» Continue to Chapter One


I came up with the idea to do a women’s business book with a sadomasochistic slant after a conversation I had with my boss several years ago. He told me my work life would improve dramatically if I acknowledged that business revolves around the concept of surrender. A red flag went up—I might be a tad too dominant for his taste, perhaps? As he explained his point of view (that I should be more submissive to authority), I wondered if he passed that advice along to the guys or if he was saving it just for us gals. In any case, the comment made me curious: to whom exactly was I supposed to be surrendering? And more important, how could I become the one who makes people surrender?

Coincidentally, a week or two later, I was surprised when a colleague referred to me as a “dominatrix,” or “directress with a whip.” A dominatrix, huh? It seemed like a left-handed compliment. So I Googled the term and discovered that the stock in trade of the professional dominatrix is role-play—balancing the power between submission and dominance, which is the essence of S&M. The two extremes stuck with me.

I was told to surrender, but I was perceived as a dominatrix, an interesting paradox. These types of behavior—domination and submission—seemed to be married in the workplace, and the more I researched the sadomasochistic lifestyle, the more I realized that there were parallels between S&M and corporate culture that offered insight into these inequities of power. A central credo of responsible S&M practitioners is “safe, sane, and consensual” (no one is made to do anything they’re uncomfortable with or that is harmful in any way), and that’s where the similarities between the two environments stopped—the workplace is often unsafe, sometimes insane, and rarely consensual. Even so, my discoveries deepened my understanding of the submissive and dominant forces at work and how I interacted with my colleagues. As I began to identify my supervisors, peers, and friends as submissives (or masochists) and dominants (or sadists), I translated my observations into rules that women can use to survive—and thrive—in the corporate world. Gradually friends, colleagues, and acquaintances in middle- and higher-level management positions began asking for job advice. My solutions helped advance their career objectives, and soon their professional self-worth soared.

Like many women who want to climb the corporate ladder, I’ve also had plenty of experience in sadomasochistic dynamics since entering the workforce. I’ve discovered that I am, in fact, a recovering masochist. Although my masochistic tendencies have abated, it began once upon a time, as it does for so many, with my earliest job experiences.

As a teenager I worked in retail clothing stores to get deep discounts on the latest fashions. The owners of the stores were tyrants, or, as I would call them today, sadists. I learned to keep my head down, rack up as many sales as possible, and develop relationships with customers so they would come back and ask for me. This approach, unlike that of the other staffers who slacked off, goofed around, or just didn’t show up, was what eventually won over my bosses. I didn’t identify it at the time, but I instinctively adopted the role of the Schoolgirl, which we will talk about in Chapter Eight.

Through college, I worked in the garment district in New York City to make extra money. Talk about an industry rife with perversity! Explosive personalities were rampant, and there were no boundaries between employer and employee. It was an anything goes atmosphere of oversexed sales reps, flirtatious buyers, primadonna designers, and sleazy manufacturers. As a communications major, I found watching these interpersonal dramas fascinating. I developed a thicker skin and unwittingly assumed the role of the Amazon to survive, which we’ll discuss in Chapter Six.

After work or classes I would hang out at CBGB or Max’s Kansas City. It was the height of punk rock; the Sex Pistols, Blondie, and the Ramones were all the rage, as were mohawks, body piercings, and lots of leather. My friends took me on trips to retail sex-toy emporiums, such as the Pink Pussycat Boutique and the Pleasure Chest, and for some reason, I usually gravitated to the glass cases containing collars, riding crops, and whips.

When I asked the proprietors what kind of customers bought this stuff, they told me it was usually the types you’d least suspect: businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, and yuppie couples! I loved the fetish fashions (corsets, chain-mail vests, vinyl skirts, leather chaps, fishnets) so much that I went to a Halloween party as a dominatrix. I had a very superficial awareness of what dominas (professional dominatrices) did at the time, but I did feel very at ease in black leather. Perhaps it foreshadowed things to come.

As you can see, my fascination with S&M developed—however unconsciously—through my undergraduate escapades. I went on to get my master’s degree in communications after completing my thesis on religious cults, and began applying that knowledge to the cult of management. There are certain similarities in the group thought processes, peer pressures, and insulated cultures that I noticed when I started out as a publicity assistant in book publishing. I was committed to being an invaluable asset to my boss, the associate publicty director. Everyone found this woman to be difficult, mercurial, and bitchy, but I knew I could learn a lot from her, so I ignored her quirks. I made it my mission to be the best at my job, and my commitment and determination paid off. I earned my boss’s respect and trust, and was rewarded with the best mentoring that money can’t buy. Of course, it got a bit strange at times when she followed me into the bathroom to ask me questions, or when she called my doctor to ask about a missing file while I was getting an X-ray, but I still gathered the necessary skills. Again the role of the Schoolgirl came in handy.

I learned that experience is your currency as you work your way up the management food chain. I was actively involved in every detail of the major PR campaigns she worked on, including books by Bette Midler and Martha Stewart. Since I was her right hand (and sometimes her left), it was a seamless transition to step in when she had an accident that required extensive surgery. Needless to say, my boss was very appreciative when she came back to work, and she never forgot how I held her office together while she recuperated. A nice promotion and raise soon followed, though I became keenly aware of the no pain, no gain connection in corporate life.

Fast forward to the present day—after holding executive positions in public relations, marketing, and editorial at major publishing houses, as well as running my own successful marketing communications firm, I’ve funneled my background and what I’ve learned from my S&M research into the magic of The Corporate Dominatrix. This book examines office behavior as a sociopolitical, neurotic phenomenon, and provides business-minded women—whether they are manager wannabes, middle managers, small-business owners, independent contractors, or entrepreneurs—with a set of rules to roleplay by. Regardless of your age or generation, whether you’re a Baby Boomer, Gen-Xer, or Millennial, you’ll find the skills of the Corporate Dominatrix useful in any business interaction. The Corporate Dominatrix can give women the tools they need to move on and move up in their careers.

Just as professional dominatrices are in the business of helping others live out their fantasies, I’m in the business of giving women the strategies to help them achieve their dream career. The Corporate Dominatrix seeks to empower women and help them observe and understand the dynamics that impact their lives at the office each and every day—and become damn good at using them to their advantage.

» Continue to Chapter One

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