This narrative is not special. Nor is it a feminist rant riddled with girl power sentiments or how we need to empower each other. I have wounds as most of us do, not surprisingly based on my experiences as a professional executive woman. I don’t like writing about feelings often. In fact, on any given day I am lecturing groups and teams on why “Feelings aren’t Facts”. However, I think this is an important dialogue for a variety of reasons. One, in particular, is that as I began documenting this journey I began to hear more and more similar stories- which is both comforting and sad.
For some reason, over the span of my career, it has never been the men that have hurt me (emotionally or otherwise). It has always been a woman who started of as a friend, and then through a series of events, things went awry. As I began socializing this topic over the past year, I began to realize- I wasn’t alone. In fact, after reading “Mean Girls at Work: How to Stay Professional When Things Get Personal” by Katherine Crowley — I began to see a myriad of examples of how I have seen this in the workplace since I first started working at the ripe age of 15 at Bath & Body Works.
I think it’s important to note a couple of things immediately. I am 100% a believer in OAR (Ownership, Accountability & Responsibility). From every experience, I have learned where my fault lied in each scenario. The general gist of which is this; I am not particularly feminine.
To break this down at the simplest level, if we were to go shopping for instance, and you tried on a horrible pair of pants. I would tell you, quite honestly, that they were not a fit. If we work together, and you ask me how your performance is, I will break down what is going well and what could be better. You may not always like what I say, but I do my best to be kind.
My tribe of close women friends in life and business is varied by age, ethnicity, gender, and race. There are introverts and extroverts. Professional Women and stay at home moms. CEO’s, Stunt-women, Models, Entertainers, Athletes, and Accountants. In my opinion, they each excel in their different areas.
We all share one commonality, the ability to communicate truth and honesty, even when it hurts. The ability to call out when someone is doing something wrong and hold them accountable. The ability to hold up a mirror and say, “This is not ok”.
Now this has not been easy. There is no textbook way to tell a colleague that their lack of kindness affects team morale. Worse yet, there is no direct handbook (that I have been able to source)- on how to apologize when you have hurt or offended someone. All you can do is own your side of the street, be kind in your delivery, and trust that this person asked you for feedback because they trust you.
Due to this, I have always struggled with welcoming new women into my life both personally and professionally. I was challenged by my mentor when I launched my business to be open to new friendships and relationships. So, like any overachiever student, I jumped into being open with my life and work and decided to put myself out there. I nurtured new friendships personally and in business. Some of these relationships thrived. Some of these relationships were mutually reciprocal. However, some of these relationships became increasingly toxic. Others decayed into the lowest form of woman-against-woman crime, including but not limited to gossip, deceit, and attacks. These were the mere reflection of individuals that had no accountability for their actions. Par for the course.
I think it’s important to be vulnerable as a leader and as a woman, but let’s be real, it is hard not to become jaded. For every woman that shares a weakness with a colleague, there is another that will manipulate that weakness and use it to advance themselves. I am focused on not allowing this mindset to jade me and am currently in the process of taking extreme corrective action.
During this process, I realized a few things, all of which led me the following 4 lessons that helped me move through this, instead of just ignoring it and pressing forward.
- Saying that I have been hurt by women in business and in turn avoiding solid connections with women is one sure way to miss out in learning how to trust and engage in healthy relationships with other professional women. I still try to reach out and connect no matter what.
- The best way to change that mindset, dialogue, and self-dialogue is to immerse oneself and practice opposite action. Hence, create opportunities to make myself apart of women-focused & inspired groups instead of complaining that I don’t feel accepted or that 'I have been burned'.
- In order to put my money where my mouth is, I joined a Women Inspired co-working space. I am terrified most days- but have met some amazing women. It’s not terribly comfortable- but it is helping me heal.
- Relationships may not work out, but as Nelson Mandela once said 'I never lose. I either learn or win'. Everything that happens is a lesson, if only you will take the moment to reflect on both sides of what happened. The 'both sides' part is really important. Own what is yours and move on.
Life is about experiencing moments that make you reflect and change. Looking back, I would not change anything. I have been able to document my journey and began documenting other women's who have experienced the same thing. Looking to the future, I hope to understand and pick up on signals earlier from those who are truly looking for friendship and partnership and those who are just self -serving.
My tribe is still my tribe. I have added a few new members to it and we are thriving together. I have learned some tough lessons. I have grown up. Maybe not as much as I would like to. The truth is, don’t shut people out just because you have been hurt. Keep letting people in and put yourself out there. Those that 'get you' will stay around. Those that don’t will go away.
Don’t miss out on the chance to add someone new because you have over-generalized half the population. The hardest lesson is learning that not everyone will like you- but that's ok.