Spirit of office culture is distilled through pints of testosterone


‘Home is the sailor, home from the sea, And the hunter home from the hill.”

That, to steal a line from Robert Louis Stevenson, was the demeanour of the man in the Black Lion on Bayswater Road in London. It was the time of day when the after- work crowd leave the office and make for the pub.

Three junior colleagues stood listening to the man, deferring to him. It’s odd how often these after-work groups have among them the man to whom others listen respectfully on account of his greater knowledge of the big wide world outside the office. The knowledge matters only inside their arena of work and is useless outside it.

Yet to those juniors, it’s like being let in on a mystery of religion.

As he explained who you can trust, who does and doesn’t know what he is talking about, how you get around so-and-so, the others drank in his wisdom along with their beer. He directed most of his attention to a young woman who directed most of her attention to him.

Observing them a few weeks ago, I realised I may as well be back in 20th-century Dublin when I was part of such groups. I even managed to feel nostalgic, for a few moments, about the world of office work.

Two women walked in, one older, one younger. The older one set up the drinks and commenced to fill in the younger one on this, that and the other drama in the office, bending her head towards her, talking earnestly as if this stuff was really, really important. In this way, the younger ones become indoctrinated into the culture of the office, complete with whatever judgments, prejudices and so on the older colleagues pass on. Then they belong.

When a young man from the earlier group strolled over to chat up the young woman, the older woman looked put out, greeting him with a smile so faint it could cut you.

Five minutes later, the older woman had joined the first group, and the young man and young woman walked into another lounge, he carrying a bottle of rosé in a bucket of ice and she carrying two large wine glasses. It was still not 6pm, so I presumed a second bottle would follow the first and that copious amounts of coffee would be needed in the office tomorrow morning to bring them back to a productive state.

All sense of being in the 21st century vanished next day on a stroll through the City, the financial area peopled by those who probably have more influence on our day-to-day lives than our elected governments.

All around me were men in suits strolling around talking business, sitting out in the sun talking business or sitting in a pub drinking and talking business. I was pretty impressed, I have to say, by the numbers of Masters of the Universe who had taken themselves off to the pub in the middle of the afternoon. I had somehow assumed that all of these terribly important guys would be at their desks looking at screens with scrolling lines of share prices, occasionally making terribly important decisions about us all. Instead the fate of the world was being decided over pints and the only lines they saw were, it would not surprise me to learn, lines of white powder on top of a cistern.

What really struck me though, was the absence of women in this scene. Women in suits were entirely absent. It was as though financial wheeling and dealing was still a sole preserve of men. Perhaps the women were inside doing the actual work but I’m not so sure.

If the culture is to be out and about on a sunny afternoon doing business in the open air and drinking in the pub, I would imagine that women in suits would partake in that culture just as much as men.

When it comes to high finance, testosterone still rules.

Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness on the Go – Peace in your Pocket. His mindfulness newsletter is available by email, pomorain@yahoo.com

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