Three weeks ago at work, I was offered something I’d asked for more than once over the last several months. A new title.
This may seem like a minor detail, but the truth is it matters to me. It matters to me because I have been doing a job equivalent to those with the higher title in my organization. It matters to me because I deserve it. It matters to me because I don’t want to be one more woman who sells herself short or accepts less than she has earned in the workplace. And it matters to me because titles make a difference in my organization. I wish it weren’t true, but it is, and a higher title that better reflects the reach and importance of what I do is one more way to lend legitimacy to the Office I have created.
But it was bittersweet. I had asked my Beloved Boss for this title before, making it clear I didn’t need or want a raise in pay, but that the title meant a lot to me. And she finally offered it to me during the same meeting where I explained about my piercing and apologized for how I realized my choice had affected her (see Breaking the rules — Part III post on 2/27/12). She said the title change “had finally come through” and that she could offer it to me if I stayed. If I didn’t stay, I would keep my current title and the job would be posted in the new title for the next person.
I’m not very good in interpersonal crises. When it comes to an earthquake, natural disaster, or other physical threat, you definitely want me around with my level head, clear thinking and assertive responses. But when I am confronted with a relational problem, I usually either go into empathize-with-the-other mode, or I freeze.
So in the moment I said I understood and would think about it, but later it didn’t make sense. Why, as one of the most powerful people in the organization, “couldn’t” she change my title if I still planned to leave? Why did it “finally” come through, right after I said I was leaving and was being called on the carpet for having a nose piercing?
And why did my HR recruiter, when I spoke to her later by phone about something else, express sympathy about me leaving? I was suprised and alarmed. I asked how she knew, and she said “I work in HR.”
It started to dawn on me that my Beloved Boss might not have been entirely honest with me. My new title hadn’t suddenly come through, she had pushed it through to keep me. And she was using the one thing I wanted to entice me to stay.
So the fact I am unhappy and the job isn’t a fit don’t matter. The two conversations I had with her last fall about getting close to reaching my limits and needing help hadn’t mattered. She had waited until I was done and walking out the door to try and retain me. And she offered me money and power instead of a solution to the problem.
Not only that, she also told me that she would likely be handing me off to one of her other reports — one of my peers (but with an even higher title than me) who had been my mentor. She just couldn’t manage with some new responsibilities she had been given from higher ups, and had to delegate. Soon-to-be New Boss is one of the few people I respect and trust, but also one of the most overwhelmed and overworked people in the organization, and the person who had been ultimately responsible for the (severely neglected and chaotic) department I had inherited last summer.
So one hand giveth and the other taketh away. I was offered the title I always wanted on a condition of staying in a job I had made clear was a bad fit and making me miserable and ill. And I was being told I would no longer report to my Beloved Boss, who was one of the three things I liked about my job, and she knew it.
So now I had a dilemma. Do I stick with my integrity and leave anyway? Or do I stay when I don’t want to, to get what I wanted and deserved? Stewing over this dichotomy as I got into the shower that night, I asked myself indignantly, “How would they know, if I said I’m staying, that I actually will? I could be lying to them to get what I want!” And then I realized this was a third option.
I was troubled that I even considered this to be a viable possibility. One part of me counseled me to rise above, to take the high road, to focus on the spiritual and what’s truly important in life — getting out despite what I might lose in the process. It encouraged me to let the petty issue of the title go. But another part of me — the freedom fighter and suffragette — reminded me that countless oppressed people have used that approach to accept defeat and less than they earned, and feel like good, righteous people for doing so.
Oh HELL to the no!!
So I thought about what I could do and say to get what I wanted and earned, yet stay in integrity. I wasn’t willing to compromise integrity; I don’t believe in selling my soul to play The Game. I wondered about a middle way — a third option besides “OK I’ll take it and stay — you win” or “take this job and shove it — I win, your loss … suckas!”?
As before, I enjoyed the brainstorming help of a smart, trusted friend and came up with a plan. The following week I met with my Beloved Boss and told her I’d thought about it, and I appreciated the offer and confidence the organization had in me. I talked about how this title will make a difference for the program, regardless of who has it. I said I didn’t know how I would feel moving forward, but that I had faith the new title and the hiring of a supervisor to help me out would make a difference. I said I could say for sure that I am willing to give it a try, and that having the new title would keep me longer than I would have stayed without it. If that was acceptable to her, than I would accept.
She said that was acceptable. She said one never knows, and I would have to do what was in my heart. She was glad I was staying.
She brought me flowers, and I put them in water in a vase. I wonder how long they’ll last.
Since I originally wrote this piece a few days ago, I have been presented with a written proposal to suspend me for three days without pay because of the nostril piercing. (When I accepted the offer of the new title, I was told no disciplinary action would be taken if I were leaving, but since I was staying, a verbal warning would suffice.) Oh … and the new title is being withheld for now, pending the outcome of the proposed disciplinary action. Leaders who are being disciplined should not be rewarded, of course.
Beloved Boss is fighting for me and has my back on this one, but … the flowers are wilting …
In lak ech,