with few exceptions, male.

That experience has inexorably led to how I evaluate potential leaders and managers.

It’s sexism via immersion. I imagine that, no matter your gender, you’re in the same situation.

And so, whether you’re hiring or looking to be hired for a management role, think hard about how your impressions of what leaders and managers look and sound like have been conditioned by your experience.

Adjust your evaluation accordingly.

When a whale swallowed Jonah, it “vomited” him ashore. Yuck. I guess a gangplank wasn’t an option.

Pinoccio and Gepetto, in contrast, exited their whale by way of a sneeze. In the Disney version, at least, the depiction was nowhere near as icky as you’d expect.

In actual oceans, whatever a whale swallows finds itself immersed in hydrochloric acid and digestive juices — a lethal and unpleasant prospect.

When a corporate whale swallows a smaller business, employees of the acquired business often find that experience unpleasant. Not as unpleasant as a whale’s digestive tract, but worse than being the swallower.

If you’re the swallowee, getting through the process while minimizing the misery starts with an unobstructed view of the acquiring company’s … no, stop that! Not its esophagus. Its plans. The big three:

Holding company: The whale bought your employer because it liked its products, services, ability to innovate, customer list, intellectual capital, or some other desirable characteristic.

Whatever the reason, some acquiring companies are careful to, changing zoological metaphors, avoid killing the golden goose.

What you’re in for: Mostly, your now quasi-autonomous business unit will have to pay a tithe to corporate. On top of which, instead of review by a friendly board of directors that’s well-attuned to your company’s business culture for review and approval, major capital proposals will probably go to a corporate executive leadership team that’s far more concerned with cost and risk reduction as outcomes than opportunities to increase revenue, marketshare, and mindshare.

In exchange, your CEO probably gets a seat at the table during the annual strategic planning retreat.

Overall, if you’re being added to a holding company, tomorrow will, for the most part, look a lot like yesterday.

Modified holding company: Large enterprise management culture emphasizes cost reduction above all other forms of business improvement. It’s epoxied in place, from the board of directors to the executive suite, and from there on down.

The companies they acquire are more likely to be entrepreneurial, with an executive team that cares far more about increasing revenue than about reducing costs.

As a consequence, acquiring companies often set “synergy targets” for each acquisition — opportunities to reduce costs by eliminating duplicative business functions.

As it turns out, eliminating many of these is hard. Often, really hard. Even something as seemingly generic as human resources turns out to have nuances that add a lot of complexity … and therefore cost … to the redundancy elimination effort.

But everyone’s names are on the synergy targets. And oh, by the way, your company has to find some way to pay for its corporate tithe, too.

The impact: Everything that can be easily handed off to corporate gets handed off to corporate. It starts with email and the rest of the productivity and collaboration suite. “Non-strategic sourcing” … purchasing and the associated accounts payable … is another likely candidate; so is recruiting.

That the waste is there to be eliminated is a political fact. Your job isn’t to argue that the political fact is operational fiction. You lost that argument the day everyone signed the acquisition documents.

Your job is to find the least painful functions to move to corporate and shine your spotlight on them in the hopes that this will distract everyone from the ones whose movement would do serious damage.

Integrated provider: They’re serious.

The folks who decided to acquire your company, that is. They envision your business as an integral part of a new whole, and they’re willing to invest the funds needed to turn their … sorry, there’s no other word for it … vision into reality.

This is where it becomes painful.

When you work for a smaller firm, some of your identity is wrapped up in your affinity for it. That’s going to go away. So is a lot of how you’re accustomed to getting things done.

That’s what you won’t like. But in exchange, there’s a much better chance that your new employer is run by pros. Integrating an acquisition is much, much harder than slapping one into a holding company. An executive team willing to go through the effort is an executive team worth you giving the benefit of your doubt.

The sooner you get over your sense of loss and start to actively contribute your bits and pieces to making it work, the more likely you are to benefit from the transaction.