Unbalanced Ecosystem


Chapter 1

In retrospect, bumper to bumper traffic on my way to work was the first sign that today was going to be a terrible day. For some reason or another, the state had a repair crew out there again, even though they were supposed to have finished months ago. I swear, sometimes it felt less like a road, and more like a construction site. Unfortunately, it was also the most direct route to work.

I’ve never been one to believe in omens, but if I had the signs would have been clear. That they were out there today, of all possible days.

You see, today was a pretty big day for me. The day they were going to announce my big promotion, and I wanted to get there nice and early to savor the moment. Our CTO had just been poached away by one of the tech giants, and yours truly was the leading candidate. It wasn’t one hundred percent official, but by this point I’d been all but assured the position. The choice made sense. I’d been with the company since nearly the beginning, the fourth or fifth employee hired. Just a QA intern that had been offered a job right out of school and worked my way up. These days, I was project manager for our flagship product. In a very real sense, taking the position would just formalize what I was already doing, since I already made most of the company’s tech decisions.

I had absolutely every reason to be confident.

Right up until I walked through the door. From the moment I saw Anvi’s face, I knew something had gone terribly wrong.

“I’m so sorry,” she said.

“They’ve made the announcement, then?”

“Not yet,” she said, “but word got around.”

“Who?” I made myself ask, forcing myself to congratulate her if she got the job. She’d been a candidate, but not a serious one, I’d thought. Her position was similar to mine, but on a smaller project with a smaller team, and she was still new to that. A good person and a good friend, but I hadn’t ever imagined that she would really get the job.

Who else could they have picked? All the other candidates were worse than me. The only thing I could imagine was that they’d wanted to promote a woman executive in an admittedly male heavy company. That didn’t seem like their style, but I couldn’t dismiss it out of hand. Despite having an obscure company with a woman CEO, we weren’t immune from criticism. So yeah, it was possible they’d passed me over to have a woman take the position, but during all the rounds of interviews, I’d never gotten that impression from anybody.

But if not her, then who?

“Don’t know his name,” she said. “some outside guy. Hired him away from some damned consulting agency. Word is that he’s going to be bringing in a bunch of his people to shake things up or something.”

So much for that idea. I almost wish it had been her.

“A consultant? They’re replacing our CTO with a consultant?”

We’d always been very product-first, dating to before I was hired. It was one of the reasons most outside candidates hadn’t made the cut. Businessmen had their place, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of them that just didn’t get our philosophy. Certainly, we’d buried enough competitors with other ideas.

They hadn’t interviewed anyone except the internal candidates for over a month now. Where had this clown come from?

“Everyone! Could you please gather around?” Patricia Parkins, the CEO and ‘old lady of the office’ called us all in.

We milled around a bit, but slowly everyone shuffled their way towards the front of the room.

“Nice suit,” Anvi snickered as the man walked in. A stark contrast to the rest of the room, where t-shirts were the norm and polos were practically overdressed. His hair was greased, slicked back and sporting an almost plastic sheen under the bright office lights. His toothy smile the envy of used car salesmen from miles around.

“Everyone,” Patricia said, “I’d like to introduce you to Hanz Freidrich, our new CTO. A long time veteran of Integrated Consulting, we’re very excited to see how he applies his expertise to help build an exciting new future for this company. I’m sure I speak for all of us in extending a very welcoming hand to our new colleague.”

Hanz got up to speak, a rambling but otherwise slick speech that was mostly filled with platitudes. The guy was smooth, I had to admit, but how in the world did anyone believe he’d be able to run a software company?

Except to run it into the ground, that is.

“So, any idea what you’re going to do now?” asked Anvi once the speech was over.

“I’m not really sure,” I said, though we both knew my days here were numbered. Even if I could stomach being passed over for that suit, his sort would never tolerate someone like me sticking around. Not the guy who everyone had expected to take his job. Either I’d find something else in a big hurry, or I was about to get “resigned”.

“Let me know,” she said, “the way things are going, you might not be alone.”

“Thanks, Anvi,” I said, “that means a lot.”

“No sweat. Hey, speaking of things that fulya escort are out of place, check out what the old lady is wearing.”

I’d missed it, the way I’d been paying attention to that suit. But now I saw what Anvi had been talking about. Even though she was CEO, Patricia was normally just as informal as the rest of us. The few times she’d been forced to dress up, it had mostly been pantsuits all the way. I could count the number of times I’d seen her in a skirt on one hand. With fingers to spare. But there she was, skirt and blouse as frilly as you please. It was actually a bit unnerving.

It also seemed to take about ten years off her age. Despite her nickname, she wasn’t all that old. Mid forties, perhaps, more or less. It was her sparse, slightly severe demeanor, coupled with the fact that she was a little older than the rest of us, which had earned her that affectionate nickname.

There was nothing cold or severe about the way she was looking at Hanz. Anvi noticed the look too.

“You don’t think…”

“Nah,” I told Anvi, “this company is her baby. She’s built her life around it. There’s no way she’d ever throw it all away over some chiseled face.”

Besides, he really didn’t seem her type. Yeah, I suppose he could be considered conventionally handsome, and a certain type of woman went for his overly put together style, but I’d never gotten even the slightest hint that Patricia was one of them.

Apparently, she noticed us looking and waved me over. Great, exactly what I wanted right now. Oh well, putting it off wouldn’t make things easier.

“Looks like the fun’s over,” I told Anvi, “I’ll talk to you later.”

Hanz was all smiles and handshakes when Patricia introduced him to me. As though it never occurred to them I might be sore about being passed over. He had a firm grip, and oozed enough oily confidence that you’d half expect OPEC would let him join as a member state.

“So I want to get together for some one-on-ones with the principle stakeholders at the company,” he said, “Why don’t we duck into my office for a quick meetup and make sure we’re all on the same page about the company’s direction.”

“Um, sure,” I said, “but isn’t that moving a touch fast? And I’m not even sure your office is ready.”

Or habitable. Last I checked, the office had become a sort of temporary storage closet. We all knew that it would be filled when the position was replaced, but for the moment it had been a convenient dumping ground for stuff that didn’t have anywhere else to go. Besides, we both knew that when it came to me, the only relevant direction for the company was “away from me”.

“Nonsense,” he said in a loud, boisterous tone, giving me a light slap on the back. “it’s never too early to start working. And there’s a lot of work to do if we’re going to turn this company around, don’t you agree?”

My answer was noncommittal. Several products were clear, undisputed market leaders, and we’d been profitable for nearly ten years running. There had been talk about an IPO, but I wasn’t sure how that fit into today’s news. Still, I didn’t want to burn any bridges. For the sake of my team, if not for myself.

“Sorry about the condition,” he said as he ushered me into the office. “It’s still a work in progress.”

“N-no problem,” I said, “it seems good to me.”

Somehow, they had gotten the room cleared and furnished. The clutter all gone, and in its place a large, extremely polished desk with a brass nameplate at the front. How long ago had they chosen him? Why keep up the sham?

He stepped around, reaching for yet another handshake. His grip lingered just a tiny bit longer than I was comfortable with, and he shook it vigorously.

This launched him into a big spiel about the future of the industry, and our company’s place in it. The talk was noticeably light on details, or anything actionable, but I was impressed by his confidence. You could easily see how someone might get swept along by the sales pitch if they weren’t paying attention.

By the end, I couldn’t have told you a single thing he’d said, except that somewhere along the line I’d been talked into sticking with the company. After all, nothing had really changed since yesterday. I was still team leader for our most important product. Besides, we were a still growing company, with so much untapped opportunity waiting for me in some nebulous, ill defined future. I wasn’t really clear on what that direction was, but I was almost curious to see where he’d lead us.

One by one, he met with most of the remaining team leaders and department heads. I caught up to Anvi right after her meeting finished. Her clothes were disheveled and she wore a slightly glazed expression. I put it down to a long and busy day.

“Is everything ok?” I asked her.

“Hmm? Yeah, everything’s fine.” she said, sounding slightly distracted.

“So about what we were saying earlier-” she began.

“I’ve decided to stick around.” I told her.

“Oh bebek escort thank goodness,” she said, “I wasn’t sure how to break the news, but I’m staying too. I’m glad to hear you’ll be around.”

“Yeah, Hanz sure has a way of persuading you, doesn’t he?”

She blushed even darker than she already was, gaze dropping to her toes. There was a mumble. Something like “I guess you could put it like that.”

“Hey, don’t feel bad,” I said. “He talked me into it as well.”

She coughed, choking on her words as she said goodbye with a quick. “Ineedtoleavenowseeyoutomorrow”

Huh. Strange.

True to the rumors, there were a pair of “cultural consultants” in sharp blue suits introduced during our daily new “company wellness meeting”. Adam Randolf and Pyotr Ivanovich, who would be helping to assess how to make our company’s culture run more smoothly.

“Look around you,” Adam said, “I mean it. Go on. Head to the left. To the right now. Turn and look at your neighbors. What do you see?”

He waited a minute for the words to sink in.

“Men,” he finally said, “you’re seeing men. Men to the left, men to the right. In this company, and our industry as a whole, women are massively underrepresented. It’s unbalanced, you might say. And we all must do our part to correct that.”

He did have a point. I loved our industry, but it wasn’t the most gender mixed in the world. Still, most women turned aside long before they’d even picked a major, much less graduated and entered the industry. For every woman’s resume we got, there were dozens, sometimes hundreds of men alongside them. Unless he wanted some sort of educational outreach, I didn’t see how we were going to solve anything here.

“The key, ladies and gentlemen, (but mostly gentlemen), is empathy. How can we solve our problems, when there’s this terrible gulf of understanding? So with that in mind, we’ve decided to invite some outside experts to run a little impromptu seminar this afternoon. Please welcome my good friend Chrissy here, who will explain what we’ll all be doing.”

He waved in a young, bubbly blonde in a tight pink miniskirt and a matching crop-top. She practically skipped up in front of us, waving excitedly to her skeptical audience. If there were more than a pair of brain cells in her head, she wasn’t doing much to show it.

“Like, hello everyone. My name’s Chrissy, and I’m here to tell you some Totally important stuff about women.”

“I’ll bet you boys didn’t know this, but women have to like, totally work real hard to keep ourselves pretty for our men. It’s a lot of work, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be super fun too! So, like me and my friends are going to give you boys some makeover tips, so you can see how what it takes to be a super cute babe like me!”

I looked over the crowd, trying to see where Kate was before the explosion hit. A nice lady, and a talented designer, but sometimes a little militant over the whole feminism thing. If she didn’t explode, I’d half assume it was because she was too busy dialing a lawyer over this absurd spectacle. Instead, I found her nodding along. Smiling, actually smiling as Chrissy brought in a group of similarly dressed women and began breaking everyone into groups.

“Do we really have to do this,” asked Dave, one of my senior developers.

“Honestly,” I told him, “I don’t really know. I’ll be the first to admit that this is all a little strange, no make that really strange. But Hanz brought these people in, and I trust that knows what he’s doing.”

He started to protest, but Pyotr wandered up behind before he could really get going.

“Is there a problem?” he asked before taking Dave aside for a private chat. Dave seemed a little subdued when he returned, and more than a bit sullen, but he continued with the program. They were all doing that, I noticed. Hanz, Adam, and Pyotr. The three making rounds of the room, encouraging, reinforcing, and subtly heading off any real resistance.

They were good leaders, I had to admit. Not much when it came to technology, but they sure knew how to handle people.

We watched intently as our guide walked us through the subtleties of cosmetics. Showing us what all the different products did, how she applied them to herself, and what went with what. It looked like a lot of work, but the girl did seem to be enjoying herself.

“And now, like, we’re ready for the group activity,” she threw up her hands in a little cheer, though I’ll bet that most of us were a bit more intent upon her chest.

“Now, you boys aren’t ready for makeup yet,” that drew a laugh, “but we can totally paint your nails and make them super cute, just like mine!”

There were a few nervous grumbles, but the suits were around to settle our niggling concerns. Telling us that it was an important part of our team building program, and all for the sake of building a stronger office. I noticed, however, that the three of them were not participating.

Just florya escort a few minutes later I was sitting down at the table, watching as she slid the bright red coating onto my outstretched fingers.

“Pay attention, silly. It takes three coats to get them nice and cute, and You get to do the next two. Isn’t that going to be fun?”

I murmured something noncommittal. Not good enough for her.

“I can’t hear you. What’s the matter? Don’t think you can handle it?”

Playing to my competitive side. Now that was low, but by the end of the day we were all enthusiastically painting. Not willing to be showed up by some giggly bimbo.

It wasn’t until I pulled into my driveway that I realized I’d gone out in public with my nails painted. I’d meant to get rid of it, but somehow just hadn’t found the time. Hiding it from my wife, Susan, quickly proved to be a futile effort.

“What in the world?” she asked once she saw them.

“Some weird thing at work. They brought on some new management consultants, and they’re a bit, well…” I was going to say ‘loopy’, but that was being uncharitable of me. They were just trying to improve things, to make our office better. Even if I didn’t understand their methods.

“Well I think they look cute,” Susan said.

Really cute, apparently. She didn’t even wait until dinner to drag me up to the bedroom. Unfortunately, I was a bit trigger happy that night, and had all sorts of trouble getting it up again afterwards. My wife didn’t complain too much, at least not after I went down on her, but I could tell she was disappointed.

I had to hand it to those consultants, they certainly did manage to change our company’s culture in ways I’d never suspected. Like on Friday, when I caught up to Anvi in the parking lot before work.

“You’re looking nice,” I told her, “anything special?”

She’d taken those makeup lessons to heart, apparently, though a bit more subtle. Still, deeply colored lipstick, much less eyeliner and carefully waxed eyebrows were a new look for her. As was the long, tight skirt and clingy top. It suited her, though.

“No, nothing like that,” she said, looking away. “Just, thought I’d try some new things out. See how they looked.”

“Well, I think they suit you”

“Thanks! You’re really sweet.”

She wasn’t the only one. Several of the guys had touched up their nails over the week, and one or two were even sporting new colors. It might have been my imagination, but I swear that Barry was wearing a layer of foundation on his cheeks. My own nails were looking awfully worn and ragged next to theirs.

That night, on the way home, I bought my first bottle of nail polish.

Chapter 2

“An open house?” my wife asked.

“Pretty much, yeah. Something about ‘getting the families onboard for maximum buy-in’. Whatever that means.”

“Doesn’t sound much like your company”

“It is now, apparently. They, um, kinda hinted that attendance wasn’t optional.”

More than hinted. I’d heard the suits talking about how they were going to “phase out” anybody who didn’t bring their spouse to either this meeting or the next.

Funny, it had made sense the way they’d described it at the time. If we really wanted to stir things up and take the company to another level, we’d need the complete buy-in of not only our employees, but of their extended support systems. Obvious, right? Except, now that I thought about it, this all seemed a bit draconian, didn’t it? I mean, we’d been doing fine before. What sort of changes could really needed this kind of support?

We got into the car, Susan looking so unbelievably lovely that I wanted to jump her right then and there, and to hell with the company. I honestly might have, except that I’d been having some problems in that area for a while. Susan had been patient, but that almost made it worse, especially when I could see how frustrated she was getting at our lack of intimacy.

Hanz gave a stirring speech, as always, though for some reason Susan lost concentration partway through. I was a bit disappointed in her, to tell you the truth. Here we were, laying out the future of the company I’d put so much hard work into, and she couldn’t even be bothered to listen.

I let her go as she wandered off to the catering table. Along with many of the other spouses and girlfriends, though I was happy to see that my coworkers stayed faithful.

“Wasn’t that wonderful,” I said to Anvi a short while after he’d finished. To thundering applause, I might add.

I found her milling around with the other employees, an ecstatic smile on her face. From hearing something so moving, no doubt. It was strange, seeing her as one of the most dressed up women in the room, but it suited her. She wore a clingy black dress that came down to mid thigh. I’d never really thought about Anvi as having cleavage before, but the sleeveless neckline showed me how wrong I was.

“Absolutely stirring,” she gushed, “I’d never really thought about things like that, but the way he said it just made so much sense.

“I know. I just wish Susan had stuck around for the whole thing. Speaking of which, have you seen her? I haven’t been able to find her since it ended.”

Anvi’s smile tempered slightly.

“I think she’s doing her interview now.”