A couple of weeks ago my partner and I were discussing a former female bully in the workplace, who had achieved a high level of standing in a particular organization. He described a work culture that was toxic with the sludge dripping down through the ranks, all because of this one woman. When I asked him about her success his response was that her co workers pegged her as having somehow not honestly earned her way to the top or not being fully capable or qualified for the role that she was in. Called a brown noser, bully and chat of her exhibiting use of her ‘feminine wiles’ because “all of the leadership team loved her, and they were men” (not his words or place of work) and so our conversation shifted.
We all know the “story” — A woman in power obviously slept her way there by using her sexual prowess or bullied her way to the top. How else could she have gotten there? Successful women are all too familiar with this trope; most will hear it said of them at some point and will certainly hear it said of other women (and some will say it about other women which boggles my brain to this day). Is it possible that there was just hard work and as a result success? When we see a woman who had succeeded in a world designed for men we assume she must have used her femininity, sexuality or abuse to achieve what eludes many women in the workplace: power.
So, Is it sexual discrimination and illegal harassment to spread a false rumour that a woman slept with her male boss in order to obtain a promotion? YES! It is now an illegal offence deemed and recognized by the court of law.
Let’s shift back to the idea that one person in power can destroy a working culture. In this particular situation I had to think quietly (while sipping a rose) about the leader in question. If she had knowledge that the people in her organization had this opinion of her, was the hostile environment first created by her co-workers and then in turn she became defensive and aggressive? I think it’d be rather difficult to lead a team of people who had created such a toxic starting point and equally it’d be difficult to be an employee to step outside of the toxic group mindset and try something different in fear that they may in turn be ridiculed and segregated.
So, I was posed this question by my partner. Was it just this one woman’s responsibility to turn it around? No. I don’t believe so. I believe that when we even utter these (now illegal) accusations and thoughts about another in the workplace we are just as much to blame as the person we are accusing of being toxic. I hope that there were people in that particular organization who had an inkling to try a different approach, however, in this scenario that I feel is all too common I understood that it was a ‘her vs. us’ approach and that by giving her a chance or wanting to understand more would have ended up in colleague annihilation.
We have to trust our instincts instead of following the herds cues and this sometimes means going against what the majority rules.
As a woman in the workplace, are you contributing to the problem by allowing another colleague, no matter their position to be held down by the thumb of patriarchal oppression OR are you willing to open up the door to the possibility of a new narrative? I don’t believe that you can be both a feminist who supports other women and contribute to the challenges they face.
You get to decide.
**I’d like to make a disclaimer that I have been so very fortunate to work with brilliant female leaders who are respected and sought after in their fields and have not witnessed any of the above**
Until next time,