If you’re a woman, then the rungs are not only further apart they’re damn slippery.
Women (colour can be a problem, white is best) who make it to the top, face a discriminatory glass ceiling; falter when trying to shatter it and the white males deciding who joins them up where the air is rarified, may inflict cuts on the downward descent.
Yes, the jungle is not only out there, it’s up there as well.
Ingrid Yung, a thirty three year old associate lawyer, is the narrator of Helen Wan’s debut novel, The Partner Track.
Chinese American, Ingrid works for corporate law firm, Parsons Valentine & Hunt and is the firm’s poster girl for their recruiting brochures.
On track for partnership, Ingrid is living proof that Parsons Valentine not only believes in equal opportunity, it happens.
Ingrid is ambitious.
She has worked/slaved for the firm for 12 years and figures while virtue is its own reward it’s really only applicable to Mother Teresa.
In the real world of corporate politics, working hard is good, but fitting in is better.
And oh-my-goodness, Ingrid has turned fitting in into an art form.
An intelligent sensitive child, she observed the discrimination suffered by her Chinese born parents and decided it wouldn’t happen to her and a law career was the way forward and, at whatever cost, she would fit in – unaccented English, work clothes not too stuffy, not too sexy and most important: be accepted by the boys.
Ingrid fits in so well at Parsons Valentine the boys even tell dirty jokes when she’s around – seriously boring but all part of the game plan.
And then it happens; Ingrid, up for partnership selection, attends the firm’s annual summer outing and witnesses a crass exhibition of racism by three young white male employees.
While a few of the firm’s partners are horrified, most look the other way and the perpetrators escape meaningful punishment. It is only when the offensive racist parody is reported in the newspapers that the firm takes action.
Parsons Valentine announces a ‘Diversity Initiative’ and who better to be the centerpiece for their attempt to regain acknowledgment of an unprejudiced employment policy than Ingrid?
Only problem is: Ingrid’s already snowed under working on a deal of huge importance both in prestige and dollars to Parsons Valentine. Marty Adler, the partner in charge of the deal, requests Ingrid join the diversity initiative, intimating she’s only one step from her goal of partnership.
Reluctantly, Ingrid agrees and feeling isolated and lonely, breaks the firm’s rule of no romance with a fellow employee by becoming involved with another associate.
Long working hours, becoming longer, and the affair segues into minefield territory. Doesn’t matter – everything will work out when her name is added to the Parsons Valentine partnership list.
Ingrid’s mostly worry free ascension of the Parsons Valentine corporate ladder runs into trouble deep; the penultimate rung shaky, the prize at the top, moves further and further away.
I liked Ingrid a lot and really wanted to interrupt her climb to give a little career advice about Parsons Valentine, boyfriends and ladders per se.
I underestimated her though.
Not ashamed to say the last chapter had me cheering – one to the good gals.
The author, Helen Wan, with a background in corporate law, has created realistic characters and an involving, suspenseful story set around the racial and sexual politics that exist in corporations.
Whether you’ve a mind to climb a corporate ladder or not, The Partner Track is a great read – well done Helen and Ingrid.
Title: The Partner Track
Author: Helen Wan
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
About the Author Helen Wan
Helen Wan was born in California, raised in Fairfax County, Virginia, and graduated from Amherst College and The University of Virginia School of Law. She is a full-time lawyer, and Chinese-American. Her first job after law school was at a big law firm in Manhattan although her book is decidedly fiction. She left her big firm after about a year to join a media and entertainment law firm, and later became in-house counsel at a large media company. She says that she ‘wrote this novel in big, infrequent bursts of late-night or early-morning activity, unshowered, her hair in a messy ponytail and with ‘empty Diet Coke cans scattered everywhere’. She lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, with her husband and son. Her essays and reviews of fiction have been published in The Washington Post and elsewhere