“So I see you’re in foal,” my male officemate greeted me. I was four months pregnant.
“Thank God my wife doesn’t have to work,” commented my boss when I was frantic over a pregnant au pair (no, it wasn’t my husband).
“Look at the bazongas on that one,” chortled a male colleague, assessing the flight attendant. Another colleague replied, “Put a paper bag over her head and I’d do her.”
Did I mention that the men had commanded the aisle and window seats, leaving me scrunched in the middle between their man-spread legs and meaty elbows hogging the armrests?
Such is the glamorous life of a woman among the wolves of Wall Street, the life that the heroine of my first novel, Nannyland, flees to become the nanny to four rambunctious children on a Cotswolds estate (shades of The Sound of Music!).
I know this life because I lived it. We were sold the myth: Women on Wall Street can enjoy a glorious and fulfilling professional career; our gender is irrelevant.
And yet…women are not just short men, we are different. Deborah Tannen’s marvelous book, You Just Don’t Understand, relates the story of a wife complaining to her husband that she feels fat. Helpfully, he assures her she can join a health club and exercise every day. Problem solved.
Of course, every woman in the world knows what she really wanted – reassurance that she’s beautiful and sexy and doesn’t need to shed an ounce.
Tannen’s point? Men and women communicate differently, which is especially challenging on Wall Street. Women communicate to connect; I understand what you mean, that happened to me too, I’m so sorry you feel that way. Men communicate to compete and solve problems.
Also, women have babies. I recently read an article about the “glass ceiling” that cited lots of challenges for women – but was too politically correct to mention motherhood. How absurd is that!
So we face special hurdles in the hyper-testosterone world of Wall Street. In my book, Nannyland, my heroine runs away; and in my second book, The Long-Lost Jules, she longs to run away. But if you want to stay and fight it out, here are my top five tips:
- Organize! Organize, organize. Make lists, pre-plan, pre-arrange. Carpools are your best friend.
- Connect with other women. If our communication style sometimes hurts us in business, it helps us in life.
- Be nice to everyone; do favors whenever you can. This is one area where we have an advantage over men, so use it.
- In every meeting, say something. The key to a successful career is making yourself heard, which is harder for women because of our inclination to be quieter and because men are so aggressive. (Ask yourself if what they’re saying is really so smart.)
- Don’t be afraid to put your family ahead of your career. Trite but true: In the end, will you regret not spending enough time at work, or not spending enough time with your family?