I remember the days when women padded their shoulders to look as big as the guys and to make a point. We had grand ambitions, could drink, swear and dish out as much as we got.
At the same time, the guys were deferential, car doors were opened for us and we were paid a third less than our male colleagues.
Then some of us went and had babies, and some of us came back feeling tentative and less confident than we’d felt when we started our career, because we could no longer pretend we were the same. Our world had changed, we had responsibilities to our babies and for some reason a few women came back thinking that the intellect, skills and experiences they had before they left for maternity leave were somehow dulled by the birth of a child instead of enhanced.
In addition, we couldn’t stay back and play with the guys over a beer, or pretend we liked golf or hang around to schmooze and pretend we had urgent and important work to complete – at least until the boss left. We were left out of the information loops and had less visibility.
This was when our careers, formerly fast tracked, slowed to the speed of a lawn mower. And it was hard to pin point why. Most women assumed there was something wrong with them. Maybe we were less intelligent, or not as good as we thought we were? Our ambition and expectations became lower as we made do.
Some women – the smart ones, left to find alternative work in organisations that provided what looked like more opportunities or started their own businesses to work on their own terms.
Others stayed where they were, hoping that over time they would eventually be recognised or provided with the opportunities to demonstrate their value.
In 30 years, most of the women who should be in the executive suites aren’t. The guys we started with are. Many don’t even have children – but they’re still executives in waiting.
I recently met with one of these women. She told me that over the years her career had inched forward in ever decreasing increments.
She cried as she shared her frustration, then anger about how easily the guys she started with passed her.
She then observed that it seemed that younger women have got smarter about their careers. Some seem to be progressing more quickly.
She described this group as less inclined to adapt their behaviour and act like the blokes and more inclined to flirt, work hard and make the guys not only feel good but look good.
They are less demanding, more feminine and the guys like them around. They look after them so they don’t leave. The women are promoted as the bloke above them is.
I see some evidence of this behaviour and its consequence. It proves women are resourceful and creative about career advancement. It might work when little else seems to. The only question is: what happens when the men reach the top?
We still come second.