Bully for You? Et tu, Brutus? Don’t Be A Bully, Especially If You’re a Woman Over 40!

 

Glinda the Good Witch

VERSUS

Cruella de Vil

 

 

 

 


“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

 

 


Lately I’ve seen articles with the terms “Hollywood A-listers,” “superstar women” and “bullies” in the same sentence,
topped by last month’s Wall Street Journal article by Peggy Drexler, “The Tyranny of the Queen Bee: Women who reached positions of power were supposed to be mentors to those who followed—but something is amiss in the professional sisterhood.”

With all the heightened talk of mentors and sponsors, it’s sad to consider that there are 40-something female bosses out there who are terrible bullies. What’s more, they blame (sometimes rightfully) the generation of women before them – i.e., women like me who are now in their fifties and sixties who were also bullied early in their careers. It gives new meaning to: “We have seen the enemy, and it is us.”

Don’t believe me? Deny the obvious? Come on! How many of us older women can honestly assert we never thought, “Oh, what a wimp!”, as we watched a younger impressionable woman cry in anger and frustration in front of us about a work or personal issue? How many of us can honestly say we have never cried at work?

One such young woman on my team many years ago not only survived some mean moments with me, but thrived, moving on to head up a respected boutique PR firm. Now in her forties, she is a partner at a large prestigious marketing firm – no small achievement. I know that it’s an achievement she earned not by being a bully, not by being a diva, and not by being a screamer. A few years ago I ran into her in a restaurant, where she warmly greeted me and graciously provided a business lead that became of tremendous value to me. I’d like to think that she learned how to be tough, street-smart, strategic and kind by observing those who were not.

According to Drexler’s article, the queen bee sting is still a big thing. She writes, “Having spent decades working in psychology, a field heavily populated by highly competitive women, I had certainly seen the queen bee before: The female boss who not only has zero interest in fostering the careers of women who aim to follow in her footsteps, but who might even actively attempt to cut them off at the pass.”[i]

Women have even more responsibility to stop this behavior. As I speak with many women about bullying (and its evil stepsisters: apathy, neglect and rudeness), the reality emerges that it’s tolerated in men but unforgivable in women.

Case in point: In New York right now, media stories harp on about the bullying tactics of mayoral candidate (current New York City Council Speaker) Christine Quinn. Yet it seems many New Yorkers not only are ready to forgive former testicle-tweeting congressman (and presumed mayoral candidate) Anthony Weiner his pictorial peccadilloes but also the fact that he is a reputed screamer and bully – which was widely reported years before his anti-social exhibitionism.

Bullying isn’t just an older woman/younger subordinate affliction. It can happen whenever someone else controls your paycheck, promotions, raises, contracts, referrals and other career advancement factors (or, similarly, a spouse who controls your financial security).

Although it happened many years ago, it’s still hard for me to forgive, let alone forget, the hulking mass of a former boss, a (female) CEO who one day physically pushed me – someone who is decidedly not demure, not shy, and not petite – up against a wall to chew me out following a client meeting. I did not see her as powerful or strong. I saw her for the weak and frightened vendor she was. The client himself was a tyrant who routinely threw papers and objects at me and my team, and should have been sued and marked for unemployment forever. My boss was desperate to retain his business, so she chose me as her punching bag. I left the firm soon after that.

The lessons I learned from bad bosses and caustic clients didn’t dilute the far more positive lessons I’m able to exchange with others today. They drove me to business school in mid-career, and to start my own company. More than just learning how to master corporate finance, my MBA taught me lot about respect, motivation and true leadership. Ironically, case histories of powerful (and often bullying) men dominate business school curricula, which is what inspired me to write a book about how great women leaders over 40 lead differently.

In fact, many women in their 20s, 30s and 40s today are helping to pull from career abyss unemployed women over 50 who still want to work. These women are battling a barrage of issues: restructurings, rejection letters, ageism, under-employment, and exploitation of their willingness to consult for free in the hopes of winning paying contracts that never fully materialize. Some of these affronts are by female CEOs, including the increasing practice of ignoring emails from seasoned professionals these CEOs have engaged and to whom they promised decisions.

As one article summed it up: “No reply is the ‘new no.’” While such apathy or cowardice is not limited to female CEOs, it’s perceived as nastier. Is this how they would like to see their daughters and sons treated? If not, they have themselves to blame for proliferating rudeness that will surely pass on to the next generation of hiring managers. Is this what feminists envisioned when they talked about sisterhood, and about women having bigger balls than men? Ignoring courteous requests for closure after you’ve engaged these women to your benefit is the loudest promo that you in fact have no balls – doesn’t matter how powerful you think you are.

What’s even more astonishing in this age of uber-connectedness is that anyone thinks they are immune from the reputation-damaging consequences of such rudeness. People talk and they name names – to your potential clients, your prospective employees, your funders and, most especially, to the media and to your competitors.

Because of the 24/7 spotlight on – well, everyone! – in the workshops I do today with women, and with my marketing students at NYU, I try to focus on the positive and to be as responsive as possible. I spend a lot of time mentoring women and men of all ages, some whom I’ve never even met, and some who don’t have the ability to pay. It makes me happy that so many of these young professionals become mentors and sponsors for the next generation. Some may say I do it to “redeem” my own past leadership missteps. Better late than never, at least I’m righting – and writing – my own best “leader-ship”.

My hope is that all the truly powerful, truly DARE-ing women today – mentors and mentees – remember the good lessons of the women leaders in their lives. And I hope they heed Ms. Angelou’s heartfelt pronouncement as profound advice:

“…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Next up: Tips, principles and practices for a more equitable way to access, approach and engage one another.

 



[i] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323884304578328271526080496.html

Three Daring Women Over 40, Three Different and Inspiring Legacies

Photograph

Margaret Thatcher – 1925-2013

You loved her or hated her. She saved Britain, or changed it irrevocably into a greedy, heartless, vastly divided nation. Either way, she was charismatic, powerful, and single-minded. She was proud of her nickname, “The Iron Lady” and she was definitely DARE-ing before her time.

Whatever the world thinks of Thatcher, the effects of her powerful years at the helm still ripple outward. To say Margaret Thatcher was not warm and fuzzy would be an understatement. She wanted to be seen as the prime minister, not as a female prime minister. At her death, she leaves a powerful legacy. She was quite simply one of the most important and powerful political human beings (male or female) of the last 50 years.

 

Annette Funicello – 1942-2013

To anyone growing up at the advent of TV when the reference to Mickey Mouse’s ears was literal and not a description of an overzealous pigtail hairstyle, Annette (her first name was how most of us referred to her) was the epitome of warm and fuzzy. And, she was apparently as untouchable as our mothers wanted us to believe we all should be, that is, until properly and officially married. Her deterioration after contracting M.S. in her forties showed a different and more DARE-ing side of this onetime childhood sweetheart, and served as a powerful reminder to all of us over 40. Now more than ever, we need to embrace our health, especially the factors we actually can control, like diet, exercise, annual physicals, and the concomitant tests they entail so we’re vigilant and diligent. Her life and death inspired so many, and prompted glowing farewells from more than one of her leading men. Apparently, Annette was just as wholesome and sweet in real life as she was in all those Disney shows and movies.

 

Debbie Reynolds.jpgDebbie Reynolds – 1932-STILL ALIVE AND CLICKING!

When I was invited to hear veteran stage, film and theatre actor-singer-dancer-author-philanthropist Debbie Reynolds speak at a 92nd Street Y event a few weeks ago, my first rather unkind and profoundly incredulous exclamation was, “…She’s still living?!” Yes, she definitely is, and then some! Over the course of a 60-minute talk to promote her new book, Unsinkable, the 81-year-old Reynolds expounded not a little on love, loss and what she wore, but so much more on love, loss and the, um…word that rhymes with “wars” – all the women who stole the various men Reynolds had the distinct misfortune of hooking up with, giving money to and losing more than she ever thought possible in no bargain. No matter – she is defiantly resilient and resolute about all of it, especially in admonishing her interviewer (an NPR interviewer at least 15 years younger than Reynolds and not nearly as sharp) to stop asking questions about how and why Eddie Fisher left her for Elizabeth Taylor.

Throughout the performance, Reynolds was most hilarious (a lot) when she was being sarcastic, sharp-tongued and self-deprecating, especially when she reached into her bra where she (ostensibly) had interview notes stashed away so she wouldn’t forget her lines. However, she was never more touching, more inspiring and more charming than when she spoke without self-reference of the problems and triumphs of her daughter, Carrie Fisher, who has battled numerous demons of her own. Fisher bought a plot of land just down the hill from where her mother has a cottage, so that she could be near her. THAT takes DARE-ing for sure!

I did not expect to be moved by Debbie Reynolds at this late stage in my life (and hers) but I was sorry to see the show come to an end. Here’s hoping someone soon puts the Unsinkable Ms. Reynolds on Saturday Night Live and that both she and Betty White have a duet somewhere before it’s too late.