Tears are us

Luis Suarez writes eloquently about the joy of seeing leading sportsmen who are not scared to show their emotions.

His post reminded me of the final episode of the BBC’s Million Dollar Traders which we watched on the iplayer on Monday night. This three part series took eight “ordinary people” and gave them basic training followed by two months to run their own (£1m) hedge fund. The two months happened to be September and October 2008 – possibly the worst two months in the history of hedge fund management.

In one scene, the two self-made millionaires who are running the operation (one of whom is actually donating his own funds to the “experiment”) discuss the lacklustre performance of a highly intelligent but nervous rookie – they decide it’s time to ‘let her go’.

The discussion between these two powerful men – ‘she’s going to cry, I know she is’ – is fascinating, as is the interplay between the dismissed girl and her fellow rookies – half of whom walk out with her. The two “bosses” stand in their glass-fronted office and watch awkwardly as the walk-out takes place, agreeing that it’s best not to “interfere”.

Of the three novice traders that remain, one, an ex-soldier, seems genuinely perplexed that there should be any gesture of support, asking, repeatedly, “what’s going on?”.

Another (interestingly, a single mum), then goes on to be praised by the fund managers for her “impressive” (ie: lack of) reaction to the entire episode. She is told that this cool-headedness is essential for City success. There is much talk of how emotions, and emotional ties to others, can only get in the way of making money.

Interestingly, there is a whole separate incident where another novice – an environmentalist – despairs at his inability to make money through ethical trading. He is singled out for criticism – the suggestion is that ethics will only interfere with profits.

This portrait of City trading as the towers of mammon begin to topple is excellent and should be set viewing for business studies students everywhere. I wonder if the two men who led the show have reconsidered their stance? I suspect there’ve been quite a few tears shed on and off the trading floor in the past few months.

As Luis remarks on his blog, now is surely time for businesses to reconnect with their emotions:

“Now, can you imagine the corporate world of the 21st century, the one we all feel social software is slowly, but steadily, humanising and shaking itself inside out, behaving in such powerful way? Can you imagine your business re-gaining that human side of things? Those feelings? Those emotions?”

Here, here to that!

This same week, we’ve seen a report from the Children’s Society saying that the “selfishness” of UK parents is a major factor in the unhappiness of the UK’s children. Once again, working mums are singled out as particularly self-centred.

Why, oh why do we keep going back to this same old, broken record? Blaming working mums is the easy solution. Talking about how to construct more family-focused, humanised workplaces is far more difficult. And how to re-construct and support not the family but the extended family.

To be fair, The Guardian and The Scotsman, among other media, were up in arms about this, too.

Because this type of work is the future. It’s good to see that someone of Julia Hobsbawm’s intellect thinks so, too – she’s got a new book out which champions flexible working as the most significant trend of the 21st century.

I know my 2 year old daughter wants to spend time with the parents she loves, but in seeing myself and my partner go out to work, she’s learning that it’s normal to work, and that work can make you happy and fulfilled. She’s sat in on business meetings from the age of 12 weeks and listens in to conversations about work, between her parents, our colleagues etc. This has improved her vocabulary and I’m sure in later life will make her more instantly at ease in business situations.

And the flipside is that the workplace also benefits from having the input of parents (especially mums) who spend lots of time with their children. These people have vast lives outside the boardroom and inevitably see things differently.

OK, so maybe women are, on balance, more likely to show emotion (eg: cry) in certain situations, but why do such outbursts need to be a problem? Can’t we just learn to deal with them?

Diverse voices, thoughts and interpretations are key to the worldly governance that today’s companies need if they want to survive in this fragmented, global marketplace.