Recently at work we have been rolling out a mentoring programme and I put my hand up to ask if I could be matched to someone. In my imagination a mentor would be someone who I could learn from, someone who could help me navigate the minefields of trying to combine a career and motherhood and marriage and all whilst having nice shoes. Not exactly a tall order I’d have thought.
I may be being blinkered or be missing something but what has come out of this process is that it appears that there are a very few people that I look at on the corporate ladder and want to grow into.
I can’t see any working mothers who have a two career household. The message coming across loud and clear is that if you want to succeed at the top then you need to be the big cheese at home as well as in the office and without that support you’re not going to make it. Given that Mr Muddling is very clear that he is not even going to consider giving it all up to become a house husband we have a bit of a problem. And it leaves me with nobody I see ahead of me on the career ladder who has navigated through the same challenges I have or even understand them. I’m not even narrowing my search to just women, it appears that there is not a man at the top of this business who has a wife with an equivalent career. Why not? Certainly it leaves me without someone I can talk to about how Mr Muddling and I can carry on both doing well in our jobs whilst not requiring one of us to become a trailing wife. I want to understand how you can make it work not be told that there is no way it can work. I don’t believe that there is no way it can work despite all this evidence to the contrary.
Having children also doesn’t seem to be good for your career. There are a lot of senior women who have chosen to be child free. Unfortunately I can’t (nor would I want to) turn the clock back to the days before babies but that does seem to be something I should have considered. I can see that your career can be all consuming and that if you want to succeed you need focus but I’m not prepared to sacrifice having a family to get ahead. And again, that single-minded determination to get ahead isn’t really me. I want to talk to someone who can share with me how to balance the needs of ambition and the desire to have a career with the calls of home and family. I want to learn how to do this and to learn what pitfalls to avoid. I don’t want to have to pretend that I don’t have children to be successful.
I’m also going to sound incredibly shallow if I say that being badly dressed also appears to be something you need to do here to be successful. I don’t believe that a uniform of dark suit and white shirt means that people don’t focus on my clothes but on what I’m saying. I like to look nice, I like to not wear suits and to embrace dresses and accessories. I don’t want to merge into the background and I try very hard that my outfits don’t dominate the conversation but reinforce my personality. If I’m the only woman in the room, so long as I look smart, I’m going to stand out by virtue of my sex even if I’m dressed in the dreariest clothes possible. And you know what, having great shoes can act as an icebreaker and doesn’t signal that I’m an airhead. But apparently the vibe here seems to be that the route to the top needs you need to look more butch than Bradshaw.
So I look around for role models and I’m not sure I want to become any of them – I don’t want to emulate them and I certainly don’t want to dress like them.
Perhaps this is the problem with this job and this organisation, with the City and the work I do, perhaps the reason we are losing women hand over fist is because, like me, after 15 years pushing ahead and trying to get to the top, we’ve looked up and realised that we don’t like the look of those at the top.
As always the question is what next, what now, what can I do?
Do I stay and try and change things one pair of nice shoes at a time or do I get out before I start thinking that I need to tone it down to get ahead?