The era of “me too" has brought the hindrances of male harassment and abuse in the workplace. But that's not the full story. We'd love to believe in girl power, and women always having each others' backs, but the truth is, sometimes it's our fellow sisters that are standing in our way and making the workplace impossible.
It's other women who are trying to push us down and get in the way of our success – and for the women, many of them anonymous, we talked to for this story, it's other women's abuse they had to overcome to get where they are today.
1. Neither friend nor foe
“Growing up, my mom and I were the only girls in a family of six. So, we were extremely close and because of that, women have always been my safe space and preferred company. With that in mind, the meanness I have seen has been particularly hurtful. Thankfully, I only have a couple of these stories. One of them was the first time I met another personal stylist. An acquaintance introduced us at a busy event, and instead of shaking my hand, she looked at it and turned away. I started to see her at other events. Each time the same thing would happen. I would say hello, and she would either ignore me, or give me a tight-lipped "smile." Later I found out she told an important journalist that my clients were low end and I would work with anyone. The comment was especially mean because it wasn't true. My hourly rates have always been higher than other personal stylists in the city," says personal stylist Vanessa Valiente (considered to be the top personal stylist in San Diego). “I had another 'mean-girl' experience with another stylist who berated me via email for talking to an editor who was 'hers,'" Valiente remarks. "Thankfully in both these cases, kindness kills. In every instance, I just continued being friendly and professional. There is no longer any animosity between us, and we now authentically say a friendly hello when we run into each other."
2. The quick clique
"I have always worked since I was 14 years old, my first job was a library assistant at NYU, working a real job with real rules at a young age made me no stranger to a little work drama & light gossip. Without sounding self-centered, I have always been a pretty popular well-liked person throughout my personal and school/college life — I had the honor of being Salutatorian, Prom Princess, would get voted most likely to succeed or most talented etc. etc. However, nothing could have prepared me for my first encounter with a mean girl group! I got a job at a great office through a friend, I was so excited to be given this chance! I adored my boss, he was funny and encouraging and always let me try new things and share ideas. With that said when I walked into the office no one but my boss and the boys that worked there were nice to me or even acknowledged my presence. The girls (four of them) had formed this tight click I was not allowed to penetrate, they whispered very obviously about me when I came around, rolled eyes in group meetings while I gave input, did not say good morning or goodnight, planned after work drinks or weekend hangouts and never once thought to ask what my plans were. This made me incredibly uncomfortable, especially since the office was divided into two sections and naturally the guys huddled together, and the girls were on another side... with me. It was a very unpleasant year of my life, work felt like torture, if it wasn't for the support and encouragement from my boss, and my incredibly strong desire to win in my career, I may have quit. I remember calling my Mom and Dad and venting to them, I vented but never cried because I knew the industry I was in the required thick skin and I told myself this was part of the process. Fast forward about a year and a half later, the mean girls started to fall off one by one, some got let-go and others moved on. I was the last one standing and the office dynamic changed dramatically. I made sure to welcome newcomers with grace. Today I realize that my drive may have been too much for them and they may have viewed me as a suck-up or felt envious of my positive relationship with our boss. I must have made them feel threatened in a way I was unaware of. I am thankful for the experience and how this part of my journey helped propel me to found The Maven Firm and become a major ownership partner and CMO at HoneyWater. The pressure they put me under daily helped me become immune and stronger to the BS. In summary, I do not believe that what I learned from how they treated me justifies their actions, as the popular Meme says: when are we as women going to fix each other's crowns rather than try to knock them down?" -Vivian K. Gomez, Founder of The Maven Firm, Partner/CMO of HoneyWater
"An acquaintance introduced us at a busy event, and instead of shaking my hand, she looked at it and turned away. I started to see her at other events. Each time the same thing would happen," says Vanessa Valiente Photo Courtesy of Dayley Photography
3. "So you're a mom?"
“From when I was pregnant being told, 'I looked like I ate too much and was I sure I was pregnant?' (I was at that weird 4-month mark) To... 'So you're a mom? Are you sure you're any good at multi-tasking?' My answer: “I'm happy to run down the list of things I've done since on this call with you which includes faxing, shipping 1000 press kits w/UPS and breastfeeding. Multi-tasking isn't a problem." "Does your husband have a problem with you traveling and being gone from home?" Me: "I'm sorry, what? And don't get me started on being asked to have cheaper fees 'cuz you're just a solo, right? I mean your husband has a corporate job.' Regardless of my history, awards, etc." -Anonymous
4. Mentor me no more
“I recently experienced this with a book/business coach who was supposed to mentor me in launching a new part of business based on a book I wrote in her program," says Dr. Kate Dow, Psychologist. "She was incredibly rude and harsh with me on group calls where you can ask for help. People came up to me to say how brave I was. She didn't answer my legitimate questions, which is what I was paying her a ton of money for. She had her special ones she helped out and promoted. But she was the most out of hand condescending, mean and completely unprofessional towards me in front of groups of people at two live events."
"You would not believe the words she used thinking it was funny," continues Dow. "It was the most shocking behavior I have ever experienced with a "professional." When I confronted her she took no responsibility at all.
I invested a lot of time and money in her programs and had to leave to stop being ignored, put down and abused and find a knowledgeable, helpful, kind, business coach."
5. Biggest joke? Women supporting women..
“I was so surprised by the lack of support from other women when starting my business, especially because my business focuses on providing professional counseling for women! I heard that: my business vision was just wrong, that no one would pay me for counseling, that no one would ever buy my book, that no one would be interested in reading my blog, that I needed to do more research before launching my business (after doing my homework/preparation for the entire year before I launched!), etc. As a therapist, I know these statements say so much more about the people saying them than they say about me, usually that they are envious or jealous or feel threatened that if my business succeeds it somehow takes something away from them, but any mean or negative comment is so very hurtful on so many levels. I'd love for women to support each other and see at a deeper level than a success for one of us is really a success for all of us, but that would take changing many, many mindsets from being focused on the negative and what is lacking to being focused on the positive and the abundance all around us!" - Heidi McBain, MA, LMFT, LPC, RPT, Texas Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
“I was so surprised by the lack of support from other women when starting my business, especially because my business focuses on providing professional counseling for women!" -Heidi McBain
"She was doing no content marketing, no social media marketing, nothing…The icing on the cake was when she asked me to think of her when I start hiring."
6. Boss, bitch
“It saddens me to think back on the times when I worked with women and they felt threatened or entitled or greedy. I have worked as an esthetician for 10 years, 90 percent of the time I have found the women I worked with incredibly encouraging and supportive yet there is that 10 percent of times when I was unhappy with my choice to enter a career of primarily women. Years ago, I worked at a lovely boutique spa in Los Angeles as one of two estheticians, so small is an understatement. There were just enough people booking facials for us to each work solo a few days a week and together on the weekends. The company was on the precipice of great success, but the management was going through some growing pains and at times mishandled its relationship with its employees. The company had an amazingly dedicated Account Executive that worked her ass off for them… tons of travel, tons of weekends, tons of devotion. As all Account Executives know, it's a thankless job. On one random Tuesday, we were told that this hard working woman had been fired from the company. It was shocking news as she was beloved by all of the employees at the spa. As these things go, we weren't told the whys of the matter. Feeling hugely compassionate towards the plight this woman suffered and as someone that considered her a friend, I reached out and offered to take her for drinks, so she could vent and know she still had a support system. We went to an expensive Beverly Hills bar and because she was clearly out of a job I offered to pay the $100+ tab. We had a lovely evening and it was nice to connect and I hoped she felt the support I was giving her. I thought this would become a nice friendship. Soon after, (weeks? maybe a month-ish) she was re-hired by the company but now as the manager of the spa and became my direct boss. I was thrilled by the prospect of having someone protect us in the workplace that understood the job we did. Unfortunately, soon she started taking facial appointments herself which cut into my potential workload. I saw this as an opportunity for her to “double dip" while I was losing income. The tension increased over the weeks ahead and I explained my position of feeling like she was taking work and money from me especially when she had a salaried position. But her needs trumped mine and as she was now in authority over me she promptly ensured my firing. I was hurt and disappointed with how it was handled especially since I was such a dedicated employee to the company and I felt she would have been more compassionate since she had recently experienced a similar fallout with the same company. Even years later, I still have hurt feelings over the incident. I had reached out to this woman in friendship to only be repaid by her selfishness. In hindsight, it was blessing in disguise. I needed a dramatic push to move on, so I could grow and gain new experiences. I learned so much from working at that little spa. I still love helping women feel confidence, joy, and rejuvenation. Now I run my own solo facial business setting the rules and philosophy. If I had to do it all over again I wouldn't change a thing. I supported a fellow woman in need, I gave her my compassion and a shoulder to cry on and to me, that is what women do for each other. Well… maybe I would have held my tongue and left on my own accord when I saw the situation going south. Hindsight is 20/20." - Anonymous
6. Rain on my parade
“Last year, I started teaching English online for a particular company and joined a Facebook group for online English teachers. The owner of the group, a woman, seemed pretty cool. In the group, all of us would just unwind and moan and groan about the slavery that is working for online English language businesses.
I had already decided that I was going to open my own language learning business and correct all of the problems I saw in other businesses in the industry, but I didn't share it with the group. Then one day, the owner of the group announced on her personal page that she was opening a language learning business. I sent her a private message to congratulate her because we'd become somewhat friends during this time. She was very excited about it and told me all about it and showed me the website, etc. I even helped her with her SSL certificate for the site because the company she was paying to set it up told her it was the wrong format (even though they could have easily converted it). Then out of nowhere, she asked me what kind of TEFL I had and when I told her she said she wouldn't be able to hire me because she has an investor and he only wants a certain type of TEFL. Did you miss the part where I asked her for a job? Nah, you didn't miss it because there was no part where I asked her for a job. I shared with her that I was also starting a language learning business and my goal was to stop teaching and just hire other teachers and pay them well, etc. I also shared with her the website of another woman who had already been successfully teaching English on her own. This woman had inspired me to take the leap. Her reaction to this website was to say it looked generic, etc. Meanwhile, her own website was being hosted on a free Wix site and looked a lot less functional and professional than the one I showed her. Then I had to point out to her that regardless, the woman was actually successful. I don't care if her website looked like it was built in 1996, it was working for her business. I only do English lessons for IT professionals at a level of intermediate or above. She was mainly focused on general English with a few industry-specific lessons. So, we wouldn't be competing for business. But she was really bringing the arrogance. What was interesting then is that not once did she mention anything about how she planned to market her business. She just made it seem like she was running some kind of elite business. Fast forward 3-4 months. She sends me a message all down in the dumps because she can't get any students and her investor is no longer participating. Also, her website isn't working properly so that's also holding up progress. She still makes no mention of marketing the business. She had no marketing plan. She was doing no content marketing, no social media marketing, nothing...The icing on the cake was when she asked me to think of her when I start hiring. She wanted to know where she could send her resume. Say what? If she'd been supportive as I had been to her, we could have helped each other out." -Anonymous
"Did you miss the part where I asked her for a job? Nah, you didn't miss it because there was no part where I asked her for a job." -Anonymous
8. "Are you planning on keeping it?"
“When I was pregnant, the CEO of the company I was with actually said, "Are you planning on keeping it?" I was stunned. "Er, yes" I responded, and I could see her look totally disdainful. She had no kids so maybe didn't get it, but still. How could someone be so dense and insulting -- and personal? She was a dreadful bitch, but this took the damn cake. It was such an ugly atmosphere! it was no secret that she didn't support mothers. Now I am not one to ask for special favors and was ready and willing to work harder than anyone, pregnant or not, new mom or not, but that woman seemed to be actively looking for evidence of sloth. The whole experience was so bad that it inspired me to get the hell out -- so I wrote a book (Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families) and the day it hit the shelves, I cleared out my desk and walked out the door. -Erica J. Sandberg,Consumer Finance Expert, Reporter & Advice Columnist
9. Where's the support?
“As a young therapist, I spent years working at different mental health agencies, and was at one agency for approximately three years. While I was there, I had multiple experiences where I did not feel supported. There were a number of women in charge, but they seemed to hire and favor other white women, or men. I did not look like or behave like the women in charge, and therefore did not curry their favor. My work ethic was not in question, but I have never been programmed to keep quiet and smile, and therefore I would often ask questions and offer feedback when I felt that our clients weren't being best served. The questions I asked and the feedback I provided was not well-received. But I noticed that when my male counterparts or other white women would engage with our bosses, that their responses were often quite different. After a few years, it became clear that this was not the right setting for me. I was offered a kick-ass job at an impressive clinic, but decided to open my own practice and work for myself. Up to this point, my hard work and my persistence have paid off, and my practice has grown into a group practice called Take Root Therapy. I have a number of women who work for me, and we just hired our first male therapist. We value authenticity, transparency, and collaboration, and all of the therapists on our team are encouraged to voice their opinions and to advocate for themselves and their clients. I am proud of the business we have built and am so glad there is room for a business like ours." Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC, Founder of Take Root Therapy
10. And then she started at the company...
“I was running public relations for a large real estate company. I managed one assistant, one outside agency, and thousands of real estate agents and properties nationwide to try and secure press for. On top of all of this, I was a single mom of a then 2-year-old child. The company hired a new female marketing chief from a competing firm who didn't seem to get along with me from day one. Within the first two weeks, she told me I wasn't worth my salary and would reprimand me if I had to leave early to pick up my child if she was sick or the babysitter fell through. She got a kick out of setting me up to fail - leaving me out of important meetings, dropping the ball, and passing the blame onto me. I ended up leaving the company on less-than-stellar terms. She ended up being fired about a year later for reasons that remain unclear." -Ashley Murphy
WRITTEN BYAly Walansky