Enlightenment hit me at a birthday party. I met a former work colleague and we started talking – yes, diversity. He said: “Women always want to test you as a man. You, Esther, were particularly good at that! Me? Testing? “See if you’re any good as a boss, they’re always challenging your authority.”
At first I disagreed vehemently, but then it dawned on me. Our history goes back twenty years. I should have reported something to a large committee that was actually wrong – a mistake in the algorithm. I had refused to do that, even more so, I had told him if he didn’t correct the formula beforehand, to disclose the bug and make a correction with the suggestion to have all the other 25 subprojects checked. After all, it was a 150-million-franc savings project of a large company. He threatened: “If you do that, I’ll kill you”.
Men first want to clarify the pecking-order
My answer: “watch me!” I meant it – at the factual level – as an offer to correct the error, but he felt challenged in his authority. Classical misunderstanding? Or a gender issue? As a project manager, he saw himself as a higher ranking person and I should have subordinated myself. I saw myself in a factual discourse among experts. Both perspectives had their justification – he was not my line manager.
A friend with an army past always says: “Men first want to clarify the pecking order – women want to meet at eye level“, and thus explains my challenges, which I discuss with him about the dance of the sexes in everyday business life. Plausible, isn’t it? Behavioral research supports the formula.
My former colleague and I are now twenty years more mature. It’s good that he didn’t make his threat come true. Stupid: the company went bankrupt. I don’t know if it was because the formula wasn’t corrected. The story otherwise makes sense for both of them: even if they hold each other in high esteem, it explains the fundamental tensions between man and woman in the professional context. So much for party small talk.
Column by Esther-Mirjam de Boer, published in the Handelszeitung on 4 January 2019.
PS: I involuntarily adorned myself with foreign feathers: the photo is of Riccarda Mecklenburg – very flattering for me 🙂