The Rise Of ‘Faux Singletons’

We track down the women who actively lie about their personal lives to get ahead at work.

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by Grazia |

In her high-octane job as a business analyst at a leading City firm, Pitima Tongme was surrounded by men.

In fact, the 33-year-old was one of only a handful of women in her department, and proud of herself for all she'd achieved in a world where, even now, promotions can depend as much upon the male bonding happening in the pub as the work done in the office.

Key to her success, she believes, was a strategy she developed over the course of her seven years with the company. As strategies go, it was relatively uncomplicated: she pretended to be single.

Pitima-Tongme

Pitima Tongme

"I've been with my boyfriend since I started at the firm, and we live together," she says. "But after I noticed I was being treated differently by male colleagues once they realised I was in a relationship, I started to pretend I was single.

"Being perceived as available definitely improved my prospects at work. I was much more popular with the men I worked with. As a result, I was offered so many more opportunities; exciting projects, pay rises, promotions and job offers from different departments."

Faux Singletons

Pitima is one of a new breed of 'faux singletons': women who feign a lack of romantic attachments to get ahead in the workplace. They remove their wedding rings before job interviews, refrain from mentioning the name of their other half in the office and make sure they're always available for post-work drinks, even if it means cancelling plans with their partner - all to ensure they're seen as single.

In more male-dominated industries, some women fear they will be discounted in the workplace because of their personal lives.

To many, it will seem dispiritingly regressive that women feel the need to lie about their personal lives to achieve their potential at work. After all, true equality means being judged purely on our achievements; what we do outside the office shouldn't matter.

However, those embracing the faux singleton approach argue that there are still many work environments in which being in a relationship can adversely affect a woman's prospects as it never would a man's.

Sexism In The Workplace

Infuriating – and illegal - as it is, assumptions are often made about women in long-term relationships, including that they may plan to have a baby at some point. Despite laws designed to protect women from this kind of discrimination, a recent survey of 500 managers revealed that a third would rather employ a man over a woman of childbearing age for fear of the costs of maternity leave.

Also, this year the TUC found that men are paid more after having kids, while women in the exact same position are paid less - presumably the latter being seen as less committed than their male counterparts.

Geraldine Gallacher, MD of the Executive Coaching Consultancy, says, "There are still women who fear they will be discounted in the workplace because of their personal lives, often in more male-dominated industries.

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"We did some research recently into women's expectations of their careers in the legal profession, and found many were worried about being written off if they became engaged – their colleagues would think marriage, children, end of.

"And there are still very few female partners in law firms to disprove their fears, so they feel uncomfortable about discussing these personal milestones."

A Change In Attitudes

Pitima became a faux singleton after noticing a distinct change in her male colleagues' attitudes towards her when they discovered she had a boyfriend.

"When I first started at the company, everyone was very nice to me and did everything they could to help me," she says.

"Then my boyfriend sent me flowers one day and some of the men I worked with asked who they were from. After I told them, I started to notice that when I asked for help, they said they didn't have time. They stopped inviting me for group drinks too.

"I learned my lesson. When I moved to a new department, I made sure I was perceived as single. I noticed I was invited out for drinks a lot more often, so I was able to network much more, and that meant my career improved.

"It isn't just the social side of work which improves when you're seen as single – managers want someone prepared to work long hours and it's often assumed that if you're in a serious relationship, you won't be prepared to do that. It's known that I'll happily put in the hours required, and that helps. My boyfriend doesn't mind because he's very busy at work, too."

Unstoppable You

Pitima left the City last year to work as a life and career coach and publish a book called Unstoppable You. She is considering returning to her previous job, and says that if she does so, she'll become a faux singleton once again.

"I'm a very ambitious person, so I'll do what I need to to ensure I achieve what I want. I don't feel bad about it – I just keep my personal life separate from work."

Perceptions

It's an approach Lucy*, 36, also takes in her job as a PR in Manchester. "I don't want anybody to know that I've recently moved my boyfriend into my house, or that we're trying for a baby," she says. "My colleagues know he exists, but I downplay how serious we are.

"A huge part of my job is socialising, and I don't want them to think I won't be able to do it anymore. I know it's ridiculous, because if I do get pregnant, going out every night will be the last thing I want to do.

"I'm just struggling to come to terms with the change in the way I'm perceived, which I know will come. I still want to be seen as fun and totally committed to the job, and I worry what will happen when they realise I have other priorities."

Maternity Penalty

Geraldine says that it's common for women to worry about telling their colleagues they're expecting a baby. "They're often concerned they'll be viewed differently," she says.

"I know of women who've deliberately held off announcing their pregnancy until after the bonus round, because until very recently, bonuses were discretionary, and they didn't trust they would be treated fairly."

Some women even continue to employ faux singleton tactics to improve their prospects after becoming mothers. Juliet*, 39, a freelance graphic designer, says she actively tries to project an aura of being a single, unencumbered woman when she deals with clients, despite having a husband and two small children.

"I don't want them to think, 'Oh, she probably won't be available, so we won't ask her,' so I try not to mention the fact I have children," she says.

"If clients call while I'm with the kids, I let it go to voicemail and call them back when I'm alone. It's sad that I can't just be honest about the demands on my time, but I'm pragmatic enough to realise clients just want me to be there when they want me, so I do what I need to.

"I don't want them to think of me as a frazzled mother whose mind is in a million different places."

Discrimination

As understandable as the faux singleton approach may be, Geraldine advises women to be authentic at work. "I'm a great believer that we should not pretend to be something we're not," she says.

"Discrimination still exists in some quarters, but it's only by women being honest about their lives and everyone getting used to the realities of women's lives that the system will change."

Do you or someone you know adopt a 'faux singleton' persona at work? Get in touch via Twitter @GraziaUK.

*Names have been changed.

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