I am a woman who often “walks” in a man’s world. In the industry of medical devices, there are a lot of engineers, and most of them are men, sadly. In the division where I work, which serves patients in Latin America, I often run up against challenges in systems that do not serve people. I also typically am in meetings where women are the minority (leadership), and Latina women a much tinier minority.
Systems rarely seem to serve people. It is people who serve people. Systems are set up sometimes to automate or provide tools that can help, but of course these are just the inventions of people. Systems serve a purpose, but it seems they can outgrow their original purpose at some point, and they can become inefficient and wasteful, the bigger they grow.
There is probably some natural growth maximum, beyond which systems start to break down and people start to work around those systems rather than through them. Even if the system is truly broken, it is hard to see this, because the people who know the “work-arounds” are there to keep the bigger corporate machine running. Managers and directors are often too far removed from how the work actually gets done. Since the workers bees rarely have much power in these systems, they do “what they have to do.”
Large for-profit corporations serve themselves, and work to increase their revenue to invest back into the business, so they can develop more products or services to offer to their customers. Businesses create jobs, and jobs employ people and pay income, so people can spend money and re-invest back into the system. Income is taxed, so the infrastructure that allowed for a stable market to allow job creation in the first place can be maintained, repaired and improved. It seems like a reasonable system, if significant investment goes back into R&D rather accumulating at the top.
Granted, when you make medical devices that are life-saving technology, profit is not all bad. If we re-invest a large portion of profit back into new inventions and technologies that can help people, that creates a “virtuous cycle,” and more new products get created to help more people. As long as not too much money gets funneled into padding corporate executive salaries and unnecessary layers of bureaucrazy, it is good for all, one might argue. (Every time I try to type bureaucracy it comes out with “z” automatically – this is Freudian, I realize…)
This is how basic economics works, yeah? There is the micro and the macro, and I learned much of this stuff back in college half a lifetime ago. Much of what humans do is “rationalized” as logical and a natural consequence of economic factors. However, a large proportion of behavior is not rational, but based on other factors: love, passion, a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning in what we do. It is not so easy to quantify the true factors that drive human behavior. While money is a motivator, especially for those that do not have enough, when you do have all of your basic needs met, many people start to ask: is this all there is?
Humans survived based on our ability to form stable connections and to take care of families and tribes. It is not so surprising then, that when it comes to choosing between things and people, sane people typically choose people. They value the connections in their lives. It is about quality and not quantity, and it is about REAL people, not facebook friends. We know from extensive research and neuroscience that we are wired for connection, and we are wired for struggle.
Some missions are worth pursuing, like helping patients and creating life-saving medical technologies. Unfortunately the corporate structures that grow to support these goals can be stifling. They can dull our creative impulses and allow people to “hide out” in places where they appear to do work, while being unchallenged and under-utilized. As I consider where I want to use my skills in my next career move, I cannot help but think this time I’m gonna shop small. Cuz this bureaucrazy is killin’ me, man!