Vive la difference

I was in a neighbourhood children’s clothing shop this week looking for a dress for my granddaughter. The only one I liked was so over the top that I thought it would make her look far older than she is. I said as much to the owner and within earshot of a female shopper. “Little girls grow up so quickly,” said the owner. “Not boys,” I said, “we stay stupid forever.” Both women laughed so hard I thought they were going to fall down. Finally, one of them managed to say, “You said it, not us.”

This incident occurred the day after Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic convention. You know, the one about her father and Barack’s grandmother, and how poor they were when she and the president were first married that there was a rusted hole in the car door through which the road was visible. I had a car like that in the first year of marriage, too. The hole was in the floor. I covered it with a wooden vegetable flat so that no one would fall out.

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about the difference between men and women. I have come up with what I think the difference is: Women know what matters. Relationships matter, families and friends matter, fellow employees sometimes matter, the clerk in the store who comments on your outfit can matter. It’s the connection that counts. Guys don’t care about that stuff. They want to get rich, drive fast, hit a golf ball 300 yards, and flirt with a tart across the room. Preferably all on the same afternoon.

I worry about women I don’t even know who are trying to get ahead in their careers. If there’s a newspaper ad with photos of the new partners at a law or accounting firm, I’ll count heads and see if the new female appointees number more than the usual 22 percent. One such ad in recent days was 30 percent female, the highest I’ve ever seen. My daughter tells me that of the dozen women in her high school graduating class twenty-five years ago who went into law, none of them is practicing today.

There may be all kinds of reasons why they left: the pressure for billable hours, too few promotions, babies. I have no idea whether they are happier or not. I hope so. Maybe the recent controversial piece in The Atlantic is right: Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.

All I know is this. I enjoy what I’m doing now. I have a book coming out his fall called Driven to Succeed, written with Susan M. Papp, about Frank Hasenfratz and the company he founded, Linamar. I am currently working with Donald Macdonald, the Trudeau era cabinet minister whose Royal Commission in the 1980s brought about free trade with the U.S., on his memoirs.

Moreover, I wouldn’t change a thing about my resume. I was lucky to have worked in politics, business and journalism. But I don’t miss the boring meetings, the bitchy co-workers, the office politics, the competition for promotions, or the time wasted on nonsense that was meaningless then, let alone as I look back. Relationships. That’s the secret to life. Women know that instinctively. If only they’d told us guys earlier. Except we wouldn’t have been listening anyway.

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