With the release of the HBO show Succession in 2018, we were catapulted into the world of rich family businesses and dramatic shareholder meetings. The show follows the corporate battle amongst the Roy siblings as they strive to take over their father’s seat as CEO of “Waystar Royco” when he chooses to retire. Additionally, the show takes us into the fictional lives of other important people who work alongside the Roys as they try to keep up with the fast-paced world of politics intermixed with corporate drama. One of the hallmarks of the show is the presence of strong women within the corporate hierarchy, who without doubt face the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated field. One woman stands out in her ability to show time and time again, her loyalty to her job, and the work ethic she has to excel the company forward. Siobhan Roy, nicknamed Shiv, is the unbreakable daughter of the show's patriarch and we follow her competing against her brothers for the spot of CEO. Despite her plot arcs and character flaws, she steps up to bat on the corporate pitch time and time again and never seems to fail. Nevertheless, the struggles of this fictional woman exemplify the struggles a lot of women face in the business world; as we analyze the challenges Shiv faces in the show, maybe we can take note of the way she chooses to handle said challenges.
Though, arguably, the most qualified child of the Roy Patriarch, Shiv Roy continues to attempt to prove her worth to her cold and cut-throat father. It’s almost frustrating watching Shiv have to work twice as hard as both of her brothers to even be an option for the position of CEO. Shiv is the only girl among three brothers and she finds herself competing against two of them. Kendall is the golden boy of the family and company, and despite his label as the implied successor to the throne of Waystar RoyCo his father reveals in the first episode that he “doesn’t think Kendall has the guts to be CEO”. Romulus or Roman Roy chose to spend most of his life participating in whatever debauchery he could find –partying– and all of a sudden, with no experience in the business world, wants to steal the seat from his older brother. This abrupt desire to work in the family business is evocative of a jealous child trying to steal a toy –the spot as CEO– from his brother Kendall. Shiv on the other hand is an established political consultant who works with politicians hoping to become President, a field she specifically chose for its distance from her father’s business. Unlike her brothers, she has a flair for professionalism and advocating for appropriate business propositions. Now every character in the show doesn’t come without their flaws, and just like us, Shiv has quite a few. Mainly, she viciously works for the approval of her father and continues to persevere through the many obstacles she faces in the workplace. If we sit and forget the nepotism it took for all three siblings to be sitting in the shareholder meeting, Shiv seems like the only non-hyperbolized sibling, the only sibling who the audience can really see taking Logan Roy’s place.
My theory is that Shiv is a mix of the good qualities her two brothers possess, yet faces the brunt of the sexism that her brothers dodge. Additionally, like her brother Kendall, she understands the business ends of things and is always prepared to be included in the conversation. As the brother who was being trained to take the throne, Kendall has a good grasp of what’s happening in the market, and what the company needs to do to survive. Shiv may not agree with the way Kendall suggests running the company, but the ideas she presents instead seem to imply an identical level of understanding, an understanding that is often undermined or ignored by her father and other male corporate pawns. Like Roman, she is flawless at the social aspect of being a successful businesswoman, which at times takes more than an intelligent strategy-oriented mind. Shiv understands that she needs to be professional in the boardroom but when the cocktails come out and the hors d'oeuvres get passed around, the business mindset is still present, but on the back burner, and the important focus is networking on a personal level. It's also important to note that Shiv’s husband, Tom Wambsgans, is also present in the boardroom, and much to her credit. The dynamic between the couple in the show is often portrayed as Shiv being a tyrant in her own relationship, which the show runners no doubt intend to use as a point of humor. Look at that guy, the only reason he’s here is because his wife is the boss’s daughter, and she’s way too controlling over him. At certain points, the completely ridiculous character of Tom serves the purpose of bringing humor into the show, but it is often at the expense of Shiv’s ambitious and strong-willed personality. Kendall and Roman have questionable relationship choices that are not made the brunt of the joke to the extent of Shiv and her marriage. In my opinion, Shiv knowing what she wants in her career and her family (and marriage) and not backing down from those standards, doesn’t seem like the ridiculous or exaggerated part of the show that is meant to be funny.
After critically watching the show, there are three things that I took away from observing Shiv work in the office. Number one, don’t underestimate the social aspect of being successful in the business world. It can be remarkably intimidating trying to spark conversation among men and even women at the office kitchenette, but it’s the easiest and surprisingly interesting way to network with people in your field. How do you think Shiv has so many political contacts that help her in her goal to get the spot as CEO? You might be surprised how much you have in common with the guy at work you never talk to, and if you didn’t click, at the very least you have one more person you can add on LinkedIn. A prevailing stereotype among the general population is that in the workplace, men dominate social networking during breaks and after work, but putting yourself out there can put you on people’s radar so you and your work don’t go unnoticed at the office. Number two, try your best to always be prepared. It’s simple, but it’s a great way to make sure you’re opening yourself up to different opportunities to expand and move up. Speaking up at a meeting is already intimidating enough, but as a woman, it can feel like your ideas and the way you present yourself are under a microscope and will be heavily criticized all the time. Being prepared can alleviate that pressure and therefore you can participate in the rhetoric more comfortably and thrive rather than survive in the meeting. Number three, always have a backup plan ready to present to keep the momentum of a project growing. For a significant part of the plot of season three, Logan Roy has decided to go with Roman’s idea to save the company, and every time Shiv tries to help out with the delicate nature of the deal it becomes increasingly harder for her to impress her dad. At the end of the season, we are left with Shiv deciding to put her own idea on the table, an idea she declares will be better than her brother’s. This tactic is very smart, especially for the goal that she is setting out to accomplish. She does the job her boss asks her to do, but recognizing possible better options, she has other ideas in her back pocket. Shiv has used these techniques in the show to launch herself towards her goal and to overcome the challenges the showrunners throw her way. Maybe we, as the audience, can not only enjoy the show but learn from how she navigates said obstacles.