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The Roulette Wheel
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Sometimes a woman’s name comes up on the roulette wheel at work and she’s in trouble. This risk increases when a woman’s in her fifties. Not old enough to retire, but old enough to stop putting out pheromones, making her no longer “attractive”.

When I worked at a university, I saw this happen to women over and over. Suddenly, a woman was out of favor. The reason was never clear. She might be 51 or 54 or 58. Most women got lawyers. Some women actually sued and went to court. The process took about seven years on average, seven years of tension and negativity with no guarantee of winning. One woman who won changed for ever. She thought it would mean she could get another job and be valued. She got money, but she was done. A woman suing an institution? That’s a “Joan of Arc” suit. The woman is now “trouble” and no one will hire her. Even though she got about $1.5M, she became bitter and unhappy.

Some women ultimately settle for some money, but not enough to carry them through the rest of their lives. They become “consultants” or open some form of their own business because they, too, are now “trouble” and no one will hire them. Besides, they’re too old.

Any form of weakness or perceived weakness puts a woman in danger. My name came up on the roulette wheel when I was widowed. Two weeks after my husband dropped dead at my feet, my “boss” at the time told me that after his mother was widowed, she never left the house again (he was from a non-western culture). After that, when there were just two of us in the room, he told me that it was too depressing to have a widow around and he needed me to find somewhere else to go. My turn at the roulette wheel.

I got a lawyer, decided not to subject myself to seven years of misery by suing when it was relatively clear I couldn’t win. I hunted for another job as the clock ticked inexorably to my time of dismissal. What scared me most was the HR person who asked me if I had a lawyer and told me that if my dean found out, he’d cut me dead. The HR person was a woman.

Luckily, I found another job. I had marketable skills and I didn’t fight where I was, so they cut me a break (since they wanted to get rid of me and I was helping them do that), but it meant moving 2,500 miles away. Away from my home, away from friends, away from family. But I made it work. I survived. I was one of the lucky ones.

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