Guest post by Ann Marlowe
Author of The Book of Trouble: A Romance
A lot of women who are unhappy with their work lives will say something along these lines: business is hell, and no one in their right mind would want to do it, and men only do it because they have to. That women are the only ones able to see straight, or allowed to act on their seeing straight. That anyone in his or her right mind would RATHER be at home with the kids. (Of course, men don't have the option of not working, or not providing for their families. Men don't have the cultural permission to blame their lack of perseverance on anything but themselves.)
We hear this argument a lot. I would like to make the opposite argument for a change. I would like to suggest that women are not acting in their own best interests by being so cynical about business. They are short-changing themselves, not just in terms of financial independence and the rewards of a higher income, not just if they get divorced and end up with a reduced standard of living, but in terms of their personal development.
The men, as they more or less stoically struggle onward, come to realize that "endless meetings" are the stuff of life in the business world; that other people are not an obstacle to getting one's job done, they're the reason you have a job. The men see the hostility in the faces of their rivals and still persevere, befriending or neutralizing or ignoring or going head to head with them. Gradually, and not without grave errors along the way, they grow into mentors and leaders.
They see that the occasional opportunities for promoting a subordinate to a job worthy of her talents, teaching younger colleagues, or firing a selfish or abusive manager are the forms of ethical action that their path has provided for them, and that they are not small or unworthy challenges. Men learn that a top job is demanding and consuming in the same way that the work of an artist is, because being a high level executive is an art, and one that few are talented enough to pursue.
Only a tiny number of the men will make it to the top, of course. Those who drop by the wayside at some stage may gladly or not so gladly accept a subordinate position, leave for a smaller company, start their own business, change careers radically. But they will have all learned something, not least of all about themselves.
I do NOT mean to suggest that making money is the only worthwhile goal on earth. Quite the contrary. Art, science, politics, public service, caring for the sick, raising children - there are good arguments to be made that each or all of these are more important and noble. The fact remains, though, that most of us work in business jobs, and whatever meaning we can extract from those forty hours a week is what we have to subsist on. And it's not a poor diet.
Those who would tell you that the deck is stacked should be ignored. If every child had to decide to walk based on whether or not she would be a champion runner, most of us would still be crawling. Of course the deck is stacked: there is only one CEO of every company. Any person's chances of heading a major firm are low. But just as most of us enjoy walking, most of us can enjoy working. It's the journey that counts. And if you don't make it to the top, the reason isn't likely to be your gender.