So said Madeleine Albright and I wholeheartedly agree. Business publications are filled with lists of the most powerful women in business and politics, and some professional women’s organisations, like 85 Broads, are now quite a force. This is, of course, very formidable.
However, what I want to know is how many of the women in the rankings and in the women’s organisations actually help other women when they really need it. My guess is, that while some do, others only pay lip service to the issue and not only fail to volunteer their help, but actually make matters worse. (Yes, I am aware that this is an 85 Broads blog and might not be the most welcome view here.)
In the last few months I have heard about several instances where women in power have made an active choice to quash “a women’s issue.” As much as I would love to, I cannot name and shame them in this article, so will present just one specific example: I recently heard that several female employees in a large company had approached a female HR manager with concerns about the chauvinistic behaviour and unpleasant comments from one very senior man in the office. Her response was that “sometimes women take things too seriously” to ALL of those who complained. I am sure many of those who read this will know about a woman in power who has bullied and threatened her female colleagues into keeping quiet about sexual harassment or laughed at them publicly if they took maternity leave. Yet these same women would vocally support women’s organisations and make speeches about how they have made it in a man’s world.
Modern society has got as far as making men think twice before ignoring women's claims of sexist behaviour in the workplace but companies still wish to deflect, deter and squash any such murmurings among their female employees. Thus, the onus often falls upon other women in the company to do the dirty work. Unfortunately, there are many who will happily carry out these tasks - either at the direct behest of their male boss or, in the belief that such complaints will reflect badly on them if they are responsible for escalation.
Is this right? Should success be won no matter what? Should your career, your company, your investment be protected at the cost of basic human decency? And moreover, what is the norm – women who really help others, or women who say the right things but will protect their company first and foremost? This also begs the question – what kind of employee do you want in your company: the former or the latter?
Finally, we should ask “What do we do about this?”
I wish I could offer advice on how to combat this and survive professionally, however my view is that if you are faced with a toxic female bully, then you have no choice but to leave the organisation and never look back. As my HR manager example above shows, the company where these women work will not change. It will continue to make them miserable and they will continue to be stuck in a 1950s work environment. In the end, it will be the company that suffers, because word will spread about their behaviour, and competent women will not work there anymore. They must leave and comfort themselves with the thought of the company’s long term attrition. It’s not fair and it’s not satisfying, but this is the world we live in.
I wish I could just name and shame.