In the C-Suite

I’m on the Board of a company. We employ a workforce of about 120 and operate 2.5 billion in client capex. We have a CEO, and I’m all the other Cs (OO, FO, LO, IO).

The CEO has a few strengths that speak for him (he is a man, of course), but he is no match for the combined Cs that I represent. Still, being a man and a CEO and an amazingly effective self-promoting narcissist, he is generally considered everyone’s boss, including mine. Although this isn’t the case from a governance perspective (this is the CLO speaking), and although I have to keep him from committing the one stupidity after the other (this is all my Os speaking in unison), being a woman, I’m perfectly fine with the consensus that the company would fall apart without our CEO at the helm. Besides, I’m a narcissist myself. It is just that, being a woman, my narcissism expresses itself differently. What about the chip on my shoulder? I would not accept the appointment of a female CEO anyway. I would resign from the Board instantly. Unless it was me that would get appointed CEO of course.

We have a management team, or MT. As Board we are part of the MT. This is what the Shareholders had wanted. But as Board we have a final say in all matters that need to be resolved. This is what the Law says. Board resolutions can only be adopted with the combined vote of me and the CEO. Including ourselves, the MT consists of six people. I’m the only woman. The CEO and I decided that I would be chair of the MT. But in practice the men discuss issues among them, leaning in, eying each other intensely, and avoiding to include me in their ophthalmic exchanges. The CEO endorses this behaviour, if only by exhibiting it himself. When I cut discussions short, or call a resolution, they say I’m being bossy. If the men are aligned, it is impossible for me to veto the decision, even if, in a Board of two, I have that position. I accept that. I’m a woman of independent means, I read books which are not about management, I write stuff anonymously, and I’m getting paid a decent amount of pocket change by this company for effectively having no say in its daily affairs. “Choose your battles, girl!”, I say to myself after yet another MT meeting where I was ignored, overruled, or accused of authoritarianism.

Another strong point in favor of the prevailing situation is that I’m close with one of the MT members. He is divorced, he has a girlfriend (bringing children of her own), and we have each other. We hired this man about half a year ago to head one of our departments. I didn’t think a great deal of him, intellectually, and in terms of effectiveness and vision. The procedural type, a little soapy, going on about communication and persuasion and leadership stuff. Others, our CEO among them, were of a different opinion. Given that this was one of the most attractive men I have ever seen in management, I easily concurred that we should offer him the position. Showing some persuasive leadership myself, I soon maneuvered him into having dinner with me, and before we knew it, he was sharing my bed.

Here is a conversation we were having before or after we had sex (I don’t quite remember).

“What do you think of [here I mentioned the name of our CEO]?”
“I don’t think a great deal of him.”
“Meaning about him, or of what he brings to the table?”
“I’m too busy managing my department. I don’t have much time to think about anyone or anything else.”
“Except me.”
“I don’t think about you when I’m busy with my department. I can’t afford to get distracted. A lot has to be done to get that department back on track.”
“I’m aware of that. But during MT meetings?”
“What is it you want me to say? My focus is on the agenda, the discussions we’re having.”
“Speaking of the discussions, and the “we”: last time, when I challenged an argument of yours in a discussion that went on over my head, you directed your response to everybody in the room, except me. You didn’t even look at me once.
“I didn’t think you were invested in the issue.”
“I challenged you, for fuck’s sake! I’m the chair! I call the resolutions!”
“Why do you keep harping on this? You don’t have to be involved in everything!”

Reading back this reconstruction, I realize I am wrong. This must have been after the sex which, being intense and memorable, I distinctly recall we had. Because, before the last word in this conversation was exchanged (the bracketed dots), I had kicked him out of my bed. I told him I never wanted to see him again. He resigned from the company the next day, and the CEO re-assumed his former position as interim head of the department with a great show of feigned reluctance.


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