Sunday, June 3, 2012

Let's Hug It Out Ladies

I had a performance review meeting with a manager shortly after I joined a company. She gave me a great review that came with a warning (which I believe was even written into the review itself). She said, “You are very talented and driven – you will go far. But you have to be prepared right now for the people who will resent you for it and will try to tear you down.” The next year and a promotion later, another manager gave me an almost identical speech, but by then I was already neck-deep in cattiness and backstabbing. I was trying desperately to remember that I actually liked my job. This was not the first, nor will it be the last, time that I have found myself in this situation.

I try desperately to not be one of those women who says “I hate working with other women” but damn it, sometimes I really hate working with other women.  Isn’t it sad to say that? It is hard enough being a woman in the workplace swimming against the currents of patriarchy (especially in some of the more male-dominated industries I’ve worked in), we shouldn’t have to steel ourselves against other women as well.
This has to stop ladies. We’re destroying ourselves. We spend so much time focusing on each other, how we stack up against each other and how we can be the Supreme Number One Female – that we forget how to be good at our jobs. We spend so much time tearing each other down that we forget to build ourselves up. We are locked in battle with each other for a prize that doesn’t exist.

photo source: Movie Fan Central
There Can Be Only One

What we seem to have not realized is that this isn’t Highlander. There CAN be more than one. If two successful women occupy the same space, we will not open up a hole in the space-time continuum.  There is not one promotion per company titled “For The Ladies” that all women must battle for in order to advance their careers. This is not the Hunger Games where you either die, or win surrounded by the bodies of your former teammates.

While we were busy clawing each other’s eyes out trying to win the Ultimate Workplace Deathmatch/Dance-Off for Women (sponsored by Cosmo), dudes were stone cold raking up promotions while saying, “look at those crazy bitches,” then giving each other fist-bumps. 
So what should we be doing? In my opinion, here are the three things you need to do to get ahead in business without leaving the bodies of former friends under your feet:
  1. Make the people around you look good – especially your boss. Why is it more important to make others look good than to make yourself look like the best? Because the people who will be deciding whether or not you get that promotion will want to know what’s in it for them, and if you prove that you can make them and your entire team look good, that’s a lot more attractive than someone who promises to be a rockstar in a sea of losers.
  2. Act like you are happy to be there. Nobody wants to work with someone who pouts all day that things aren't going her way. Nobody wants be around someone who loudly laments that the world is out to destroy her. Put a damn smile on your face. Not feeling it in your heart? So what. Fake it. While faking it may not be recommended for orgasms, I wholeheartedly endorse it for business. It doesn't matter if everybody knows that behind that smile is a wish that everyone in your building would die by fire when one of your cubemate’s string of “whimsical” blinking Christmas lights still stapled to the cube walls in fucking June goes up in flames and nobody can exit the building because the “floor safety captain” forgot which of the 25 stairwells he is supposed to direct people to.  Mask your homicidal rage with a smile. People will appreciate the effort.
  3. Find the aspect of your job that you love to do and do well, and do it AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Make sure people see you doing it. Put 90% of your effort into doing what comes most naturally and gives you the most enjoyment and you will become known for doing that thing. When a promotion comes up for that thing you will be the first person people think of. When you focus on others, all people can see are your insecurities. When you focus on being THE BEST at making spreadsheets because Jane a few cubes down rocks at spreadsheets, but you FUCKING HATE SPREADSHEETS, all that people will notice is that you spend a lot of time on spreadsheets and don’t seem to be very good at it. Or, even worse, you get really good at it and then you get promoted to Manager of Spreadsheets and you have to make spreadsheets every day until you die. Congratulations. Go for an A+ on what you love and a C on what you don’t (so you don’t get fired). It will take you far and you will enjoy getting there so much more.

I’ve spoken in a lot of generalities here. Not all women are hell-bent on the destruction of all female coworkers. And the women playing this game are not at all horrible people. Shit, I’ve been SOOO guilty of this at times. But when I find myself more focused on the girl across the way than what actually makes me happy in my job, I become an extremely miserable person. I’m writing this because I love women – I love PEOPLE. Most importantly, I want to work in a diverse and supportive environment (this really is all about me here). And I don’t like the thought of one lone woman at the top who had to trade all sense of friendship and comraderie in order to get ahead. I’d like to think that if I ever got that fantastic dream-job, I’d be able to bring some kick-ass women with me. And if one of my female coworkers got promoted and I didn’t, I’d like to be able to say “Congratulations” and truly mean it.

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