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 2:
The Emperor's New Clothes
I am sitting here at my desk as a VP/GM in a Fortune 100 company and trying not to cry. I am an anomaly here. I tell the truth to the folks that work for me; I tell the truth to the COO that I work for. (He and his colleagues would prefer to make decisions based on anecdote than fact and solid business results are less valued than being a part of the club.)
I will probably be leaving soon in search of a place that values values, truthfulness and allows me to be the person that I have come to like. After years of feeling that for some reason I was not innately good enough to be valued in business, I am beginning to see that maybe the problem is not me.
The problem is not me. The fear, anger, aggression, discomfort that we seem to provoke in men makes it easy for us to start thinking that we are the problem. Men often suggest as much: harassment - she can't take a joke; discrimination - she should have fought harder; bitch - she should have toned it down. We blame ourselves because we are alone - who is there to tell us that our treatment is par for the course? We blame ourselves because women take responsibility for themselves. We blame ourselves because the business world we've wandered into looks so exceptionally weird that, surely, we must have got something wrong. There is an anomaly somewhere - is it us?
After successfully navigating the shoals of stereotypes, and surviving any number of toxic and hostile environments, it would take a psychopath not to start having some self-doubt. Our experience and interpretation of what we see feels so out of step with what we are being told that we start to doubt our sense of reality. The analogy that most repeatedly comes up when women describe their experience in business is The Emperor's New Clothes. Why? Because what they see in the business world looks so different from what they hear their male peers seem to see. The discrepancies between how we see the world, and how men do, are too profound for us to ignore. That doesn't mean that we are wrong.
There are some historical reasons why our perspective at work is so different from men's. The industrial revolution bifurcated our lives. For the first time, men went out to their work. Women stayed home with theirs. Men started to develop cultures around their workplace - with their own language, rituals and symbols. Over time, this became increasingly divergent from home life. Offices developed their own furniture, colors and styles. Men evolved business jargon with its own acronyms and shorthand. As the world of work became more specialized, it looked, felt and behaved less and less like home. Men learned to behave differently too - to compartmentalize, to develop work-specific personae. Their work selves and their home selves became as separate as the two styles of architecture. Work developed rules, values, behaviors and codes of conduct that made it strikingly distinct from home life. Over time, the split has become more and more pronounced.
As gatecrashers, we have come late to this picture and, furthermore, have not been able to abandon our home lives as comprehensively as men did. Sometimes there is no one left to delegate our home lives to - so we have to bring it with us. As mothers, women have been considered the traditional carriers and teachers of values and that's a tough role to throw away, even if we wanted to. Or perhaps we just haven't been in business long enough to have adapted our mental habits. Whatever the reason, the split between work and home makes us very, very uncomfortable. Time and time again women tell me "I don't want to be two people - I want to be the same person, doing different things but with the same values, the same style." We want integrated, not delegated, lives.