Wednesday, October 3, 2012

NANCY & DENNIS: WORKING AT A WOMAN-OWNED BUSINESS



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?


36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Love the Role reversal and the future Female / Male relationship.

Anonymous said...

I love the role reversal. I would also love to know the name of your wife's company.

Anonymous said...

I think you're quite lucky...both living in a female led home and working in a female led company!!!

Kathy said...

Thank you for replying to my comment.

I have a son and a daughter. What is important to me is that both of my children have the same opportunites in life. This is why I am opposed to any type program benefiting women over men, or giving preference in employment to the members of one sex over the other.

Past discrimmination against women does mean the young men of today should suffer for the actions of ealier generations.

Love, Kathy

Nancy and Dennis said...

Ms. Kathy - You are correct, it's about giving the same opportunities in life. Unfortunately, the same opportunities are not presented to women in too many cases. Women are underrepresented in many high technology fields, fields, incidentally, that pay well and offer a great deal of job security. Having the credentials to get such jobs empowers women economically, which affords them numerous benefits.

We live in a patriarchal society that - like it or not - assigns gender roles and occupations. Women need to go beyond what is assigned and move into other areas of endeavor. Actively recruiting women into the hard sciences and making them aware of opportunities are reasonable responses to our societal norms and to overcoming decades of patriarchy. Women who succeed in business do so on the basis of their own merit. The women I know can stand toe-to-toe with any of their male colleagues in terms of their business skills and technical capabilities.

In the past women were confined to their assigned roles and, even if they did present credentials, had a hard time being hired; in the past marginally capable men would preclude qualified women getting jobs. Programs that are out there are not about benefiting women over men but, rather, aimed at giving women consideration for positions for which they are qualified. Qualified men are not threatened by female candidates.

Nancy and Dennis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nancy and Dennis said...

Anonymous -

Working in a female company is certainly good in that many opportunities have been created for women; otherwise it's a business and it has to be run as a business with attention to all of the mundane details that this involves. No doubt that women are in charge at work and at home.

Nancy and Dennis said...

To the earlier Anonymous comment about my wife's company -- it's not my wife's company. She works at a large multinational; it's the company that I work at and it is privately held.

Anonymous said...

So encouraging to hear and I hope all workers have increased input and control of thier workplace.

Deferance to those in authority can be good but mindless obedience isn't.The phrase "I was only following orders" resonates doen the decades.

Femsup

Nancy and Dennis said...

Femsup - Definitely not "mindless obedience" in this case; software is a creative business. We expect that all persons will contribute their ideas and opinions and all of our managers have an open door regarding work-related and personal issues as they might impact the workplace. Deference to authority is important in that we are in an industry that has been traditionally male; unfortunately, women were often not taken seriously in those organizations despite their talents, and we want to make sure that all of our managers have the opportunity to exercise the leadership needed by our business.

Anonymous said...

Thats very balanced and level headed.There must be more affirmative action for Womyn to reach a level playing field.Once that has been achieved then Womyn will excel.

Femsup

Kammi said...

While you have written a very realistic, believeable version of a women led business, I have written a more fantasy version of the same thing. You can find it on http://beastv.blogspot.com/ under Kammi's Serial. Try it, you might like it.

Anonymous said...

Sounds great. I often have fantasies of being a sort of male secretary to a powerful woman.

I would love to file, fetch coffee, and say "Yes, Ma'am" even to younger women.

Kammi, I look forward to reading your story.

Mr Clare Doncaster (used to be Jim Stynes)

Anonymous said...

I would quite enjoy being discriminated against. To make up for my sex's unfair behavior.

I think the idea of having to answer to a younger female boss is really hot.

Mr Clare Doncaster

albert george said...
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Anonymous said...

You are living the dream! Keep doing what you are doing and supporting matriarchy! I know some people don't like it, some want patriarchy and some think equality would be better but these too are ideals that they are trying to force down our throats. I for one don't want patriarchy or equality, I want to live in a world where women rule and men like me are subservient to them. This is my utopia. We need to make it happen at least in certain parts of the world so people like us can be happy.

Molly said...

Are you guys serious?!

Why would a man want to be an office bitch?

I don't mind working for a man. That can be sexy for a girl. But you guys are crazy.

Yuk!

Anonymous said...

molly

Why would you want to work for a man? They are dumb and inferior and too many of them can't be trusted with power or else we'll end up like one of those muslim countries that stone women to death. Everybody knows that the countries that suck the most are the ones where women have no power.

I think a lot of male dominate porn is very scary and dark and feels like it is made for serial killers. I notice there's a lot more bondage and fear on the faces of the submissives. Female domination is much more beautiful and loving. When women rule the world there will be true peace and happiness.

Molly said...

Anonymous

The only problem with that is that men do all the inventing, building and protecting.

We are not good at that.

I think women should serve men. I love waiting on a man. It makes me moist.

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Anonymous said...

I would love to be my wife's administrative assistant (she is a senior executive at a bank). She is smart, driven, an excellent multi-tasker, but is somewhat disorganized and scattered and needs a pro-active admin. I do this for her at home and her current secretary does this for her at work. I have broached the subject several times that if she changes organizations that I would love to come along as her admin! She already "brings her work home" such that most of what we talk about is her work and career. If I could make that 24/7 that would only be better for both of us. I can only dream at this point!

Anonymous said...

Oh, and to Molly's last comment, waiting on wife often makes me, ahem, drip. :)

Molly said...

Anonymous

There are a thousand girls like me for one guy like you.

Anonymous said...

Molly, you might be right, but the name of this blog isn't "Worshipping your Male Bosses".

Are you in the right forum? ;)

Nancy and Dennis said...

To Anonymous (who would love to be his wife's administrative aide):

We know many such couples where she is an executive/manager and he is in a lesser position. In our situation Nancy is an executive, but she is well organized. Nevertheless, she needs the help of a capable administrator to assist her, and she has a female assistant at work. I assist her with work she brings home, although my taking care of the domestic side of things is where she wants me to focus. I do accompany Nancy to conferences where I usually run a concierge function, helping Nancy and the attendees with anything that comes up, including copying, reservations, and the like.

While you might want to be your wife's full-time administrator at work, it's unlikely to occur. Most companies frown upon a family member working for another family member. We think you're going to have to satisfy your desires to be your wife's administrative assistant on the home front - and don't underestimate how important and personally satisfying your doing domestic work is to her and her career.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your points. If my wife moved to a very small, private business, then maybe such an arrangement would work (it has for friends of ours), but likely not in the industry she's in. As you say, that doesn't prevent me from contributing on the home front - mainly by taking up a lot of the mundane chores she hates doing, which frees her up to do the higher-value work she is really good at.

Anonymous said...

This is Anonymous (who would love to be his wife's admin) again.

I guess one other aspect to all this is my wife's career fulfilment and my own. I am in the stage in life where I really want her to succeed and to be backing her as best as I can. I have helped her with proofing some of her presentations - I write well and can type well. I really believe I would be better than her current secretary. I might be taking a pay cut to be an admin, but my wife would be more successful and I would finally have my own career reflective of my role in our marriage. Oh well!

Nancy and Dennis said...

Anonymous ("I agree with your points..."),

Thank you for your comment. This is precisely the situation that Nancy and I have; I have taken on many of the domestic chores and allowed her to pursue her career as well as do the higher-value tasks at home such as managing money and our social agenda. It also allows both of us to pursue more outside activities.

I am privileged to work at the small privately held company that I do. It's given me a good career and some of the attitudes I've cultivated in my FLR have served me well at work. Unlike many men in my industry I am comfortable working with and for women. Recognizing women's talents, showing them respect, and serving them in a manner that relieves them of mundane chores can only serve to help all involved.

Nancy and Dennis said...

Anonymous (who would love to be his wife's admin) --

Having writing and presentation skills is of great value for an admin and skills that are actively sought. I have these skills as well as a deep knowledge of our business so I am in a position to serve my Boss, Carol, very well. Perhaps you could help your wife on the home front with domestic matters as well as assisting her with work-related items.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Dennis, I do everything I can to free up her time on the home front. While there are a few things she likes to do at home (cooking), generally she'd rather be reading industry periodicals or taking work home knowing that I'll take care of tidying up, putting kids to bed, etc. I also help out when I can proofing her presentations (nothing confidential) and being a sounding board for her (brilliant!) ideas. But it bugs me a little that she relies so much on her secretary (nothing sexual - the secretary's a woman!) when I know I could do a better job for her. Anyway, one can always dream!

Nancy and Dennis said...

Anonymous (just above) -

You have a good situation and one that is certainly indicative of a vibrant FLR. Your wife likely relies on her secretary not in place of your advice and inputs but as an added point of view. Additionally, her secretary is in her company and has the added advantage of bringing that perspective. You on the other hand are not in her firm so bring an independent perspective. Good luck and keep helping her and promoting her career; you will find only satisfaction.

Anonymous said...

Nancy and Dennis,

Thanks for your words of encouragement.

Just the other day, my wife was planning what she'd like to do after her executive career is over. She is interested in a couple of franchise opportunities. What was deeply gratifying to me, as we talked about her plans, was that she just assumed I would be part of the business in some support role. I work part-time, and she said once the kids are older and have left the house I could use the extra time towards the business until it established itself enough that she could transition over to run it.

Anonymous said...

Could there not be a voluntary society set up where males can give their free time to helping Womyn run and owned businesses and concerns be more successful?

A sort of boy scouts but for adult males.National service perhpas.So much better than training for war but instead helping society and being productive and altruistic.

Femsup

Anonymous said...

Femsup, that's an interesting idea from the perspective of a way for a single guy wanting to date and eventually find that special, dominant women in his life. The two of them would get to know quickly how well he can follow her lead!

Anonymous said...

Yes it mught very well be a good way to date as Womyn would see a willing committed worker to the cause of Female empowerment.

But it would more importantly just in and of itself be a good way to redress the imbalance in power and thus earnings of women.

Femsup

albert george said...
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