A couple of weeks ago, I went to a happy hour gathering for a Fortune 100 corporation. It was a small intimate affair, a party of 10. I happened to be a guest of an employee for the corporation. When I walked in, I was met with a surprise: seven of the people there were women, including the person who invited me.
These women were a part of a small team that travels and performs audits internationally for the company. There were only three men on the team. Minutes after I arrived, the Boss Man strolled through. As the night went on, a few beers later, me and Boss Man started chatting. A few sentences into it, he said something that struck me as odd.
“This company is set up for these women to take over. As soon as they become comfortable with each other, they will.”
I didn’t get it. It wasn’t the idea of women taking over that clashed with my sensibilities; it was an unexpected statement that didn’t leave room for elaboration. I wanted to stop him and unleash a torrent of questions, but I chilled, mainly because he had moved on before I wrapped my head around what I wanted to ask.
Plus I was a guest. So I let that sit in my subconscious and moved on.
Fast forward to yesterday.
A friend of mine, who disguises himself as a plant controller during the week, told me a story about a fellow controller’s woes when trying to fill in an accounting clerk position. This fellow controller, an African American alpha woman, went through three clerks because of her difficulties getting along with them.
All the clerks all quit. All the clerks were Black. All the clerks were women.
As my buddy put it, “Women can lead men all day. That’s nothing for them. But women leading women? That’s not happening. In my lifetime, I have yet to see it.”
Narratives about Black women not getting along with other women are nothing new. We’ve experienced these tales since grade school and have seen them continue unabated into adulthood. It’s become cliché. However, it’s a cliché for a reason. At some point it was a novelty, and it continues to express its truth with empirical rigor.
In essence, Boss Man (10 years in Corporate America) and my Plant Controller friend (six years) conveyed an increased demand for women in management. Studies back up this claim, citing women’s abstract nature and outside-the-box brain to co-opt a male’s scientific, straightforward thinking. Many assert that women’s minds operate like a web, lending themselves to non-linear (hence more complex) thought patterns, which enable them to tackle gray matters with more ease than a male would.
(Of course this borders on the crude and reductive. But data like this does little to deter the notion of women as better leaders. But that’s another argument for another day.)
As humans, we are enmeshed in a culture that preaches self-preservation. Anybody who has ever worked in an office knows what C.Y.A. means. Since women outnumber men in the workforce, eventually women will increase in numbers in the upper echelons of Corporate America. Communication skills are a requisite for any executive.
It wasn’t until after my conversation with Plant Controller that I realized that Boss Man was simply stating women’s difficulty taking orders from other women.
Patriarchy has a hand in that. In my experiences, women oppress other women to curry favor with the “good ole’ boys,” or with a man. After a while, it tends to become second nature for women. In the context of the workplace, this preferential treatment becomes stark. In this setting, the incentive to get in with the good ole’ boys far outweighs being chummy with women coworkers.
According to Boss Man, it takes more than the ability to expertly communicate with male bosses and colleagues to break through the ceiling of women in upper management. Something tells me that communicating expertly with both sexes in any arena would be beneficial. But like everything in life, a trade-off exists which could be more injurious to women’s financial statements as time saunters on.