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Are maverick women to blame?


An article about More women leaving jobs for callings in the Arizona Daily Star suggests that maverick women who leave the corporate world are hurting the chances of other women. "While the women come from disparate income groups, they are dropping out of corporate America at the top of their game."

Maverick Women
Fire Back!

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What I disagree with: "'The trend may make it even more difficult for women coming up,' says Liz Ryan, president of WorldWIT, an online organization of professional women in technology and business. Ryan said employers may begin to question the determination of women workers. Some women prolong terms in jobs they no longer want for fear of ruining it for other women following in their footsteps."

Why I disagree: If I decide for whatever reason to leave my job, I do not sit down and analyze what this will do to potential up-and-coming women that would like to follow in my footsteps.

One guy in I.T. at my company left to become a pond-keeper-upper for golf courses. Do I as his employer then question the determination of other men at my company? No. One man's career decision has nothing to do with another man's career. Just because I am female does not mean that another female's career decisions, determination, and success have anything to do with mine.

Any thoughts?

Nick's Reply
Are you kidding? What I'd really like is to have a roundtable discussion. If anyone has comments on this, I'll print a selection in an upcoming edition. Send your thoughts here (guys, too): Mavericks.

This is just another example of how women get hassled for doing what's best for themselves. A very insidious form of discrimination lies in promoting the idea that one person is responsible for the success or failure of others. That's pure balderdash. Making your own career decisions for the good of all women may be a noble idea, but in practice all you do is compromise yourself. The notion that women have a common goal reveals a socialist perspective -- and I'm a died-in-the-wool capitalist who believes all progress stems from the success of individuals acting in their own interest.

(In case someone thinks I'm against mentoring, that's incorrect. But we're not talking about mentoring here. For a discussion of effective mentoring, please see Mentoring & Getting Mentored.)

Comments like Ryan's are not surprising, though. When an "outsider" gets "in" by letting herself be co-opted by the code of the insiders, you have to ask, Is she succeeding, or selling out? That's not a loaded question. There's nothing wrong with choosing to be co-opted, unless you don't realize you're doing it.

In the article you cite, Ryan goes on to say that, "The status quo will remain the status quo as long as women are not there to change the paradigm." But the issue is not whether a maverick woman -- one who chooses not to play -- is making it more difficult for other women. The issue is the underlying assumption that success is defined as working one's way up the corporation. Why is the head of WorldWIT promoting that paradigm and discounting the choices of maverick women? Should all women (or all men) be judged by whether they choose to rise in the corporation?

Take a look around. Leading magazines like Fast Company and Inc. idolize the maverick who chucks it all to follow a dream. More and more people are choosing non-corporate and non-traditional work options. I think the suggestion that individual women who opt out are shortchanging women as a group is narrow-minded and -- if you want to look at this even more critically -- possibly guided by a corporate agenda.

What I'd like to ask Ryan is, Are you promoting the success of women, or the success of corporate structures? This is not a new question. Men have asked it before, and some have moved up to cleaning ponds, building furniture, and starting their own businesses.

For those who subscribe to the corporate paradigm, sacrificing part of their lives so they can succeed in the corporate culture is a valid choice. But don't indict women as a group for recognizing what many men do -- that the corporate paradigm may not be for them. Make no mistake: The woman who says "No" is successful. The other who blames her for making it "even more difficult for women coming up" is missing the point and revealing a narrow-minded view of choice and freedom.

Ryan could be accused of promoting a corporate mindset for women. I doubt that's her intent, but as head of a professional women's group she ought to consider that her comments marginalize women who are in fact on the bleeding edge of a work culture that serves a larger, richer lifestyle. They want to be their own masters.

Which is all to say, I agree with you. Beware of those who would discriminate against you under the guise of promoting equal corporate opportunity. You are not responsible for, or necessary to, anyone's success. If success means selling out to someone else's agenda, then I encourage women who don't cotton to the corporate paradigm to fail and fail again, until they achieve their personal goals.

Best wishes to you,
Nick Corcodilos
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