Career Shattered By The Glass Ceiling

If my personal experience is any measurement, women and men have been earning equal pay in the U.S. for at least the past 25 years. In my old guy opinion, all the women’s rights marchers should have taken their protest signs and gone back to work long ago.

Of course, they were absolutely correct to protest the unfairness of the glass ceiling when it was firmly in place. However, there are always two sides to any issue, even that one. Here’s my side. Now retired for nearly three decades, my final five career years were full of frustration because of this gender glass ceiling issue.

My company had government contracts, so with orders from Washington in the early 1980s, our top executives were suddenly faced with a dilemma. In order to keep getting lucrative government business, they had to comply. They abruptly changed the centuries-long practice that only men were being promoted to higher-level jobs.

The all-male company executives began furtively seeking out women to promote to management. As with John McCain’s panic to find a woman vice presidential candidate in the 2008 elections, our company’s top brass often chose random women to promote.

Of course, as in any workplace, this didn’t cause a disaster. In reality, the higher level the executive, the less actual day-to-day real work is required. In my company, that meant the regular, hard-working men and women still did the honest tasks. All the newly-promoted women executives had to do was act like executives.

Their busy days, as with male counterparts, were filled with meetings, giving inspiring pep talks and generally sitting around in larger offices trying to look important. In the Armed Forces, that’s what generals and admirals do, including the most incompetent armchair warriors.

On paper, at least, our company was treating women fairly. However, the downside of the rush to meet quotas by promoting a large number of women quickly, was that it snuffed out the careers of many highly-qualified men. They had worked hard to reach management, and right or wrong, expected the usual practice of promoting men to executive levels to continue.

Politically correct or not by today’s standards, I had those expectations at the time. I’d already put in 20 years with the company, and thought I’d make it up to executive rank because of my good management track record. Unfortunately for me, during those mid-1980s is when the panic to promote women in a hurry exploded in my company.

Not only did I hit a new glass ceiling, but it all came crashing down on me. Suddenly, some of my new bosses were the same young women I had hired a decade earlier as management trainees right out of college.

It made for a very awkward transition of power, as if the fairy tale princess had suddenly taken over the kingdom. Now she could order the dethroned old king to clean out the stables.

Many of the new female bosses didn’t know how to handle the topsy-turvy situation. They suddenly found that the old guy they had considered a mentor for many years was now a lowly subordinate. It made for very stressful work days. I did my job as always, while the new executives tried to find ways to look and act superior.

Now that the unfunny comedy of my final career years is behind me, I can try to look back on it with some perspective. Of course, qualified women today deserve to earn equal pay and promotions for equal or better work records as men. But in the war of the sexes, as in any conflict, there are casualties. I still feel the pain.

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