On My Mind / Essays On Success

Getting Even

"Sue those boys!"

Saltier language filled the air as my female colleagues shared their outrage upon hearing that I had been passed over for promotion to a management position years ago at my then-place of employment.

Back in that day, I was a young professional eager to move up the ladder. My boss appreciated my work, but he said that for credibility in our particular business, he wanted "a graybeard" in the top management job in my group.  Translation:  older guy.

I did not meet those credentials, being just barely into my 30s and female.  Plus, I did not have long experience in this business, and the guy -- let's call him Clyde -- had a much stronger resume. On paper, it was a no-brainer; Clyde got the job.

Problem was, in practice, I was already successful at our business, and my boss admitted that fact in the very same conversation in which he told me that he hired Clyde.   "Please don't quit," pleaded the boss, "you can do things that Clyde will not be able to do.  Both of us need you to stay in order to be successful."

Yeah, right.  I went through all of the stages of job-crisis grief:  disbelief, humiliation, feelings of betrayal, sadness, Haagen-Dazs, Jack Daniel's, and finally, the slow-burning anger that indicated my course of action:  "Don't get mad, get even."

I did not sue.

I would be damned if I was going to come off as a victim.

I wanted to win, and I set about doing just that.  Adversity made me even better at my job.   I was at my desk by dawn, and turned off the lights at night.  My reports were impeccable.  I became the nearly-perfect employee -- perfectly threatening in my increasingly sharp productivity.  Clyde became my unwitting foil, coming late and leaving early, letting me handle the details, generally passive in the face of my white-hot focus on proving that I should have his job.

I won.  Clyde left.  I got the job, though for much less money, of course, being younger and female.  The boss still longed for a ''graybeard,'' but I had checkmated that desire.

Did I betray the rights of women because I did not sue?  Some of my friends thought I had sold-out to The Man.  I disagreed.

Every woman has to figure out her own response to the inevitable presence of discrimination in the workplace, which continues to be an egregious offense against justice.   Each case poses different facts, and for some cases, litigation is certainly the best solution.

In my case, I was not interested in spending years of my life mired in vengeance even though others said I had a good claim.  But I wanted to win, and while litigation might have vindicated my legal position, I felt I would lose a great deal emotionally and professionally.  I had other plans for my career, and did not want to get derailed to prove my point.

I'm a college president today because I played through that painful moment, not letting feelings of grievance get in the way of my ultimate success.


Patricia McGuire

 |  September 30, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  |  Category:  Personal essays Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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