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Book Review : The Corporate Conflict Women Face

January 08, 1987|SUSAN WARFEL | Warfel is a business reporter for Investor's Daily in Los Angeles. and

Success and Betrayal: The Crisis of Women in Corporate America by Sarah Hardesty and Nehama Jacobs (Watts: $18.95)

"In the mythic meritocracy that women carry about in their heads," Sarah Hardesty and Nehama Jacobs write, "women work hard to be chosen . . . and then they wait. And wait."

This was supposed to be the decade of unlimited opportunity for women in management. But as has been noted with increasing frequency in the financial press, success has proved surprisingly elusive to the army of women who marched confidently into the business world in the 1970s. True, the overall pool of managerial women has grown. Yet the number of women in positions of real corporate power remains minuscule.

"Success and Betrayal: The Crisis of Women in Corporate America" is an insightful, though sometimes fragmented, examination of the process that too often leaves businesswomen disillusioned or even prompts them to opt out of corporate life entirely.

Burdened With Unreality

Hardesty and Jacobs, two young female managers themselves, argue that women enter business burdened with a host of unrealistic beliefs and expectations. Among these are the notion that hard work and competence will inevitably earn them unfettered advancement, that their performance will always be judged fairly against that of male peers and that the corporation can serve as a valid source of emotional support.

As these myths bump up against reality, Hardesty and Jacobs assert, women pass through a series of distinct "landings," or evaluation points. These landings, they say, "almost inevitably (lead) to success and betrayal," the term coined by the authors to describe a syndrome in which even successful women harbor "secret doubts about the nature and degree of their success."

"Men obviously hold their own myths and experience their own disenchantment," the authors write. "But male corporate career patterns . . . do not neatly fit most women as well."

Hardesty and Jacobs draw their conclusions from interviews with more than 100 women executives and 40 male senior managers.

Pervasive Syndrome

It is these interviews, from which the first-time authors quote extensively, that convincingly document the concept of a pervasive betrayal syndrome. "I was never adequately compensated for all my efforts," a woman working for a large conglomerate complains. "I quit three times." Says a textile industry drop-out: "Suddenly there was this why-am-I-breaking-my-neck feeling. It was a very sad lesson to learn--that I didn't have to do my best because nobody really wanted me to pass a certain point. Nobody really cared."

Unfortunately, the authors rely so heavily on brief quoted material to carry their point that at times the point is lost altogether. And they fail to provide anything more than a superficial understanding of any of the women purported to suffer from this success and betrayal syndrome.

I longed to see a clear picture of at least a few of the interview subjects. But their stories are so splintered that, for example, before we've digested Elaine's need to seek security from her corporate employer ("As a single person, I see my job as a point of continuity") we've moved on to Sheila's love-hate relationship with her company ("It is really like a parental conflict"). Both women return again and again. But must the readers piece together these tidbits, typically just a few sentences each, on their own? One expects more from a work of this magnitude.

The issue of women's conflicting career and family responsibilities also falls victim to this book's meandering. The "double burden" isn't seriously explored until the final third of the book.

"When the first pangs of dissatisfaction occur, women wonder what's hit them," Hardesty and Jacbos write. Promised so much, women ultimately ask, "Is this all there is?"

"Success and Betrayal" struck me much the same way.

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