Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Aug 18, 2005

Thursday Night Sex

Guest Lecturer, Scottie from Inside Sales

You shouldn’t have sex with someone you work with. I know that now.

Because the next morning there she is at the staff meeting, or the coffee room, or god forbid the elevator. And she knows that you know that she has a tattoo of Woodstock flying upside-down on, of all places, the side of her breast – but not her breast, but her rib, or her whatsicus. Wherever it is, it looks like it fell out of her armpit when you pull her top off over her head.

Allison works in Purchasing. She’s the only one worth looking at in there, and that’s not saying much. Rita, with the wrist cast, runs the place – runs the women in the place, that is. The Director is the fat doughy guy who looks like the Monopoly man, only without the wardrobe. Rita the Cast skits around him like he’s their powder keg alcoholic father. She whispers to the other one, Ashtray Sandy, who smokes so much her face has puckered to the center like a dried apple-head. But Allison tries to chat when I show up running paperwork. She doesn’t seem to know or care that I’m an assistant to an assistant or that I outgrew my pants in the past month, or in fact that I’m 32 and share a four-bedroom in Canton and drive a Honda coupe to a park-n-ride every morning at 7:30.

Rita and Sandy only acknowledge senior staff, which they define as anyone who was present at the 1991 Thanksgiving potluck when someone named Artie (“you don’t remember him”) brought vegetable Samosas that his wife made (“she was some kind of Hindu”). If you know the correct passwords required for that exchange, they will speak to you. I do, but only from years of eavesdropped rote. How surprised would they be if I chimed in, “Terry opened the seltzer and it went ev-ry-where!”

Allison wasn’t at the potluck. We met in New Employee Orientation, but didn’t get partnered up for the icebreaker. I didn’t give her a thought at all then, but over time she became the only person who didn’t have to speak to me who did, and she seemed to enjoy it -- like she hoped Purchasing was her big ticket out, like she’d chosen it over the switchboard because there was more prestige. She wears decals on her fingernails, and a thumb ring. Rita and Sandy don’t take her seriously at all. They know she’s not there to stay, and whisper to each other that she’ll never get the big promotion if she doesn’t cut all that hair.

So I’m bored. I’m bored with women, and I’ve been trying long enough to know I can’t reach the girls on the top shelf. I’m not hopeless, but I know I don’t have It. I’ve put on some weight; I need new clothes. I’m sorta funny, and sorta sporty, and smart enough to suit most situations. It’s just that dating was costing a fortune and yielded low return on the investment. I know phrases like that – I’m not uneducated.

So Alison said she had bought the Entertainment Coupon book from HR, and had I ever been to McElroy’s, because some girl she knew was playing in a combo there Thursday night. And I’m so out of practice that I think she’s asking if the food is any good, or if I know how to get there, but she’s asking me would I want to go.

McElroy’s is not Houlihan’s. I know that now. It sounds the same to me – wings and nachos, pitcher of beer and a New York strip. Turns out it’s a lounge in the Suisse Hotel on 128, with black bucket-shaped booths and dim lighting. The beer was $7 (not covered by the coupon) and the special was a venison London broil with fennel salad and whipped potatoes. Allison ordered it, and later it made her kiss taste funny – peppery and gamy with the undertaste of the zambucco she had with the pie. I stuck with what I know, chicken alfredo, even though it’s heavy, and if I had thought ahead to what might happen between us, I would have been afraid the alfredo would give me gas. But I didn’t, so I wasn’t. And it did.

Coming back from the bathroom, during the musicians’ break, I took a look at Allison from a distance. Decent rack, good eyes, too much hair, those damn chunky shoes they want the girls to wear – they sort of suited her and the black bell-bottoms she had changed into at the office. She was looking away, and I felt relief that she couldn’t give me the same once-over. She was talking to her friend the singer, whose vocal style was a kind of failed community theatre mixed with too-good-for-the-church-choir.

They were chatting it up and I realized I could ask how they knew each other and all of that, as a way to get to know her, and decided I just didn’t much care. Maybe she has hobbies, maybe she went to Italy, maybe she has a brother in the Air Force. But it would mean one more conversation we weren’t going to finish because we were in a cabaret, for god’s sake, where everyone expected to listen to the music. And I was glad for it. I didn’t much care about getting to know her, seeing her again, sleeping with her, impressing her, buying her a Christmas present. Not caring if I did is not wanting not to. I know that now.

She has to drive us around, because I’m at the park-n-ride. She lives in Brookline, and drives a two-toned Camry with a heart-shaped sun catcher on the rearview. She didn’t turn on the radio when we got in. But we’ve already talked about work, I’ve already complimented the jazz group as much as I can, and we’ve already run the lines on “you say jimmies; I say sprinkles.” There’s nothing else to do but fool around.

The kitchen was right out there in the main room. Her recycling can sat in the open and I glanced in without realizing I had. Three short Crisco cans, rinsed clean, mixed with plastic Coke bottles – red, white, and blue against the plastic green box. I wish I noticed more about that kitchen, but I didn’t.
It made me think of her alone on a Saturday night, with worn-down moccasins on, baking her own birthday cake, and decorating it with little frosting stars. It flashed in my head even though I couldn’t know when her birthday was or even how old she was. I needed her life to be sadder than mine. I needed to know how the girl from Purchasing could afford a one-bedroom in Brookline and a two-tone Camry.

Face to face on her couch, we kissed and groped and worked off our shoes. She had a bird under a covered cage that made little snoring sighs. Grabbing my face, she said, “Let’s go in the bedroom.”

I don’t like the date’s bedroom. We end up there because I live with three guys, and it’s not anywhere you take a woman, bottom shelf or otherwise. But if I have to be in the date’s bedroom, I’d just as soon have the lights off if that’s all the same. They do too, most of the time, because they’re usually drunk and usually slobs. The pillows everywhere, and the stuffed animal, for god’s sake. I’d like to prop my Matchbox car-carrier up on my headboard. Would that win them over? Is that what they want to see on first glance? Allison’s was a goddamned unicorn. I turned the overhead light off.

I sighed in the dark, wondering when it all got so boring, listing in reverse order the women I had slept with. Their horrible country-crafty bedrooms leafed through my mind. Melinda had lasted for nearly a year, and in that year I never once saw her bedroom. I wondered where her number was.
Allison was up and down and a thousand pair of hands, doing some kind of Le Freak while I just stood there in the middle of the floor. Then the removal of the top, the falling tattoo, which I nearly tried to catch, and I thought, Five years ago I could have called this off somehow. I would have resorted to “let’s stay up and talk all night,” but I’d put that to the numbers since then, and sex took up less time. But Thursday night sex is not Friday night sex. I know that now.

I took a cab at 2am, because I was not enduring breakfast, not wearing the same clothes, not walking into the building with her. I would rather take a cab to my park-n-ride, go home to a beer and a short nap before having to see her again.

Friday morning I stick to my cube, and dodge the email alarm, until it’s 11 o’clock. Nothing. No email, no voice mail, no hatbox with a fedora inside and a cleverly worded, “here’s your hat, what’s your hurry.” Looking out the window, I can’t find her car in the parking lot and I try to remember the last thing we said to each other. “Well… bye.” “Yeh, bye.” Was she mad? Was she ashamed? Was I? Did I care? No, I don’t care. It was her idea, the whole Dutch treat, downright upright, coupon date and the I’ll drive, don’t be silly, and the come on up… did she say come on up? Did she offer to drive me to my car? Didn’t she drive straight to her place, without the radio on, without saying much of anything…then what happened? I couldn’t remember. Just the kitchen, the recycling box, the unseen bird, the unicorn.

I was still staring out the window when her car pulled up, still standing there when she got out with a Burger King bag and her unbelievable hair. When the wind blew it across her eyes, she tossed her neck, and for a second I thought she would see me there, so I waved. I waved all spread-fingered, like a five-year old showing how many he is. She tossed her neck and I waved, but she didn’t see me. She didn’t even glance up at my window, when she must know that’s where I sit.

Aug 6, 2005

Today’s glass ceiling

guest lecturer, Emma Davidson

My family consisted of two immigrant parents. Both came to the States in their early twenties, all because they wanted to create a better and easier life for their children. I was the first of three and the only girl. In fact, out of all the cousins on the East Coast, I was the oldest and the only girl for 20 years. There was a lot of pressure put on me – my parents, grandparents and all the aunts and uncles had dreams for me. To go to college, meet a nice man, get married and have babies.

What they didn’t expect was that I was going to be part of the most significant driving force in my generation. That force is the Generation-X working women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we make up 51 percent of the total employment in executive, administrative, and managerial occupations. In 1983, women in our same age group only represented 38 percent of the higher profile jobs. Not only have we grown in numbers but we have advanced up the corporate ladder at a faster rate and across many more industries.

Hear us roar
We still have a long way to go, but thanks to our predecessors who broke many barriers for us we now have more opportunities available, and without a fight or question that we’re capable. It is now expected for us to develop a solid career, maybe two. We finally have permission to achieve what we dream – and we go for it in full force. We are even breaking many barriers of our own and exceeding expectations.

We have gone into careers once thought impossible for us to succeed in.
We are shaping the way employees are managed.
We are starting small businesses at a faster rate than men.
We are changing the way we all work, flex-time and telecommuting are now commonplace.
We are fighting for ways to balance a personal/home life and careers.
We can be feminine and still be respected at work.

We have shown that we are qualified and tough enough to be at the executive table. What the business world has learned is that women are stronger managers and more efficient workers. I was impressed to hear from two leading life and career coaches, Dr. Martha Beck and Suzanne Blake that the executive men are trying to acquire many of the traits that most female executives naturally have.

Where have all the mentors gone?
But what I’m sad to see is that many brilliant and talented women are also leaving their jobs. Going are these great mentors – for both men and women, the mentors that can keep shaping a shift in better management and better work/life balance. One of our generation’s barriers is the ability to maintain our leadership roles while having the time to relish our successes with our many loved ones and time to really recharge our own batteries.

As much as we shape, influence and grow the companies we work in, corporate expectations of their employees remain unchanged. The traditional corporate culture of the more you work, the more you’ll succeed is still the constant – regardless of how efficient the employee. Lawyers are a good example. In order to achieve partnership level, you have to put in years of working 80+ hour weeks. If you choose not to, then you will not succeed and will get pushed out of the firm – regardless of your talents.

As the primary caretakers of our families, most women cannot work those hours and take care of the children, the household and in some cases their ailing parents. Even after we build our skills, gain great credibility and acquire much success we need to take a break. Whether it’s to have a child, take care of a family member or ourselves. Eventually we realize that we really can’t ‘do it all’ even though many of us drive ourselves mad by constantly trying – the “super woman” expectation cannot be maintained (at least I haven’t figured it out).

Regardless of our skills and experience many women decide to either leave their career or stay at a level that is well beneath their capabilities. This allows us to leave our work day at a decent hour, without guilt, (and not take the work home) to take care of ourselves and families. The result, a male dominant senior management team.

As hard as we have worked to advance our stance in the working world, we get to a place and realize that the traditional ‘work like a dog’ expectation is unacceptable. It’s unhealthy. The higher we get, the more tired we become, especially those who go home to a family. Where are the rewards to our hard work? Why is it that there’s a low percentage of women at the senior executive level? How do we get there when corporate expectations don’t change? Talented women are leaving those companies because they have had enough and have realized there’s more to life than just work.

A pause on the ladder
Fortunately, it’s not all gloom and doom. Because we’re driven and we know that there are alternatives to the ‘norm’, we naturally take matters into our own hands. Talented women across the nation are starting their own companies, and we’re doing it at a faster rate than men. The Census Bureau's latest study, Survey of Minority-Owned Business Enterprises, found that women owned 26 percent of the nation's 20.8 million non-farm businesses – translating into 5,417,034 firms. As a result we employ 7.1 million paid workers, and have generated $818.7 billion in sales and receipts. Many women leave their current jobs to start their own business so that they can find that work/life balance. There is hope out there.

A few months ago, I was at a “women in advertising leadership forum” where Lisa Hall, President, COO and one of the founders of The Oxygen Network, was one of the keynote speakers. I was inspired by the fact that there are companies like hers that allow employees to live their lives and not make them feel bad about it. It’s okay to go to your child’s school play or meet with your significant other. What also stuck with me was that everyday when her kids get home from school she gets a call from them and regardless of what she is doing or who she’s meeting with she’s answering her cell phone to check in with her kids. Of course my immediate thought was who do I send my resume to?

Unfortunately, the company where I work is run by partners who do not understand the concept of having a personal life. One of my colleagues has two young children and when hired she arranged to have a 4 day work week. She’s continually asked to work 5 days a week “just for the time being” and is expected to manage a work load equivalent to 5 days – in the advertising industry this is an average of 60 hours a week. And, her compensation is based on the 4 day/32 hour week.

I feel bad for the pressure that she feels from the partners and the guilt she feels when she works late. But I also support her for trying to stand her ground as much as possible and battling the partners to get them to realize that maybe they need to hire another staff person to accommodate the constant growth in business. Its people like her that hold their ground that will help us shift expectations and demonstrate we have a lot to offer and should not be disregarded.

Sure we still have many barriers to break through. There’s the issue of still getting paid less than our male counterparts. We get penalized for taking a break from our careers to have/raise children. We’re intelligent, hard working, determined and never is a concept to accept. I plan on doing my part to keep the momentum going.

My dream is that we always find new ways to push the boundaries of corporate expectations so that we can enjoy our successes, our families, ourselves and without guilt. Let’s continue to lead by example and evolve corporate cultures and expectations for the benefit of all of us. If we push for our rights to work, lead, mentor and grow on our terms, then perhaps our daughters will have a better chance at really having it all.

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