Canaries at work


I’ve been looking at the research done over the last 30 years on women in management, the ‘glass ceiling’ and all that jazz.  Having had first hand experience of the world of work for those 30 years, it makes for somewhat depressing reading to find that little has moved on materially during three decades.

The combination of a patriarchal society, long hours culture and old boys’ network has meant that women have struggled to climb to the very top of organisations.  Rees (2004) categorised us into ‘corporate high flyers’ (those who are willing to slug it out alongside the chaps), ‘soloists and pioneers’ (those who leave the politics behind to carve out their own path) and ‘submarines’  (the women who do the 9 – 5 but mentally channel their energies into non-work activities).  It seems such an awful waste of talent to me.

Another researcher, Schein (2007), likens corporate women to the canaries that miners used to send along the mine shafts to detect a poisonous atmosphere.  All too often, the toxic environment finishes us off.

Surely common sense must prevail sooner or later, as it can’t be only women who are looking to balance their work and non-work life .  (And by the way, that doesn’t have to be a family.  It could be scuba-diving, stamp collecting or saving elephants in Burma.)  I know plenty of men who have realised that there is more to life than the office.  With a global economy, highly advanced technology and a little understanding of what makes humans tick, it seems to me that there are more creative ways to work than many organisations choose to realise.


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