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.

Jan 23, 2006

Weak Men and the Women Who Hire Them

Instructor, Caroline Bender

I first identified this phenomenon in my 2nd professional job, where the highest ranking woman was second to the president. The man under her (my boss's boss) saved all his assertion for the females under him. To her, he was unconditionally referential. I liked it at first -- like when your grandmother tells your mother where to get off -- but over the years I began to question why she needed him that way. It was painful to watch how she had no expectation, or even desire, that he would get stronger. He was a small man who made her look bigger.

So OK, it's a trick male executives have used for years ("Yes, JT." "No, JT." "I was just going to suggest that, JT."). This isn't a commentary on women, but on power.

And my field guide to the Alpha and Omega around your office complex, and the Delta between them.

... seems breakable. If tall, painfully thin. If at all muscular, then the size of a fireplug. Nearly always glasses
.... is the highest rank he has ever been, and likely ever to be. Typically, she beat him out for her position, or passed him when he wasn't looking
... invokes her name as the only explanation he needs for what he is requesting... but never when she is in the room
... throws up his hands when cornered, suggesting she made him do it
... believes that he has hitched his wagon to a star (however supernova)
... congregates with those like him

...is larger than life. Fast-talking, deep-voiced, piercing eyes, impatient hard-mouthed glare. She fills a room with height, weight, shoulders, and/or a drill sergeant's timbre
... is higher ranked than any other woman, and the only woman on her tier
... lets him take the fall for her, unless she can help with a push
... acts surprised when cornered, suggesting he misrepresented her
... will never allow him to succeed, and never let him go
... is without peer. but not in a good way

So, to our She Veeps, may I say...
We are so pleased you made it to the top. We are sure it was hard. We get it that it's a man's world...you have to be twice as tough to be taken half as seriously... Ginger Rogers backward on heels...etc etc. We're not asking you to be better than "they" are, only that you stay someone we can look up to.

Because our respect and need for you wanes over time. It's uncomfortable to watch the way you remind us we work for your fraternity of losers by belittling them in front of us, or hanging us out to dry as an example of their ineptitude (you know when this was). It's hard to hear what they say about you, and not know whether we should agree, defend you, or head to the kitchen for more pie.

And no thanks for your backhanded patronage. Being elevated by you puts us in company we'd rather not keep, even when we are your favorite. We wonder if you would let us stay weak too, hobbled by our own inadequancies. Or hold us to a higher standard than you do the Weak Men, which we think might be worse.

So please don't ask why we are avoiding you, networking around and beneath you, and choosing our mentors outside of your sphere. Please spare us Margaret Houlihan's lousy cup of coffee speech. Instead, show us someone we can be proud of.

More pressure? You bet, sister.


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