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 3:
Sex, Love and a Vision for Life
Relocations pose all the same challenges, writ large. Who is most important: the husband, the wife, the company? Someone, something has to give - how do you decide?
I worked for the largest engineering company in the world. It was a badge of honor and corporate dedication to have moved a dozen times in 15 years. It showed how valuable you are to the company if they want to keep you and continue to move you. The men would brag about how they'd get notice they were being moved to a new location, or new country even, and the lovely wife would pack up the kids, sell the house, and move the family to catch up with the husband. My girlfriends and I would wonder how that would work for us. We wouldn't have a "little man" at home to just pack up and move us. We wanted husbands who had their own careers. So, how were we going to move every other year with our husbands who also had careers?
Many large corporations make a fetish of relocations, using them as the ultimate test - and, in doing so they continue to lose large numbers of smart women who want to do great work, just not at the expense of the rest of their lives. Men often interpret this as a lack of seriousness, a lack of commitment and that's what it is - a lack of seriousness and commitment on the part of the employer who still fails to understand that dominance is not the name of our game.
If relocation is a test, women increasingly reject the test. "The problem with women," said Peter Wright, VP of of global HR for Estee Lauder, "is that I just can't get them to relocate. We're a global company and we have to have senior people all around the world. And they just won't move!" 40 To keep his best women, he needed to redefine his problem: to look at local workforces that could be trained, and to look at executives who wanted travel and groom them. 41 But he didn't want to serve his workforce - he demanded that they serve him. His problem with women was that he didn't appreciate that we don't want our relationship to work to be defined by servitude or domination, win or lose. That polarization implies we must chose between work and life and we reject the choice.
When women, and couples, confront choices like relocation, they don't measure success according to whose careers "wins" and whose career "loses" but according to how well the joint project - the marriage - thrives. It's about mutual understanding.
I was offered the job at Coke so he stayed in Washington D.C. and I moved to Atlanta. We were both on the fast track and knew that if one of us "gave in" we would end up regretting it, so we commuted. It was an important experience for both of us. We really missed being together so we both resigned from our jobs and picked a new city where we could both get good jobs. It was a joint decision where we both felt we made the right call. Since then it has never been hard for us at all to decide. I think we will move again one day and the decision will be a joint one and right for both of us. Our marriage is very important to both of us and our preferences are very much in sync. We've both built great resumes and really value our time together and quality of life. It is about so much more than the job itself.
Marriages force us to confront hard questions. Not just which is more important - work or home - but what are the values that define our lives: corporate values or individual values? Companies with traditional power structures are about dominance, not equality. How far are you willing to allow those corporate values to invade your private life? Do you really want a life in which one of you is dominant and the other subordinate? These questions collide incessantly in time management, travel, corporate events, relocation, career planning. Ad hoc decisions don't work because the choice is too important - an existential, life defining choice. If fairness is crucial to us at work, then as we seek integrated, consistent lives, fairness at home is just as important. If we want to get out of the old win/lose ethos at work- it is absolutely essential to keep it out of our homes. And so we find ourselves inventing and demanding new behaviors and expectations in both places. This is pioneering territory for most companies and many couples. Like all pioneering work, it is long, hard and pretty messy.