Did Rebekah Brooks and Tess McGill 'lean in' first?

News International chief Rebekah Brooks with her boss and mentor Rupert Murdoch.
News International chief Rebekah Brooks with her boss and mentor Rupert Murdoch.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has been criticised for her new book which encourages women to "lean in", work harder and becoming professional leaders.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has been criticised for her new book which encourages women to "lean in", work harder and becoming professional leaders.

Not for his business ethics (or lack thereof) or his millions of dollars, but for his loyalty to his No.1 red-top – former News International chief Rebekah Brooks and the way he forms certain relationships with specific members of his staff.

As the fallout from the despicable News Of The World phone hacking scandal unravelled, I was continually amazed, obviously a little naively, at how steadfast the aging media mogul’s support was of the former fire-starter editor turned chief executive.

While she successfully denigrated the reputation of journalists around the world, Brooks’ bond with the tyrannical tycoon is interesting, and not just in the Freudian sense, but as a case study of professional chemistry.

Among other things, she was lauded as the lioness who protected Murdoch like a (slightly wrinkled) cub and vice versa.

I’ve been in the workforce for a relatively short amount of time compared to most in the old school media game, but I was quick to discover a relationship with the boss and your colleagues does not just involve a signature on a pay cheque or chats around the water cooler anymore.

Unlike other relationships in life, there are no clear cut self-help guides or subjects at school that teach you how to strike the right boss-employee balance.

It is a slippery slope. If you appear too close you are either vying for a promotion or sleeping together, but if you are too distant you may be left off the invite list to the next staff retreat.

I once worked under a woman who made The Devil Wears Prada look like a nursery rhyme. She carried around passive aggression like it was the latest "It" bag and was incredibly well versed in back-handed compliments.

Weekly meetings were generally followed by trips to the first-aid kit to patch up the injuries sustained from being thrown under a bus in front of the big bosses.

I thought this was normal office politics. She was the boss, so you approached with caution, a notepad and a cup Earl Gray (“with the bag still in it and not filled to the tip thank you”), not with cheeky anecdotes from TGIF drinks. She sometimes allowed me to work from home, unlike Marissa Mayer, and once even from a hospital bed so that’s a silver lining I guess.

Many of my friends are mates with their superiors and employees. They share mobile phone numbers, socialise together on the odd occasion and "Like" each other’s Facebook status updates.

When ex-Christian Dior creative director John Galliano was fired for an anti-Semitic tirade against a couple in a Paris bistro, his boss at the luxury conglomerate LVMH Bernard Arnault took the designer’s meltdown personally.

"I’m surprised that I did not get a call or a word of excuse from him. After all that I did for him," he said. Like a scorned lover, he also said, “It is still too soon for me to forgive him or see him,” months after the scandal made headlines.

For me it’s not the supposed gender divide in the workplace, it’s this brave new world of open plan offices, social media mateship, 20-year-old managing 40-year-olds and drinking with the CEO which add more confusion to the professional food chain.

Are there two sets of rules on how to interact - one for 9-to-5 and the other for what is supposedly "off-the-clock?" Should work and play be treated the way extra virgin olive oil distances itself from balsamic vinegar – steadfastly separate? How do you strike up professional chemistry? Do we need more boss ladies or more wunderkinds in the offices of Australia?

These are the questions I had after I finished thumbing my way through Lois Frankel’s classic Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office and a few excerpts of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new how-to-guide Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

While Sandberg encourages women to “lean in” at work and realise that choosing a life partner is a career decision, I wish she wrote more practical tips for young whipper-snappers climbing the corporate ladder, because I already “lean in”, or I like to think I do at least. I am taking full advantage of the sacrifices the working women who have come before me have made.

As a gainfully employed gen Y-er I need to learn how to build relationships with managers and worker bees from a wide variety of generations and backgrounds. The way I see it, because I’m a privileged princess, I don’t need a lot of help drafting a plan of attack for workplace gender wars. Besides if I do need help there's always a DVD copy of Working Girl in my arsenal. The street smart Tess McGill, played by Melanie Griffith, is my Wonder Woman - a superhero with a perm and a penchant for Valium. A testament to the fact you can't hold a woman with ambition back.

My dad showed me how to change a tyre, my mum didn’t teach me how to cook and my happily married grandmother, who was a professional housewife, discouraged me from marrying or having kids - that’s the feminism I was raised on. I was never made aware of the glass ceiling because I was always told I could do anything I put my mind to as long as I worked hard.

Writer Helen Razer summed it up best on her blog recently, “I find any work that even considers the idea that privileged white women do things in any way that is markedly superior or different to the things done by privileged white men so ineffably deluded I want to take ALL of the Alanis Morissette CDs purchased in the 1990s and make a sculpture of an enormous plastic masturbating woman and win the Turner Prize with a piece I have called Enormous Plastic Masturbating Woman Wins the Turner Prize,” said wrote.

I am one of the lucky ones who went to Uni and got lucky with a great job. I don’t think us new girls and boys in the workplace are that different from each other. It’s just time for everyone to push up their sleeves, get amongst it, encourage change and help those who aren’t as fortunate as people like me to get a foot in the door.

This story Did Rebekah Brooks and Tess McGill 'lean in' first? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.