As a Black woman, the biggest threat to my career is white women.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by the woman you work for.
The mean girls club is no longer reserved for high schools, it has permeated corporate America and the start up world was not excluded. Your company is only as good as its leaders. No one cares about how much hummus and guacamole you have if the the culture is toxic. You cannot replace human decency with snacks, PR, and funding rounds. Your mission does not matter if your people are medicating to stay sane and crying in bathrooms.
We all know what it’s like to work with an office bully, but what happens when the office bully is also leading the charge? Too often the behaviors of executive teams are overlooked simply because they are in seats of power, which also means people of color are left to be bullied by what is most likely, a white man or woman.
So how do you join the mean girls club? You play nice. The only way to please the mean girl is to make her feel like she’s better than you and blindly following her to the ends of the earth. See how this can be dangerous when this person is leading the company?
Once you’re no longer on her good side, her bad side is really bad. You find yourself shrinking into a shell of the person you once were, walking on eggshells and wondering is today the day she fires me? While sometimes hoping that today would be the day she fires you.
The ability to be the mean girl is shrouded in privilege. Many of us have to shrink behind our emotions to be deemed acceptable in the workplace. Unfortunately, “mean girls” typically slide under the radar because they are white, high performers, executives or CEO’s. Queue Amy Cooper.
How many people end up in positions of power because of privilege rather than because it was earned? How much harder do Black women have to work to earn a seat at the table?
We all have a breaking point and it will be their mission to find it and they will succeed caring about nothing except if they looked good while doing it.
I was recently told by a start up leader, “I don’t care about people’s mental health, I care about results”. Whew, hold up- red flag. Without our people we have NO results, if you don’t care about them then you truly do not care about your product. Our people are also our customers.
Oh we get it, you care about profits. Bingo.
‘One bad apple spoils the bunch’ is exceedingly true when your company is being thrust forward by a bully. It encourages members of the team at all levels to believe this is acceptable behavior- I mean, if it’s good enough for the person cashing the biggest check, why isn’t it good enough for everyone else? The trickle down effect begins to encourage all leaders to use fear as a weapon against their teams. Anxiety seeps into every corner of your organization.
Fear is not the same as leadership. If you have to rip the humanity out of your company in order to get people to comply with your wishes, you are not a leader, you are a dictator. If you have to embarrass people to feel powerful, you are not deserving of leadership, you are deserving of everything that is said about you. We need to do better, we need to expect better.
What happens to people who don’t have the privilege of standing up and defending themselves? They shrink. They disappear. You end up driving hard working people to the brink of insanity- for what? Your ego.
Often, we ask ourselves how these people end up in positions of power, and I’ll say it again, privilege, typically thrown in with a dash of narcissism. Mean girls are notoriously good at turning on the charm when it will lead to a direct deposit- they know who to charm, and it’s certainly not the people they view as subordinates. They purposefully hire people they consider to be weak, people who won’t say no, people who will revel in their power.
However, the truth always catches up with us. I do believe that our actions come back to us. We are no longer living in a world where people stay quiet beneath the weight of trauma. Reputation precedes all of us until eventually no one wants to work with you. Technology has allowed us to not need Glassdoor to find out how leaders operate, we log on to LinkedIn and ask an actual human- and lot’s of us tell the truth. When the truth gets out, there’s no taking it back, there’s no PR that can save it. At some point, it will just be you and your reflection and I hope you choose to heal, because we all know, hurt people hurt people.
If you are someone who is working for a mean girl, or anyone who is a bully- please know, that you are not the problem. Regardless of how they treat you, know that you are worth respect, dignity and psychological safety. Every human deserves to know they are valued, without having to bend over backwards to only be told “that isn’t good enough”. You spend your days just waiting for the other shoe to drop. It feels like being in an abusive relationship.
Lastly, be careful. Mean girls will go to the ends of the earth to make sure that you feel their vindictiveness. There is no measure too small if it will cause you pain, grief or embarrassment. Whether it be public call outs, scrolling through years of social media to send to your new employer, or simply waiting for you to drop the ball. They insist on having the last word. Do not feel guilty for leaving and do not feel guilty for speaking up.
However, 2021 is going to change all of that. People are no longer going to ask about what cold brew you have, but how you treat your people when they are the most vulnerable.
We’re going to call out the BS that comes with this mean girls club.
It’s time to put the proverbial kool-aid down, we’re done praising mean women.
Human decency is big 2021 energy, and we are not accepting anything less. We will not tread lightly to protect people in power just because they are powerful. We are no longer scared and we are here to create new beginnings.
We’re done shrinking.