Your favorite aunt worked in a spacious office on the top floor of the biggest building in downtown Boston. She brought you to work one day when you were twelve. She thought you would enjoy playing Where in the World is Carmen San Diego on the extra computer in her office, but you were more impressed that there was an extra computer in the first place. You weren’t exactly sure what her job was, but you could tell that she was important. The status symbols of the business world stand out, speaking to something in our collective unconscious.
You had to become a part of this world.
Role models were hard to come by. Movies and television turned even the most promising female characters into supporting actresses that took a backseat to leading men as plots unfolded. Hillary Clinton, who inspired such hope early on, went silent on healthcare and stood by her man in true First Lady fashion while the world watched. Your aunt got married and traded it all for a minivan and a diaper bag.
You were determined to break the cycle. While your peers were wasting time and money reading female-targeted business books with ridiculous names like Mars and Venus in the Board Room, Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman, and Nice Girls Get Coffee, Not the Corner Office, you were getting up early to watch SportsCenter repeat itself ad nauseum while you hit the elliptical machine before class.
Those girls were destined to climb just high enough on the corporate ladder to give up-skirt views to the guys who were being promoted. They were deluding themselves about how the business world really worked. You knew the score. You were determined to level the playing field and compete as an equal. You graduated business school near the top of your class and shot out of the gate ready to hit some home runs, or at least a few stand-up doubles. You might have watched too much SportsCenter.
You landed a job as a management consultant and became known for your ability to deliver results. You were on the road so often that hotel beds were more comfortable than your own. You were on a first name basis with concierges around the world, but didn’t know a single person in your apartment building well enough to ask him to pick up your mail.
As you excelled at work you felt pressure to constantly prove yourself, even if only to yourself. You could get past the fact that every man you worked with thought you were two appletinis away from an out-of-area-code adventure. You could convince yourself that it didn’t matter that all the women assumed you fucked your way into every raise. What you couldn’t handle was being treated like a secretary.
When clients insisted on acting as if you were just sent up from the steno pool you could force yourself to keep a professional smile and finish the project. They were paying seven hundred dollars an hour to have you teach them how to turn a profit, but they still thought it was your job to fetch coffee. You stored up the frustrations and tried to work them all out in the hotel gym.
The first hotel chain that offers an on-call psychologist will make a fortune on business travelers. Charges will appear as “room service” on your bill.
Red-eye flights afforded you rare opportunities to let your guard down, quietly sobbing in the abandoned restrooms of ORD and DFW, cursing yourself for letting it get to you. Once they started boarding your plane, however, you were cleaned up, perfectly coiffed, and ready to march into the next client’s office, your stiletto heels punctuating your entrance.
Comfortable shoes are for girls who don’t get promoted and read “Does This Memo Make Me Look Fat?” to try to figure out why.
Your quest for the top led to a manic drive to find any chance to prove yourself worthy of the executive suite, even if those chances weren’t always rooted in reality. You began to have a recurring lucid daydream wherein Ron, VP of the Southeast Region, is leaning back in his conference room chair sporting a self-satisfactory smirk having just made a not so subtle misogynistic joke to your colleagues’ delight. Years of free bagels at meetings have changed his center of gravity, and he crosses the tipping point and crashes through the floor-to-ceiling window of the 57th story. Before Ron can achieve terminal velocity, you make a quip about how the savings realized from no longer paying for expensed “massage therapists” will allow further expansion in Europe.
You got a real opportunity to advance when the company started planning to expand operations into emerging Asian markets. You were the senior member of a team that was sent to negotiate terms of the deal with Chinese officials. You had visions of your triumphant return as the conquering hero of the Orient; Nixon in Jimmy Choos with better hair and the foresight to have gotten a nose job before anyone knew who you were.
The Chinese didn’t cooperate. They demanded unreasonable operational oversight and percentages of revenues that far exceeded appropriate taxation. They wanted kickbacks. The rational thing to do was kill the deal and fly home.
You knew if you came home empty handed that they would promote that kiss-ass Ron to oversee all operations for the far east. You’d just gotten word that he closed a deal to expand into Tokyo.
Big accomplishment, Ron. Tokyo is more American than Omaha. A border collie could have negotiated that deal.
You had to take a risk. You had been playing the same game as the men for all this time, but your career was stalling out. You had to make a move. You found a way to structure a deal that gave the Chinese what they wanted by cleverly disguising the “taxes” as legitimate operational expenses. You went home with a major trump card to play on Ron. You landed the promotion.
Your tenure as President of Far East Operations lasted seventeen days. Ron was able to piece together enough evidence of your deal to tip off the SEC. You entered your office one Tuesday morning and were met by a smug securities agent in a cheap suit who had the gall to be resting his poorly shod feet upon your beautiful glass desk. You stared first at his eyes, then at his wingtips. You willed your DNA to mutate at that moment and give you the power to forge fiery daggers in your retinas and propel them at his face.
He removed his feet. You still aren’t sure if it was because you intimidated him, or because he was standing to Mirandize you, but a person being led from her office in handcuffs will take whatever victories she can convince herself she’s won.
The trial was highly public, and all your hard work vanished before your eyes as you were burned at the stake on MSNBC and Fox News— an Abigail Williams for the new millennium. You escaped with a relatively minimal sentence to be served at a federal resort, but your career was over in a way nothing had ever been over before.
Why couldn’t Ron have been man enough to just blackmail you for sex? What an asshole.
Bitter and jaded, you were determined to find a way to take advantage of what you had learned over the years. Drawing on some early lessons you decided to write a book. Hen in the Cockpit: A Woman’s Guide to Success hits the shelves next week. The prison librarian said they didn’t have enough room in the budget to get a copy.