David Carlton's link blog; my main blog is at Malvasia Bianca.
In 1992 my friend Kevin Melia came to my house for dinner. Kevin was the CFO at Sun Microsystems. We had worked closely together when he ran World Wide Operations at Sun. It was summertime, his family was on the east coast for a few weeks, so my husband, Kem and I invited Kevin to share some grilled pork-chops and a pleasant evening.
We were having a great time when Kevin turned to Kem and said; “I haven’t seen you for a long time, Kem. You were not at the Christmas party or the last few Sun gatherings, where have you been keeping yourself?”
And my shy, sensitive husband looked Kevin right in the eye and replied, “Kevin, you pay Nancy a lot of money to deal with Sun’s sexism, but you could not pay me enough to watch it ever again, so I will not be attending another Sun function.” Kevin actually choked on his pork chop. It was a very tense moment with two men who like each other, who I love and who I know both love me.
I was initially perturbed by my husband’s candor that evening. I really thought he just did not get it. My life as a woman was different in the workplace than a man’s. I knew that and I accepted it. Why couldn’t he accept it? I felt he was applying a man’s criteria to my experience and not understanding the unique dance I had to do to remain influential and well liked as a women in corporate America.
I discussed this with my good friend, Ron Lloyd, at Sun the next week and he asked, “What do you do that is different from what I do?” And like the fool that I am, I answered him. “Well,” I said, “If I have an idea I really want heard or implemented, I usually attribute it to a male colleague to give it gravitas.” “Why would you do that?” Ron asked. “Because otherwise it will not get attention.” I explained. I went on to tell him that in a one-on-one situation, if I had an idea or solution I would invoke a colleague who was not in the room. So I might say to Kevin Melia, “Jim Bean and I were talking and I think Jim said, ‘fill in my idea here.’” Or if I have something I think is important in a staff meeting, I try to get the guy sitting next to me to pick up my idea so it will get attention.
Ron did not believe me. Sweet man that he is, he thought I had a lot of influence and did not buy that I sacrificed credit for ideas just to get things done. So, we agreed to an experiment. At the next meeting of the senior management of the World Wide Operations team, he was going to pay attention to the responses I got when I offered ideas and then he would offer the exact same idea within a couple of minutes.
You know what happened. On at least three occasions in the first hour of the WWOPS meeting I suggested something or offered an opinion and no one responded at all. Within a minute or two of my offering being ignored, Ron would suggest the same thing, literally quoting me word-for-word and, what do you know, the group would engage, consider and discuss Ron’s offering. The first time Ron raised an eyebrow at me in surprise, the second time he seemed amused, but the third time it happened he looked at me with such pity that I realized I had made an enormous blunder by ever revealing the behavior.
I had thought I was clever and resourceful, doing what was needed to get things done and not be too demanding of my male colleagues, by making them actually hear me.
My husband and teenage son, on the other hand, were always appalled by how I had to work and how I was treated as a woman in that world. CEO Archetypes: #7 Joan of Arc, by Nancy Householder Hauge | Model View Culture