Career Guide: An assistant product manager's dilemma

Female employees’ personal obligations will always be taken as a sign of career non-seriousness.

Sadya Siddiqui August 15, 2011

A day in the life of …

Sabina, an Assistant Product Manager.

9.05: I have exactly four minutes and 46 seconds to reach my office before I’m marked late on the attendance register. Ever since the administration realised that the biometric machines were following the Chinese standard time, we’ve reverted to marking our presence manually.

10.30: By now I’ve had three people stop by my cubicle asking the same question, “Is your boss going to be in today?” You see my boss has been depressed lately, his marriage seems to be falling apart and everyone on the floor has been talking about it.

11.15: The Operations department asks me to resolve the issue of incorrect names being printed on the last batch of the fuel cards. I decide that the whole lot should be discarded and sent for reproduction. I run this by the Unit Head who, instead of his usual yelling about how I should never bypass my supervisor, hears me out.

11.46: Boss is finally in. Last week when he didn’t come in for three consecutive days someone started a rumour of a suicide attempt. Now whenever he doesn’t turn up by 11am, the wise guy in the next cubicle quips “Check karo yaar“. The first time he said that we laughed out loud but the lady next to him gave us a lecture and we’ve been cautious ever since.

12.15: I am at the boss’s desk with a couple of cost approvals for him to sign on. He’s watching some black and white movie on his laptop. His desk is a museum of those useless shiny trinkets you see at those Rs100 shops. He even has a rubber duck which he insists is a stress reliever.

The reality is that I am the brains behind the product we are handling. It’s the only profitable product of the company and I’m not going to let my boss’s personal issues put a dent in my career progress.

1.30: Atif refuses point-blank to ask our boss to join us for lunch. In the last appraisal, when Atif put his case to become a permanent employee, our boss said “But you already have a Civic, why do you need to become permanent?” The only answer Atif could come up with was “It was a present from my in-laws”. Atif and boss both have the same IQ level.

4.15: I am on the phone talking to a corporate customer who has been incessantly complaining when my friend interrupts me. She says my boss is having a really loud phone conversation with his mother and keeps saying “You just don’t understand”. I like my friend but at the moment I could have hit her with the phone receiver.

6.30: Most of the people on the floor have left. I sit late, well because it’s an accepted fact that late sittings mean you are hardworking. I’m going to ask for a big raise by the end of this year so might as well begin building my case now.

7.15: The Unit Head tells me that he has put my name on the fast track performers list. He has been very sympathetic towards my boss, he even found him a psychiatrist.  I say all the right things “No problem sir/I am really grateful /all part of my job.”

8.35: I’m headed to my tailor. My engagement is coming up but I’m not going to inform anyone in the office. Female employees’ personal obligations will always be taken as a sign of career non-seriousness, but a male employee’s personal turmoil being played out in public is just seen as a difficult phase of life.

How to be a star performer at the office:

1.   Take on extra responsibility eagerly.

2.   Build professional credibility and develop a rapport with the senior management.

3.  Know when to ask for a raise or a promotion.

4.  Be careful when indulging in gossip or divulging personal revelations.

Correction: An earlier version of the headline missplelt the word "dilemma". The correction has been made.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2011.