After a 14-year career in finance, I have witnessed only a handful of women successfully manage their way to a spot that makes them feel happy and victorious, while seeing numerous women work their way to misery and disappointment. I used to count myself as one of those numerous women. The cause for this misery and disappointment is that we women don't like to play games.
When we got the corporate handbook on the first day of orientation, no one told us that, in addition to not wearing open-toed shoes and using corporate email only for work communications, we would have to make sure we were well-versed in the political games that are constantly taking place around us.
Goals and Game-Playing
During my career working for a large bank, my goals were to show up every day, work hard, support my team, help my clients, and grow professionally. I was a no-nonsense type of gal who didn't like to get bogged down in drama and politics. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that understanding politics and game playing are essential to move in a successful professional direction.
It was the beginning of 2008, and my group had just laid off a number of people due to poor corporate earnings and dismal growth expectations. I was one of the "lucky" employees to remain standing, but I was in a satellite office and wanted to move back home to New York. The only reason I was in the satellite office to begin with was because a former boss had asked me to move as a "favor" to the company. That boss had moved onto another bank two years prior, the group reorganized, and now the new leadership was not aware of this "favor."
I put together a strong argument for why it made sense for me and the company to make a change in my location and flew up to New York to present this to one of my many bosses. During what I thought was a brilliant oration on the merits of this move, my boss interrupted me and said, "Why is it every time I talk to you, all you do is complain?"
I am not sure what my face looked like after he said that, however, I know it felt as though I had been slapped in the face. How could he think I was complaining when I was just presenting a logical plan? And how could he say I complained every time he saw me when this was only the second time I had met with him?
This question completely threw me off my game and led to me answering the following question wrong, "What happens if we don't move you to New York?" To which I responded honestly (because I didn't play games), "Well, then I guess I will have to work for a company that wants to support my career growth." This was not the response the boss wanted to hear and it led to more conversation that ended with the boss saying, "I am not sure where you are going to end up, but it won't be New York." Okay then.
Do Not Put It In Email
I left the office an emotional wreck, took an hour to cool off, and proceeded to write an email response to this boss to explain myself better than I communicated in person. If you take anything away from this article, please take this: never, ever, ever, put your extensive thoughts in writing. Remember, there is a game being played and whenever you put something in writing, it will only be used against you in the game. I learned this the hard way. Six months later, I was working for a new company, and thankful to have space from this boss.
Meanwhile, I had remained friends with other leaders in this bank. I learned after the fact that apparently there were a number of games being played around me. Alliances were made and I was not privy to any of these conversations. If I had played my hand closer to my vest and kept up a good poker face, I would have had a seat at the table, but I didn't play the game and hence I missed out on a career opportunity.
Women may like to play games in relationships, or we may like to play games like Monopoly or charades, but we do not like to play games in the office. Most of us want to just come in, work hard, help others, and enjoy our lives outside of work.
The problem is that the work environment, especially in finance, is filled with game players, namely men. And I don't hate the players, but I hate the game. Unfortunately, it is a necessary evil for a career in finance.
However, it is possible to play the corporate game and still maintain your personal integrity.
The best way to succeed is to play your cards close to your vest. Stay positive and supportive with all the people you interact with professionally. Make sure you make friends and let them fill you in on their plans, but confide your own with someone not in the office. If you remember that game players surround you, you will certainly maintain your poker face, and only let it down when the players aren't around.
In case you were curious about how things ended for me, I spent two years working for another company, until there was a change in leadership at my former one. I was called out of the blue and asked to come back. I was not only paid more than when I left, but I will never forget the day when I passed that former boss, the one who said I would never work in New York, on the trading floor. His look of astonishment and frustration was worth more than the pay increase to me.
But let me tell you, I only got to that place because while I was away, I stayed close to the game players I trusted and played the game in return. That boss may have won the first hand, but I made sure he didn't win the entire game.
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