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urlSince you stopped going to the pub after work all the time, working all hours and making a herculean effort to be in the thick of it at the company away-day, have you noticed a cooling in your professional prospects?

If so you may be on the slippery slope to being corporately disowned

There is one shade of casual modern enslavement that seems to always sneak under the radar. That of the corporate cultural variety and the manner in which it captivates and ultimately ‘owns’ people through subtle or overt forms of structural and social entrapment and the illusion of sanctuary.

The average corporation still manages to successfully achieve the rather jaunty conjuring trick of increasing levels of ownership of people while decreasing levels of commitment to them, using ever-more restrictive mechanisms, covenants and contexts to bind their workers personally, financially, socially and professionally to the wheel.

With the death of professional ‘tenure’, jobs for life and the culture of company ‘lifers’; and with the increasing instability or absence of pension security, you’d think that the old social cache of being with a company “Man And Boy” would seem not only outdated. It would look like a fools choice. But still they sign up in their tens and hundreds of thousands.

To be fair, the desire to create stability for oneself and those one loves in an increasingly unstable world compels many to seek the chimera of job security. The social contract written by many corporations only seems to take advantage of that primary and aching human truth – and the social contract between ‘owner’ and ‘owned’  have remained mostly unchallenged until only recently.

The heady confection of deceptively stable pillars of recognition, incremental reward and stability, wrapped as they are in faint praise and quarterly critical assessments and riddled with the insidious spirits of ‘try harder’, stay competitive and the threat of social or tribal alienation for those cast out from its culture are evidence of a rather impressive dark art at work.

Traditionally, the confection, when properly set and applied, fuels a slippery culture of forced bonhomie, social adhesion, complicity, politicking and institutional bullying – a culture by which corporations, even those of the enlightened variety, herd the worker bees to best performance and output for least investment and inconvenience.

The even more surprising thing is that the primary benefits of professional development in a secure job – getting better at what you do, working with inspiring people and enjoying the security of the journey  – are NOT necessarily a natural outcome from Owned cultures.

Quite the opposite in fact, as proven by the number of corporates struggling with employee satisfaction, and the need to go to open-source and collaborative co-create models to ensure that they offset their knowledge gaps and the pockets of intellectual and systemic inertia that their ‘lean’, narrow skill bandwidths and heavily siloed infrastructures and governance seem to nurture.

Corporates, especially multinational ones, function on rules of uniformity and similarity. This often leads ‘outsiders’ to question the nature and quantity of mediocrity that hides within many corporate structures. But in pointing to their ability to ‘hide’ inside the structure misses one vital point.

They aren’t hiding.

Most switched on corporate career tourists are all too aware that mediocrity is a fundamental requirement of the beast. Mediocrity is the gristle, fat and cartilage of the ‘corpus’. The business cannot function and the corpus cannot retain its structural integrity without them.

What we see in our post-modern post-industrial light Manufacturing and Knowledge economies is a shift from the Muscle that moved the machines of manufacture to the Gristle that binds the body corporate.

Critical to the integrity and survival of the corporate structure these gristly, sinewy, fatty actors have to be secured; made immovable and inviolable – inextricably linked to the structure. Owned by it.

The condition of being either Owned or Un-owned by your job, the social and personal impacts of which you choose and ultimately the discrimination you suffer if you choose the un-owned path, have until recently mostly been explored from a female viewpoint – through the filter of sexism, the glass ceiling and equal rights in the work place.

This is hardly surprising. Women rightly pointed out that there could be a far better way of doing things inside large companies and corporate organisations – and in such a way as to make far more of their skills and capabilities.

They made the even greater mistake of mentioning that “while we’re at it, would you mind paying me the same as that bloke, as we do the same job and, errrm… yup, I’d like the same opportunities too. Oh, and in regards to pregnancy I’d like to neither be discriminated against just because it ‘might’ happen or be penalized for actually becoming so

Now that’s just not playing the ownership game.

The primary creator card is never going to go down well with the ‘owners’:  A noisy display of an substantial, vital and deeply rewarding alternative life choice to the job in question would have set off every alarm bell they have.

Top all of that off with a one very irritating request and a paradigm shift in leadership and the ‘pro-ownership lobby probably went incendiary.

The request? To not only remain un-owned but also to be paid as much as those who are. The paradigm Shift in leadership? The rise of the Female Competitive Advantage as the more future-fit leadership model for success.

(Of course exceptions like the investment banks just step over the ugly social tripwire inherent in this conundrum by facing it up: “Yup! We want to own you. You bet. Screw Un-owned. What’s more, your reward will be commensurate to how long we get to own your soul for. If you want un-owned go line up at the welfare office.“)

With the weakening and the collapse of the traditional workers unions  and collectives (the last spoilers of ‘owned’), the next last biggest problem facing the ‘Owners’ was the threat of half of the working population becoming protected and secured. The last thing they needed was an increasing rump of un-ownable workers shifting the balance of power. They needed an answer. But they needed to be smart. And they found the answer: a short term one at least.

Blokes.

The simple reason being this: For millennia men as a gender tribe have allowed themselves to be bullied, poked, teased, coerced and convinced by their Betters, Biggers, Strongers & Richers into a blinkered one dimensional application of all they had to any given task in hand – without distraction and with absolute commitment.

20th Century Corporates (like their ruling predecessors in the royal courts, the military and the clergy) demanded men’s attention be uncluttered by any form of sentimentality and home making – and certainly untouched by even the slightest desire for any alternative life choice other than the one said bloke was committed to.

The corporate ‘owner’ does not need the inconvenience of anything making their wholly owned workers think for even a second that there might be any benefit in comparing and weighing up different life choices let alone pursuing one. The last thing they need is the inconvenience of workers ‘feeling’ – they need blind obedience.

Ownership demands complete sublimation of the self to that which owns you, unwavering and unquestioning. To be owned is to become a non-self in fact. Also it seems that Ownership does not operate at a fundamental level on either gender or ethnicity, other that is than to seek to control or mitigate any traits or attitudes in those genders, tribes, or ethnicities that might otherwise loosen the  powerful grip of owned.

It seems to me that regardless of what sex you might be, to present a life choice or set of life priorities that do not put the job at the very top and centre of everything is to stop being owned, heart and soul, by the job you are in.

Perhaps the inequality we see regarding women in the workplace specifically is not wholly a sexist or feminist issue – founded upon women being women per se.

Perhaps it is founded on the fact that the ‘owners’ simply see women as more or most likely to be compelled by natural forces or desires to pursue an alternative to the sole bondage of career and just working till you drop – regardless of whether they exercise that right for a short period or indefinitely. In turn this allows the owners to infer that their lifetime value is immediately able to be diminished, bartered, sliced and diced – and they can be held as ‘lesser’ than their unquestioning, bowing, obedient and vaguely terrified workmates.

That women have the ability to fall pregnant makes them by their very nature ‘un-ownable’. Perhaps to the corporations that is their crime.

Reasons to be cheerful:

a)  That more and better educated women are pouring into better positions in corporations while still embracing and celebrating their ‘un-ownable’ selves (bar the odd female CEO kills flexitime glitch)

b)  That the millennial working generation will drive a new and more liberated modus of belonging into corporate life as it seems that neither millennial guys nor girls have any intention of being ‘owned’ by anything other than their own purpose

c) That more blokes are citing an interest in de-shackling in favour of softer purposes and priorities like spending more time with their kids.

I think perhaps it is time to consider that in real terms, job, career or corporate success is not necessarily predicated on a Breasts/No Breasts basis. Perhaps it has quite a lot to do with whether one is prepared be ‘Owned or Not Owned’.

Perhaps if we looked at the inequalities and sought solutions to them through a filter of Owned & Un-owned – in a way that removed the gender or even the ethnicity issue it might simplify and focus the process and expedite progress.

An Owned versus Un-Owned framework of interrogation might also enable us look at other symptoms of the modern professional malaise, like the escalation of anti-social behaviours in young working women – especially those in more pressurized workplaces – not as some trite male wannabee ladette trend  – one of women having to ape men and their destructive behaviours to get on and succeed.

We might venture that they are in fact simply adopting the more nihilistic social coping mechanisms of the ‘owned’ human being – the career slave and the working drone suffocating inside their own ambitions, realizing the gap between living the dream and grinding out the reality and ultimately seeking the illusion of escape from the Faustian pact they have signed through 15 Bacardi Breezers or 3 bottles of a rather cheeky sauvignon.

DISCUSS

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