Megan Wallent works in the management ranks at Microsoft. Until a few weeks ago, she was called Michael Wallent. She writes a blog chronicling her transformation. It tells you something about Microsoft culture, or indeed U.S. West Coast culture, that seeing her back to work as a woman wasn’t a big deal for any of her coworkers.
And yet. As beautiful and strong and amazing as women are, the workplace is not where they call the shots. Not even the U.S. West Coast workplace. Steve Ballmer is not a woman (and it would be real interesting news if he discovered his inner femininity). So, this is where I’m puzzled, and I know it’s not going to be politically correct of me to write this, but, as sympathetic and supportive I am of Megan, there’s also something I don’t understand.
It is: it’s hard for me to understand how, in a corporate environment, one would choose to put oneself in a position of lesser power.
It’s tough out there, as women know. Beauty can help somewhat, perhaps. Adam’s apples are ugly, and Michael’s had to go, and so it did. But notice. I don’t know if Michael was a tall guy, but Megan looks like she’s a tall woman. Michael didn’t go to the surgeon in San Francisco complaining about his height and asking “make me a petite”. (For the sake of clarification: I wouldn’t have expected him to.) So, no change in the height department. Tall with boobs is even more imposing than tall with no boobs.
Megan’s voice is also the same as Michael’s voice. That helps, for example on the phone, in conveying power. And I’m pretty sure Megan hasn’t started phrasing her statements with the questioning upward slant that makes so many young American women sound terminally indecisive. No, my guess is Megan has a remarkably decisive voice. I don’t thing she giggles.
So, it will be interesting to see if Megan’s new feminine features help or hinder her power in the organization. My bet is: it doesn’t help to look like a woman. It’s a burden and an excuse for men to treat you, unconsciously or not, worse than you deserve. (Just ask women at investment banks from Morgan Stanley to Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein; no wonder Morgan Stanley prefers to settle its women brokers’ class-action suits out of court). Megan made a conscious trade-off between corporate status and other things that were more important to her, and she hedged her strategy by retaining and using those masculine features and mannerisms that sustain her standing in the workplace. Smart choice, Megan.
For those if you less interested than I am in the dynamics of power and politics in the workplace, here’s something else. If you’re like me, you will recall from your childhood The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. It’s a classic, and even today Megan reads it to her son at bedtime.
Think about this: have you become the kind of butterfly you dreamt of in your caterpillar days?
Does anybody, ever, really?