The Temp

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The Independent Culture
It's no good trying to work your way up and keep some female friends. They'll only wonder who you've been sleeping with...

Carla, the Assistant Company Secretary, has been handing out work. She seemed jolly enough. Dawn was having none of it. Took her folder with a sniff, turned her shoulder coldly. Carla looked slightly hurt, then shrugged and moved on down the aisle.

"Silly cow," said Dawn once Carla was out of earshot. I raised an eyebrow. "Oh. She seemed rather sweet". "Well," said Dawn, "that shows how much you know. Thinks she's lady muck since she got the word "Company" in her job title. I remember when she was just Secretary, plain and simple. Now it's too much for her even to do her own typing".

Evidently, Dawn doesn't know the difference between Secretary and Company Secretary. "She's been brown-nosing her way up the ladder ever since she got here. I thought she was quite nice when she first arrived, but you soon find out, don't you? I mean, she comes in as general department secretary, and four years on she's got a company car. I've been here 10 years and no one's given me a pounds 10,000 pay rise. Makes you wonder who she's been sleeping with, doesn't it?"

Women never fail to astonish me; we undermine each other far more effectively than men ever could. You would have thought, given the continuing miserable statistics - lower pay, massive under-representation in upper management, curmudgeonly unwillingness to accept flexible working to allow for bringing up the next generation - that there might be some evidence of sisterhood still lurking.

Not a bit of it. Women seem to take every opportunity to put each other down; you'd never catch a man saying that a managing director had worked his way up from postboy as though it were a black mark against him. Women are supposed to spring fully qualified from the womb; any self-advancement is impertinence. For every woman who gets a promotion, there will be five suggesting misconduct in the stationery cupboard. Women waste staggering amounts of time bitching about each other's figures, complexions, hair, fingernails; you'd have thought men wasted enough time on the subject, but it seems not.

This being a big enough place to employ Assistant Company Secretaries, they have a canteen in the basement, so instead of the usual temp lunchtime practice of wandering the streets in search of sustenance, I decided to go down there to partake of my solitary sandwich. Sat at a table next to a woman of my age, with black hair and a deep tan, who was eating a cottage cheese salad, something I'd thought had gone out with the Seventies. Then again, as the Seventies are back in, the decade's food must be having a moment in vogue, as well: I guess I have seen more prawn cocktails on menus of late.

Along came Carla, and the two made those "ooerlo" noises you hear in greengrocers' shops. Temps being invisible, neither of them noticed me.

"How's the course going?" said Carla. "Yeah," said dark girl, "it's really interesting". "How much more've you got to do?" "Another two modules. I should be qualified by the summer. How's it going upstairs?" Carla wrinkled her nose. "Well, great, really. Only I think I made a mistake staying with the company. I should have gone somewhere else to make my jump to executive." "Yeah?" "Mmm. No one lets you forget where you've come from, do they? You know, going -" she put on that nasal put-down tone "- "I remember when she was just a secretary." Never mind all those years at evening class. I might as well have bribed personnel." "Ah," said her friend. "Dawn still in a snit, is she?"

Carla put down her sandwich. "Ohh, is she. Won't talk to me at all. I don't think she can stand someone who used to be her junior doing all right." "Green-eyed monster," the friend said, "she's one of those people who thinks everybody else's promotions are at her expense. You get like that when you've never applied for one yourself".

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