How much diversity is needed in the workplace? A story about a lesson learned.
Synopsis of the career novel “GAME-Faint Signals”
A successful woman in her thirties, dressed in a classical black suit and white shirt that compliments her copper red hair, is giving daring and candid insights behind the curtains of a large corporation. Let’s call her Alex . Discreet make-up and little jewelry suggest that she is working in a business area that still is one of the biggest playing fields dominated by men. The story of Alex in GAME-Faint Signals embraces all those demanding challenges and delightful amenities a position responsible for driving innovation and market development holds. But it also tells her experiences concerning diversity.
Eagerly she starts her job as a consultant in a team consisting only of male colleagues, including the superiors. Colleagues that have been working for the company for so many years they treat products of the old days like their beloved children. By any means, this team is divers – except for gender… There are tiny, tall, big and thin colleagues. Colleagues with long or short hair, farsighted visionaries or meticulous detail lovers, convinced singles or caring family fathers, self-confident presenters and bashful thinkers. A real gay potpourri.
Is she the quota? Or is it really her long-term experience in this business that counts and that nobody in this teams holds as much as her? It’s the latter, definitely, she´s being told several times. But Alex doesn’t waste a thought on this as diversity is not even a faint signal on her radar screen. Since graduation she has mostly dealt with men and she likes it. Very much. It is her dream job. No doubt as she has grown to love the competition aspect of it. Learn about new things, convince customers around the world of innovative products and acquire contracts. All this is like a game for her that needs to be won. The predominant award is not the respectable pay check. It is rather the recognition the winner gets. It is the affirmation received by the unmasked glance into the mirror each morning. It is the unmitigated, private “Yes, I can”-smile being returned in an almost aphrodisiac way. Long before such a slogan had to serve as a persuasion of the public masses at stage-managed election campaigns.
Continuously Alex is building up complex networks to potential customers and partners as well as decision makers within the company. Hard work, creativity and self-confident visions take her to fascinating places around the globe but also to interesting projects. The next management level starts to notice, starts to avail themselves of her success to shape their own profile within the hierarchy. Why not, Alex readily replenishes supply for the superiors. It´s only good for the team, if her boss and his boss are in cheerful sentiment. Nay-Sayers regularly consider the new product a moot point. But prophecies of doom are best countered with constant progress.
Indeed the superiors are content with their best horse in the barn. Very content. Step by step she is involved in certain decision makings and asked for opinion on future strategies. The next step up the carrier ladder is dangled in front of her much earlier than expected. One of her projects is even being considered for the rare internal award. Puzzled she notices from the corner of her eye resentment she is courting from her colleagues. Everybody in the team has the same possibilities, she thinks. Everybody can use all of the information that she dutifully distributes. The whole team profits from the projects that serve as references for potential customers. Competition is good for the business. A few dark clouds gather, however her naivety fostered by positive thinking prevents her from sensing the rising storm. It´ll all work out, Alex tells herself. It´ll all work out, reckons the executive suit.
How wrong can one be? A protracted ordeal starts, cumbersome and strenuous, since it is not foreseeable as such. Point of views and opinions around her change, more than once, showing more tonalities than the average chameleon features. However in contrast to the animal kingdom there is no clear line of communication to detect. Except with some colleagues. Their announcements are as clear as a “five-by-five” on a radio channel. Even the messages that aren’t voiced, like diverted glances or the peer pressure seating in meetings. Or things that surely happen in clandestine gatherings, spoken under their breath across dark cellular phone channels. Information that isn’t delivered where it belongs to, even to customers.
Alex angles her antennas in her quest for help. But whom can she trust? Are her antennas picking up on the right frequency? Is she able to decipher the signals without ambiguity? It seems as if her code book doesn’t conform. Not for this type of communication. Not even mimesis is left for her, camouflaging herself by emulating her surroundings. Banned by the morning glance into the mirror. That is her supreme court which decides on the course of action and option of arms. But there are no fair arms in sight, especially not ones that hint at a mutual win for all parties. Because anything else doesn’t make sense. Not for Alex.
Even he is not in sight, the white knight with waving flags, who helps to crack this hard (coco-)nut. But who would seriously risk a potential remise (at best), still riding for a fall? How but is it possible to thwart the company´s philosophy and diversity thought to benefit those who should actually bear personal consequences?
In the end there is only one way to go, one last game to be played to withstand the critical glance of the mirror. Head held high, but no treachery and treason. A deep cut. Nevertheless a cut that offers the fulfillment of long fostered ideas, allowing for a dream to come true. Another dream.
Only one question will stay unanswered in the profoundness of the consciousness.
Was there only THIS one final solution as Alex still wants to be able to face her (female) reflection in the mirror? Because she does not belong to this one species of women (anymore), described by an established German sociologist*? These women that have to transform into half men and instinctively decline their femininity** just to bring home the bacon in the male playing field?
*Dr. Carsten Wippermann cited in: manager magazin – “Das Ende der Herrlichkeit“, 16.08.2010, Kapitel 4, Absatz 5.
**femininity here does not refer to “erotic capital” and especially not to how it should be used. The use of the word “femininity” is hereby explicitly dissociated from interpretations like Ms Catherine Hakim is reported to suggest in her book: “Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital” !