Sunday, October 21, 2012
Carol is the CEO and part owner of the privately held software company where I work. Carol is an assertive, driven feminist with a quick temper who has but one goal in life and that is to expand her business. Given my female-led lifestyle at home, Carol creates an environment I thrive in! Carol is younger than I am, and I mentored her when she joined our company out of college. Carol was promoted by our company's prior corporate owners and was in a position to become a shareholder when we were divested. Largely because of my “feminist credentials” and my willingness to take on a subordinate role to her, Carol took me with her as she climbed the corporate ladder; it has been a mutually beneficial and satisfying arrangement.
Carol is a driver behind the efforts we make to recruit, develop, and promote women. No matter the open position, she asks whether we have a woman who could fill it; usually we do since it's one of my jobs to see that we do and a job that I energetically pursue. Our company is always seeking to promote women since women are grossly underrepresented in technology fields.
Carol and I are friends but I recognize her authority and my subordination to her and the other board members. Our board is all-female with the exception for myself and another man, my friend, Tom. We are not officers of the company as are the women; rather, our roles are to support the officers and mentor and assist women who are nearing promotion.
In addition to my subordinate business roles, I make it a point to look after Carol, show her respect, and tend to her ongoing needs. I always show her deference no matter where our meeting is or who is in attendance; she will always get a “Yes, Ma’am” in response to a request, whether it's for some complex financial numbers or a cup of coffee. I make it a point to have a variety of coffees and teas available for Carol and the board members and serve them as needed.
When I first met Carol I called her by her first name, but as she moved up the ranks it was more appropriate that I address her more formally. I now address her as “Ma’am” or “Madame”; we are both comfortable with this. The manner in which I address her is a way of punctuating our relative roles, something that, as a strong woman and a submissive man, we are always wanting to do. I am always looking to take on more for her. I make copies, serve coffee, and tend to her dry cleaning, picking it up and delivering it once a week. I've done light housekeeping for her when her usual household help has been unavailable. I accompany her on trips where I'll do anything from help her with important presentations and client meetings to carry her bags, act as her chauffeur, run errands, and even sew a button on her jacket or iron a blouse. Her time is much too valuable to tend to trivial matters, so these fall to me. All said, work is an extension of my home life; the female-led lifestyle I have at home has prepared me for the subordinate role I have at my female-led company.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
I had an interesting experience while at a business conference with Nancy recently. I may have mentioned that i am looking for a new vacuum cleaner as the one we now have isn't in good condition. Since I'll be the user of this small appliance, Nancy is giving me a significant say in the buying decision and I've been doing a lot of research.
As Nancy and I were walking back to our room at the hotel I noticed two housekeeping carts, each with a vacuum that I was interested in. I stopped to look at them and asked one of the maids about her vacuum, saying that I was interested in possibly buying one. Patriarchal conditioning at work again, the woman started to tell Nancy how much she liked the vacuum. Of course Nancy told her that I was the one using the vacuum in our home, a statement that I immediately validated. The maid seemed surprised, but I assured her that I did the vacuuming at home and was curious about her Kirby vacuum.
The maid apparently liked the idea of a man doing the vacuuming, and, taking a more assertive approach, instructed me to try her vacuum by sweeping the room she was working on. “Here,” she said, “see how it works, sweep this room.”
"Yes, ma'am!” I responded.
Just as I was about to start, a second maid came out of the room across the hall that she was cleaning and asked her colleague what was going on. The first maid explained, and the second maid, with a skeptical, insisted I try her vacuum, too.
Both were clearly surprised when I started vacuuming. Then, seeing an opportunity for a rare, but well-deserved brake, both maids went out on the balcony for a smoke while I vacuumed four rooms. The extended tryout gave me a good feel for each model of vacuum and taught the maids that some men love vacuuming.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Using the information I gather in my journal and suggestions from [my mother-in-law] Sue, I personalize each message. She insists I use matched pastel stationery; definitely no “guy” stationery with pictures of cars, planes, sports, or the like. My message is formal, in cursive writing, using a proper form of address, “Dear Ms. Smith.”
Except for holiday cards, my notes are to be written on an ongoing basis, a few a month, perhaps 2-3 a week. I want my efforts to reflect refinement and class; this is not a mass mailing. Each card has a personal note intended to pay a compliment to the recipient; a great way to show deference and respect . I mention her interests, needlepoint for example, and how I admire her skills with this particular craft.
I've been doing this for half a year and it's been something I enjoy. Nancy and her mother, Sue, have received many positive comments. It's something that derives from my view of women from the perspective of a man in a FLR. It's very rewarding to me and, hopefully, to the recipient.
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
I'm privileged to work at a Woman-run business and have for ten years. We are a small software company that is not only women-run, but feminist-run! We actively mentor women, both in our firm and at local colleges as part of a feminist outreach program. We have an affirmative action program that seeks to hire women, move them into positions of more responsibility, and eventually into management. Even though Nancy and I have decided that her career takes precedence over mine, I've managed to establish a good career for myself. I'm deeply satisfied with the work, the opportunity to work for a team of driven female executives, and the opportunity to mentor and promote the careers of talented women. The relationship Nancy and I have has been instrumental in my success working for and with women at the company. I suspect that men with traditional ideas of male-female relationships may be at a disadvantage at female-led entities.
We weren't always a woman-owned business. Our company was once part of a conglomerate, and, while we had women in a few key positions, we were a typical sexist male enclave of the type that is all too common in the business world. When our corporate parent decided to sell us in 2002, some women managers quickly banded together, secured loans, and – much to the chagrin of the all-male executive staff – bought the company.
Overnight things changed. The all-male executive team resigned or stayed with the conglomerate. The new executive team consisted of eight high-energy, assertive women. Soon afterward, Tom, a friend also in an FLR, and I were added to the executive team as managers. Our task would be to help the executives realize their vision for the company, especially their desire to bring women into the organization. We were chosen because of our well-established feminist credentials and because we had always worked well with the women. Some of the male employees ridiculed Tom and me as being members of the “Girl's Club,” but the “Girl’s Club” was a good place to be once the girls were in charge.
Our new CEO, Carol, had a dual vision. She wanted to grow a profitable business, but she also wanted actively to attract and promote female computer programmers. She realized that there were too few women in the lucrative software field, and she wanted to change that. She also wanted to improve the situation for our mostly female clerical and secretarial staff. We all realized that unless women were economically empowered, they were dependent on men; this was unacceptable to all of us. We put together an aggressive program not only to bring women into our company, but to empower them. Some of the many things we did include:
- Got our company certified as a woman-owned business. This has many advantages including the ability to obtain government contracts specifically set aside for women-owned businesses. It is also good for corporate relations since many companies want to do business with woman-owned firms.
- Increased the salaries of secretarial and clerical positions, largely occupied by women. We also put together promotional opportunities for women in these roles to move them out of these functions.
- Forged relationships with a local college to mentor and recruit women
- Put together and carried out an affirmative action plan with aggressive targets for recruiting and promoting woman
- Conducted mandatory workshops for male employees on how to work for women. Even the most senior men remaining in the company were likely to be reporting to women in the new paradigm. Learning to be open, communicative, and, yes, deferential was a benefit to some of the more open-minded men both at work and at home.
- Accelerated the promotion of women into key technical positions. We ensured their success by assigning Tom and me to assist women in transitioning to their new managerial roles. Tom and I were responsible for the women's success.
- Provided women with management training as well as training in assertiveness. Centuries of patriarchy have conditioned women to “be nice,” something that men have capitalized on to usurp their authority. For the business to succeed, even the most petite woman has to have obedience from even the biggest man.
- Actively supported women's groups and causes. Men were encouraged to participate in these efforts; those men who developed feminist credentials have done well.
- Advocated for women-owned businesses and economically empowered women by guiding them into technical fields
Tom and I have done well. Many of the behaviors we developed at home under our strong wives have benefited us in a female-led company. Strong independent women love to have their authority recognized and appropriate deference shown. Unfortunately many men aren't so conditioned as Tom and I are. “Yes, Ma'am!” goes a long way, as does making and serving a good cup of coffee!
The results? The company has succeeded beyond anything our executive team – yes, it’s still in place – might have imagined:
- We have grown three-fold.
- Over 60% of our technical managers are female.
- Over half of our technical professionals are female.
- Communications, human resources, and finance are all female-managed. The latter two units are all-female staffed.
Our program to promote women out of traditionally female-staffed secretarial and clerical positions has resulted in 60% of them moving to other positions. What was surprising was that, with the increased salaries we provided for these positions, we have had a huge influx of male candidates for these positions. As a result, over half of these traditionally female-staffed positions, all subordinate to women, are now staffed by men.
How's that for role reversal?