by Fred Sykes
Back in 1981 I was working for a small advertising agency. I didn’t work there long (longtime jobs are rare in advertising), but I do remember the boss well. He was a dapper, carefully-coiffed, GQ sort of man. He definitely looked the part of an advertising exec. The men who worked in the office thought he was a joke, but the females admired him.
What I remember most about him was his ability to manipulate those females. Famously, he would induce his single, thirtysomething secretary to work late or come in on Saturday simply by sweet-talking her, telling her how much he needed her, couldn’t get by without her, etc. And she fell for it every time. How could she refuse? She was not only getting attention from an alpha male, he was expressing a profound need for her. He all but got down on his knees and begged her. She was already his “office wife,” yet he was still courting her!
One day a fellow employee said to me, “Watch out for him. He surrounds himself with females.”
Well, that was a point to ponder. I started to pay closer attention to office relationships. Sure enough, the boss’s inner circle was composed entirely of women, holding various job titles and of varying ages. But what did it mean?
I got laid off soon after that, so I had other things to worry about. But for whatever reason, I always remembered to watch out for a guy in a position of power who excluded men from his personal space.
Flash forward a few years to another place of employment, this time, a law firm. This job lasted much longer – way too long. In fact, as of this writing, I’m still there.
I knew from day one that my new boss was a dictator. Like Mr. Dithers, Dagwood’s boss in the old Blondie comic strip, he threw temper tantrums when something thwarted his wishes. A few years ago he had a mild stroke, so I haven’t witnessed any hissy fits lately.
Working for a dictator is not all bad. For one thing, it all but eliminates office politics. You can’t overrule a dictator, so why try? Since his opinion is the only one that counts, if the boss likes you, and your co-workers don’t, then your job is secure.
As the years slipped by, I couldn’t help but notice that the percentage of male employees at the firm was dwindling. In years past, the firm employed a number of mature men, but typically they didn’t stay long. Oh, there are still a few of us here. And some of us play key roles in the organization, but opportunities for upward mobility are nonexistent, and we are not within the boss’s inner circle.
The same was true for the mature males who had moved on. They could never overrule the boss, but they were in a position to challenge his judgment. They had years of professional experience and had their own way of doing things and were less likely to take the boss’s way of doing things as gospel. They respected him but they didn’t worship him or his achievements. They had achievements of their own to rest on and didn’t need an alpha male’s approval to enhance their self-esteem.
Slowly but surely, the office was becoming a female space. My boss boasted about empowering women. Since we had a number of Spanish-speaking clients, he had hired a number of Mexican-American women. This was a logical move on his part, but it also allowed him to crow about the joys of multiculturalism. A classic limousine liberal, he never missed a chance to pat himself on the back for being a progressive.
What my boss left unsaid was that he could hire women – and especially minority women – for less money. My boss is a prominent man locally, and over the years, I have encountered a number of people who have had dealings with him. The word around town is that he’s a tightwad. Since our firm is, in essence, a family business (the boss’s daughter and granddaughter also work here, and so did his wife before she retired), he tries to keep as much money in the family as possible.
Like any other firm that’s been around a while, we have a culture, and one of the longstanding office traditions is our happy hour in the office lounge. This is usually scheduled whenever the firm has just experienced some big triumph or achievement. Every employee is expected to do some face time.
One such happy hour, having nothing better to do, I hung around for a couple of hours and guzzled the free beer and chowed down on the free munchies. Aside from ingesting foodstuffs, I kept my mouth shut – and my eyes and ears open.
As time passed, employees drifted away, but there was still a hard core of female employees hanging out with the boss. They included his daughter, his personal secretary, and a few other long-term employees of varying ages.
The boss was literally the center of attention, with five females spread around him in a semi-circle. Fueled with a few Jack & Cokes, he related familiar (to me anyway) tales about past triumphs and tribulations. The women egged him on, apparently amused by his animadversions, even though some of them had probably heard these tales before too. If some beta male were spinning the same yarn, the women would have been heading for the exit.
Witnessing this scene, I harkened back to the words my co-worker had uttered back in 1981. Beware of a man whose inner circle is all women. Why? Because it means he’s a narcissist, a male attention whore.
In days of old (i.e., when female participation in the workforce was lower), the inner circle was more likely to be composed of male flunkies popularly known as yes-men. The yes-man wasn’t just someone who went along to get along in order to get a paycheck, but someone prone to flattering or buttering up the boss to get promotions and favors; in other words, a corporate lickspittle.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the yes-man is extinct, but he is at least an endangered species. Most have been displaced by females. But don’t call them yes-women. That would be redundant. They are simply gravitating toward the alpha male, as is their nature. Females are born sycophants – not in relation to all men, just to the ones at the top. They are not a threat to the boss’s dominance, as a coterie of ambitious young men might be. Indeed, at my firm, the career path for young male attorneys does not include moving up, but learning the ropes and moving on.
I know virtually nothing about the private lives of the females who flutter around the boss, but I’m guessing the married ones don’t lavish so much attention on their husbands. So basking in the glow of the boss is as close as they can get to a relationship with an alpha male. He’s the idol in the temple and they are the vestal virgins. Nice work if you can get it – the idol, that is. Hey, who wouldn’t want to be adored? And females are better at adoration than men, yes-men or otherwise.
Well, comparisons with a sultan and his harem would not be far off the mark, but I don’t believe the boss is having sexual relations with any of these females. I’m sure he understands the risks involved in that sort of action. It is perfectly acceptable to have one’s ego, if not one’s genitals, stroked at the office. The latter can be handled elsewhere.
My boss may be the only rooster in the henhouse, but no matter how much money he makes, no matter what professional heights he achieves, no matter how much charisma he has, he will never be a leader of men. As the alpha male, he is in a position to hand out promotions, bonuses, and other honors. But the alpha male is no friend of the beta male. This should come as no surprise if you’ve ever seen those video studies of gorillas in the wild. Ever see an alpha male gorilla share a female (or anything else) with the beta males? From what I remember, they occasionally mount the males to show them who’s boss and that’s about it.
Well, thankfully, my boss has never mounted me. So long as he keeps signing my paycheck, I’ll keep giving him a day’s work for a day’s pay. I’m on the brink of retirement anyway, but before I walk out the door, if there are any younger men in the office, I might take them aside and say, “Watch out for the boss. He surrounds himself with females.”by