Published: September 2004
THE NAKED TRUTH: A Working Woman's Manifesto on Business and What Really Matters by Margaret A. Heffernan.
The Naked Truth - Extract 1:
I remember sitting in a room full of brilliant women in a leading investment bank. Together, they probably had more degrees than the government and more intelligence than their board of directors. What was their problem? They didn't know how good they were. Anxious, demoralized and demotivated by a toxic environment that measured them only by how successfully they imitated men, they found it hard to take themselves seriously as women with unique talents, skills and opportunities. That experience has been repeated the world over, in every industry I can think of. It's way past time for women to take ourselves seriously, know how good we are, be comfortable with our own energy, skills and talents - and make sure we put ourselves in positions where those are used, admired, respected and compensated appropriately.
I am 35, graduated summa cum laude with a BS in civil engineering, I have an MBA, and this past January I left my six figure management job and a promising career because I couldn't stand it anymore. I felt like a failure for quitting, but I had reached the end of my rope. I wasn't entirely sure what was wrong, I just knew that I felt like part of me was dying. What I thought was success instead had became a death trap.
Karen didn't make mistakes. She got qualified, she was smart, she worked hard. In the eyes of others, she was very successful. Why isn't this a happy ending - yet?
Karen's experience is not unusual. All over the world, girls are going into business. They are smart, enthusiastic, optimistic, work hard and are immensely dedicated. And we succeed. For the first few years, we get accolades, encouragement and promotions. But as we get more and more power, weird things start to happen. The style and tactics that seemed so successful suddenly stop getting results. We encounter resistance and hostility. Our lives get harder to manage. We enter an Alice in Wonderland place where friends become enemies, values become liabilities, success makes us vulnerable and choices feel like strait jackets. We feel that we must have done something wrong somehow and, in our confusion and humiliation, we withdraw, lose confidence - and so find success even more elusive. The problem, we think, must be me. What have I done wrong?
Nothing. Being smart and working hard are entry-level requirements. But they won't protect you from the weird experience of being a business woman in a world that remains dominated by men and their values. The companies we see today were built by men for men. Reluctantly, grudgingly women were granted access - at first just to lowly positions but, when self-interest was served, to more powerful positions. We called this progress. But everything comes at a price. The price was -- we had to behave in ways that men could be comfortable with: we mustn't frighten them, threaten them, usurp them or in any way disturb their universe. In other words - we've been allowed in as long as we don't change anything. We became gatecrashers.
Because we didn't build the business environment we move in, it doesn't derive from, or express our style or thinking habits. So sooner or later, every woman is faced by this choice. We can either assimilate -keep working hard to blend in, avoid attention or offence, in order to be accepted. Or we can leave the party altogether and go, or build, somewhere different and more congenial. That choice is unavoidable, decisive and utterly personal. Every woman makes it, consciously or unconsciously. Our decision derives from who we are and will define who we become.