An open letter to women in the workplace
At 23-years-old, as a young woman fresh out of college, I stepped into an office on my first day of professional work. I was nervous, excited, unsure of what to expect. I was raw, and this was a huge first impression.
One of the first things I noticed was that I was surrounded by you, by successful and powerful women. And I thought, this is good, it’s great. I have role models, mentors, strong and passionate women to look up to and learn from.
That was my view when I took the first steps into my career. I work in a field dominated by women, which I believed to be a good thing, and in many ways I still do, but it didn’t take me long to realize that isn’t always the case.
The truth is that too many women are not using their success and leadership in the professional world in a positive way — they are not using their position to nurture and mentor the young women following the same path they took years or decades earlier.
I experienced both extremes, and they didn’t always follow a stereotype. My first boss was perhaps the most high-profile fashion publicist in New York City at the time, and she was not a devil wearing Prada. She was beyond tough, but in a way that only made me better at my job. And then I left New York and fashion behind and found myself in a small town with a boss who made no effort to support her team. Her version of tough was constantly belittling the young women beneath her, usually without purpose or simply as a reflection of her own mood.
A decade in I can look back and consider the influence all of the women I’ve come across in the workplace have had on my career and my life, both good and bad. And I will take those lessons with me as I begin the managerial phase of my career.
Right now though, I’m angry. I’m mad because my younger sister is at that starting point in her career. That vulnerable time when every influence, every lesson, every experience is so potent, so powerful. A young woman following a similar path. And each day she walks into her office and faces a woman almost twice her age whose only effort is to belittle, bully and intimate her young team. This woman isn’t raising her voice to teach these girls a lesson, she’s just inflicting her self-imposed idea of power and authority in a way that’s significantly and negatively impacting their life, and most importantly teaching them absolutely nothing in the process.
And so I’m mad, because all I can see in this situation is a 40-something woman with a great opportunity in front of her. And she’s destroying it. We’re living in an era of modern feminism, and she has a chance to mentor, and teach, and empower these young women to be the best they can possibly be. Instead she’s diminishing any confidence they ever had in their ability and stifling their chance to work effectively by creating such a toxic work environment every day.
You see there’s a key difference between being tough and demanding respect, and demeaning another person or dictating aimlessly, simply to inflict power. And if you’re a woman in a position of power I plead with you to take note, because you have a huge opportunity here. If you look back through your professional life you’ll remember the women you respected, the ones who took the opportunity to positively influence your career, and your life.
And so why is it that this so commonly occurs? Why does it have to be so hard for women to work together and support one another in a professional environment? After all, how can we expect society to take leaps and bounds in gender equality if we can’t even support the growth and success of the women whose lives and careers we directly influence?
I can’t wait for the day that my sister can walk into work and feel empowered by the women around her. I know then, and only then, will her confidence, her true personality, and her profound ability shine because others in the room are willing it to.
And I hope if you’re the type of woman that’s doing nothing to support our future female leaders today, that you take a big step back, and consider the opportunity you have to influence these young women in a truly positive way.