A Man Among WomenbyDinsmore©
My wife asked me to write a story that dealt with issues that she is currently facing in corporate America while attempting to lead a group in a dynamically new business direction. In essence, she is the Bob character in that regard. She also asked me to, "clean it up" so that she could share it with some of her direct reports. Sorry, there is no sex here; while it is ultimately romantic in the end, it fits better in the, "non-erotic" category. The story was also inspired by a job interview I once had with a company much like the one described.
"Bob, I've really enjoyed getting to know you. Relax, you'll get to the next interview, you passed. You are head and shoulders above anyone else I've interviewed at this career seminar. I've been doing this for a few years and I'm certain that you will get lots of second interviews and several offers from other companies. You've done your homework as it regards my company's business. We're off the clock here; this is not a recruiter's trick. I need to chat with you man to man before you come up to HQ for the final interviews. How about a beer? I'm having one."
This had never happened before in a job interview. Certainly it could be a trick, but Sam, the HR Director for this particular company, seemed like a pretty straight guy. He had time to linger; this was the last of the five job interviews he had scheduled for the day. He felt good about his performance. He had a good resume and had studied several books on interview techniques. The manager of the career seminar company had caught him in the hall of the hotel and given him positive feedback.
In less than sixty days he would be a civilian after more years than he had originally planned in the US Army. He had been nervous when he first decided to get out of the service. He had gone to another of these career weekends with a different company and had been less successful. That company had pushed him at several companies that he just didn't like and wasn't a fit with; it had shown in his interviews and he had gotten no second interviews. In the interim he had learned the game and honed his skills. He'd spent more than he should have on a new wardrobe for the interviews but now he looked like a business man, not a young Army officer desperate to find a job.
He had a BS, Magna Cum Laude and an MBA. He'd gotten much of his education while on active duty thanks to the Degree Completion program and night school. Originally he had dropped out of college after his second year and joined the Army. His grades had been fine; he had simply been bored and broke. He knew he needed a degree to amount to anything and also knew the military could help him fund it.
He had stayed in longer than he had planned. Without a degree, Army flight training was the only ticket to being an officer, albeit a Warrant Officer. It required a longer commitment. The Army was also the only service in which he could become a pilot without a four year degree. Once he had completed his bachelors, he applied for and was awarded a commission as a Second Lieutenant. He had never expected to see combat; then the world changed.
Now at thirty with two combat tours and ten years active service under his belt as an Army Aviator, it was time to move on. He had gotten married between combat tours, and then divorced after he returned from his second overseas tour.
The job market could be tough; without a college education, he was better off staying in the Army. Now he had the educational requirements and he was ready to move on to the next phase of his life. The Army just didn't excite him anymore and the pay left a lot to be desired. He knew he wasn't excited about another combat tour. He'd had good assignments and up until the last year or so had seriously considered the Army as a career. Now, just as most of his peers were doing, it was time to move on.
He had learned to fly several types of helicopters both cargo/troop carriers and attack helicopters. His last combat tour had been as the commander of a medivac or air ambulance detachment. He had performed well in combat and had received top efficiency reports. As a, "reward" he guessed, or maybe an attempt to entice him to stay, he had received a company command when he returned stateside. As a Captain, he was commanding a division Headquarters and Headquarters Company. If he stayed in, he would probably go to the Advanced Course and then become a staff officer for the next decade. The prospects didn't motivate him to stay.
"Bob, who else are you seriously considering?"
Well, let's see, Polatron, TIC, a medical company, an industrial refractory manufacturer, a tire company and a paper company."
"You're better than TIC, you'll hate Polatron in New Jersey, you are the wrong guy for the tire company, I can't see you selling corrugated containers, and I don't know anything about refractories---furnace linings? The medical company is a great one, you'll like them a lot when you go up to their general office and you would do well there. Accept all of the interview trips, make your own call, and then call me and I'll get you up for interviews within a day or two of your call. Come see us before you accept an offer. Unless you puke on the CEO, you're sure to get an offer from us. We need people like you, that is to say, we needs people who have dicks."
"Bob, ninety percent of our management level people are women; we are actually in some trouble both with the feds and with law suits because we don't hire or retain enough men. We have several former male employees who have charged us with sexual harassment. Let me give you the bad news. What do we make again?"
"Women's products, cosmetics, makeup, jewelry, intimate apparel and casual clothing."
"Exactly! And who do women tend to buy those products from? Other women! And do they want to buy them from ugly women? Not on your life! When you go to the mall and see one of those cute little babes where our products are sold, half the time you are seeing a future manager. In the past, all management hires started there---to learn the business from the ground floor."
"Needless to say it has been a dismal failure when we try it with a male. Women shoppers avoid them like the plague---men shoppers assume they're gay. Most guys tell us to take a hike before we ever get a chance to make an offer. College hires, males that is, won't even talk to us. Those that survive the first few months get sick and tired of it---or their wives threaten to divorce them. This time I suggested we look toward the junior military officer arena, find someone with more maturity and toughness."
"Sam, I don't think..."
"Work with me, Bob. You currently command an H&H Company----how many people?
"There are 276 soldiers in my company and another 53 officers."
"How many women?"
"More than half of the enlisted, almost half of the officers---my XO and first shirt are women as are virtually all of my company staff."
"What'd you do on your last combat tour---medivac detachment commander? How many women?"
"Most of my pilots and crew members were female."
"Between combat tours?"
"Flight instructor, which led to being a section leader with a dozen flight instructors under me."
"How many women?"
"Half, more or less."
"Your first tour?"
"Ah, that might just still be a bit classified but suffice to say there weren't any women involved; we were involved in strict combat operations supporting folks that you only know by their first names."
"Okay, so nobody is perfect. The point is you have more experience, by far, working with, commanding---dealing with women in the work place---than most junior military officers. Hell, you've even had a female rating officer. It occurs to me that you would not continue to have received assignments with a heavy female component if you hadn't shown those above you that you knew how to handle it. Did you ever date any of them?"
"The Army rule is one grade above or below and never in the chain of command. I never had any sort of a relationship with anyone remotely in my chain of command or even the same overall command. I dated some female officers but never anyone that I worked with."
"I'm getting personal now, illegal questions if you wanted to press the issue. What about your marriage and divorce?"
"I came back from combat lonely for female companionship and married one of the first cute girls I went out with. It was impetuous and irrational on both of our parts. We stayed together a little over a year; we're still good friends, just not husband and wife."
"That makes you really special—a guy who is still friends with his ex wife."
"Sam, I know a little about sales; I did some selling way back when I was in college before the Army but I don't have any real experience..."
"Not an issue! We don't really sell, we merchandise. I'll give you a copy of the top secret company sales manual and you'll figure it out pretty quickly. Take some time to go visit a few malls and department stores---there's one a block from this hotel. Go buy some girlie products. Talk to our people on the floor; get a real flavor for who we are. We advertise and merchandise. The ads sell a look and a feeling---get's the customer to our part of the store. The sales associates on the store floor demonstrate and in-service the products, convincing the buyer that she too can enjoy that look and that feeling."
"See, I told you we didn't really sell, if we did, you'd be a lot more enthused at my pathetic selling job! Look, if you're the guy I think you are you're the only one that is going to fit. When you come up to the home office, you're going to interview backwards---your first interview will be with the Chairman and founder. If you win that one---and I'll help you prepare---no one else is going to have the nerve to shoot you down. We're not talking an entry level job here, Bob---which is what everyone else you're talking to is talking about---we're talking a direct step into pretty senior middle management. I'm not going to talk to you about money at this stage but I assure you it will be competitive. By the way, the home office is in the Sun Belt not the frozen northlands. It's a great city with a fantastic quality of life."
"Okay, Sam, now tell me the bad news."
"The bad news is you will be one of a hand full of straight men in a company of close to 10,000 women. PMS is a way of life. They resent any intrusion into their girl's club. As I told you, we do not hire unattractive women; after all, most start out essentially 'modeling' the products. They will flirt shamelessly, use every trick in their feminine handbag to knock you off course, connive, and conspire behind your back---pretty much typical corporate America, except that they are universally bright, ambitious and attractive women. It will be, possibly, your greatest challenge, other than leading people in combat. Have I sold you yet?"
"Don't even think about answering until you get though with the other companies and spend a couple of days with us. Please don't blow me off, here---give me your word as an officer and a gentleman that you will not accept another offer until we make ours. Fair enough?"
"Fair enough, Sam."
"Great! Listen, I assume you're staying over, unless you've got something else planned, let me buy you dinner and on the way we might just stop by the mall."
Bob agreed. The two men walked over to the upscale mall and made a bee line for the appropriate area. It was not an area of a store that Bob had ever really visited. There were three young women working with female customers and a fourth, quite obviously the supervisor, helping a male customer.
All four were stunningly attractive; the supervisor even more so, tall, leggy, fashionable, confident and just plain gorgeous. Sam took the lead.
"Excuse me, Miss."
"Mindy!" She said hitting them with a million dollar smile. "How can I help you gentlemen?"
"We've been on a weekend business trip and both need to buy something for our significant others to make up for it."
Mindy was very smooth, not really flirtatious but certainly not cool or distant. She treated neither of the men as if they were idiots. She ascertained how much the men wanted to spend without being too blatant. It was, Bob, thought to himself, a very pleasant sales experience. Bob had to fib a little as he attempted to describe his, "girl friend" since he didn't really have one. In the end, Mindy helped the two men pick very suitable and very nice gifts.
"Bob, I'll take care of this if you'll get dinner---fair enough?"
"Sounds good Sam."
As they walked away, Sam spoke. "I was just playing the part---you don't have to buy dinner."
"What are you planning to do with your new purchases?"
"Well, the one for your nonexistent girl friend I'll turn in for credit as part of our secret shopper program, the other I'll give to my wife. Are you impressed with Mindy?"
"Absolutely, that was a very pleasant experience; she never made me feel uncomfortable as a man shopping in a women's department."
"There are literally hundred of Mindys across the country; she is a cut above average and probably close to promotion."
The two men walked a couple of blocks to a very upscale steak house to enjoy a fabulous dinner and a couple of bottles of wine that were above Bob's normal fare.
"Look, Bob, working in an environment surrounded by bright and attractive women can be extremely distracting. Bluntly, some of them will make it very clear that they want to fuck you. In other cases, you're in serious danger of falling in love."
"How have you dealt with it?"
"My advice is simple, don't shit where you eat. Never, ever get tempted into a fling within the company, even if it is with a peer and totally within the rules. I did fall down on the other part; I fell in love years ago and married a woman in the company. I'm a pretty average looking guy and she's a knockout but we are best friends and madly in love. She saw past my spare tire and I saw past her looks and we've been happily married for ten years and have two children."
Sam paused. "It's funny, the founder---I helped sell her on this idea, the idea of an out of the ordinary hire---told me to she thought I should look for someone as average looking as I was. I convinced her that no, we'd made that mistake in the past. Bob, you're a damned fine looking guy and if you come to work for us you will get a lot of attention. My gut tells me you can deal with it. You're not going to be pushed around by a very attractive woman, no matter how bright she is just because she is a female."
"Sam, I'm not sure that men ever stop having lascivious thoughts about attractive women they work with; my executive officer is a living doll, and under different circumstances, I'd ask her out but I never have and never would. It's a real adjustment at first, working in a female saturated environment; I guess I've been successful because I treat them like, 'regular people', so to speak. I refrain from patting them on the butt when they do a good job and, of course you have to be very careful about any sort of touching that might be deemed inappropriate. On the other hand, I've found women I've worked with, for the most part, to be more open and candid---more willing to share their gut instincts---than a lot of men. They're more inclined to try to please you by doing a good job than by telling you what they think you want to hear. Once you give them the ball, so to speak, once they sensed you trust them, they grow into increased responsibility quicker than many men do."
"Sam, let me tell a quick war story. I went on a night medivac on my last combat assignment, well, actually, a number of them, but this one was different. There was a Special Forces soldier down there bleeding out and they were out of IVs. We were taking sporadic enemy fire; we didn't know the terrain. I was the senior pilot, the aircraft commander. My pilot was a young female LT, cute as they come, blond, athletic, big blue eyes and a smile to die for. She was also one damned fine pilot. She was probably a month away from making aircraft commander. She had all the technical skills but seemed to lack confidence in her abilities. We got cleared in and I said, 'you've got the aircraft', and I thought her jaw would drop off. I said, 'Megan, you've made this kind of approach a hundred times before and you're an excellent night pilot. I could take a bullet in the head in a couple of seconds and then you would have to make this extraction without me or that kid is going to die. Like they say in the commercial, just do it. You're ready. If you weren't, I wouldn't have given you the controls. Do you trust me?' She nodded. 'Well I trust you to make this extraction, start your approach.' She never wavered, executed the mission perfectly and within five minutes we were pumping fluids into that kid's body in three different places to try to hold on to him. He made it---made a full recovery."
"We didn't say much on the flight back to base. After we dropped the kid off at the hospital and returned to our base, I got a radio call from the hospital that he was stable and in surgery having his arteries closed up and the prognosis was excellent. I turned to Megan and said, 'you just saved a brave soldier's life; you should feel very good about that.' She said, 'I was so damned scared.' 'Yea, well join the club, I'm always scared when people are trying to kill me and I have an important job to do, scared I'll screw up, scared I'll fail that kid on the ground and yes, scared I'll get my ass shot off. Fear is unavoidable; it's how you respond---how you perform---when you're very close to pissing in your pants. It'll only be a little easier next time---you'll still be scared shitless but from what you just showed me you're ready to be in charge and this will not be the last boy you bring back to his loved ones. Are you ready to be an aircraft commander, Lieutenant?' 'Yes, sir.' She replied. 'That's the final test question Megan! The other senior pilots were sure you were ready but they weren't sure you knew you were ready. Obviously you are. Congratulations!' She went on to be a very good medivac pilot and saved a lot of lives. I recommended her for platoon leader when I left country and the powers that be agreed."
Bob paused, and then continued. "Sorry for the long war story, Sam. Megan could have been named George and I would have handled it the same way. Sure, the occasional unexpected hug or the moist eyes are not something you deal with when working with men. Hell, I learned to become an equal opportunity hugger, male or female, when they came back looking beat up, they got a hug. Women tend to wear their feelings more outwardly than guys do---but that is not necessarily a negative. They're almost always easier to read, more inclined to ask when they don't understand and don't tend to bull through a lack of confidence with a lot of testosterone driven machismo when they're unsure of their abilities. They're as brave as any man out there; when they tell you that they can handle something, you can generally take it to the bank."
"Oh, you're an HR VP's dream come true! Save that anecdote for our founder. She was in the Women's Army Corps in the last war. She'll get it and she'll love it."
The next morning Sam gave Bob a ride to the airport as both men headed for home. Bob got additional interviews from all of the companies he had expected to. A couple days after returning home, he received a package from Sam with the company sales manual, org chart, backgrounds on key executives and a special credit card with instructions to visit the company's locations as he was traveling and buy something which he could send back later with one of the enclosed UPS labels.