Women and office politics

September 24, 2012

At this time of incessant political coverage I'm opening up another political topic: work policitics. I just read this piece by Della Bradshaw in the Financial Times. It's about the number of young women who embark on business careers versus the tiny number that ultimately make it onto company boards. But the most interesting thing for me was the comment at the bottom of the piece by someone using the name 'manticore'. I've no idea if this person is male or female but what stuck out was the comment that women hate the 'status games' and 'dominance-submission games' at big companies and that is why so few make it to the top. 'Far better to go out on your own' he/she finishes. 

This was part of what I discussed in my talk at Sarah Lawrence at the weekend: that women - in general - hate politics but that you have to be at least somewhat political to rise up the ranks. I myself have found office politics so distasteful I've ignored them, but I think that was a mistake (if you don't schmooze, you lose). But then a woman in the audience asked a very sensible question: why should women have to mold themselves to the male way of doing things? Why can't companies change the way they think and the way they do things to accommodate the more collaborative female mindset? I am interviewing someone tomorrow who specializes in this very thing - encouraging companies to appreciate and try out male and female ways of doing business. Given McKinsey's research on this (they found many women who did not aspire to the corner office said a loathing of politics was the reason) surely we need to look at this more closely? I am a case in point. I have always rejected the idea of having power or 'getting to the top' at a company, whatever that would mean in my case, because to me the process seems inherently unappealing. The climb often appears to involve horrible behavior, back-stabbing, meanness, generally trampling all over other people, simply behavior I have no stomach for. I want to examine this topic in an upcoming episode. Because if the reason so many women are opting to go out on their own is that they can't stand corporate culture, it doesn't just show the failure of companies to work with their female employees. Surely nothing will ever change within corporations if the motivated women keep quitting? Who's going to push for the kind of change many women would like to see? Thoughts?