Lean In, and Please Don’t be a Bitch

Everyone I know is talking, posting and raving about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In.

I have a huge amount of respect for Ms. Sandberg and everything she’s accomplished. The way she articulates the process behind her success makes it easy to understand why she’s the ultimate role model for career-driven women.

Lean In has initiated some compelling conversations around the world. We’re guzzling this much-needed Kool-Aid and waiting for the next generation of women to take the workforce by storm. But we need to iron out a few details first. Because it’s tremendously frustrating to see women laud this success story and its philosophies, while remaining total bitches to other women.

Some of the most brilliant and successful women I’ve worked with are true all stars–absolutely killing it professionally–but are held back from Sandberg-level success by mean girl tendencies and a lack of rapport with other females. For some reason, be it biology or that darned glass ceiling, women don’t always play nice at work.

A few months ago, a good friend and I had an exchange about this, and her words struck a chord because I’ve experienced the very same thoughts.

Do women hold each other back (or maybe hold us back as an entire gender) at work because of how we/they interact with each other? Generally, we haven’t broken through the glass ceiling, we haven’t made a Good Ol’ Girls Club, etc. I blame that mostly on biology, as we cannot make men have babies. But, are there other forces that we can control? Women are competitive at work, but is it always in the right way? 

Why do some women I work with perpetually throw me under the bus to a boss? Why are many girls so overly fake and nice to another girl’s face, but say the worst things about them behind their back. That doesn’t make her look professional; it makes both girls look bad. Shouldn’t we be better about congratulating every (okay, most) women’s achievements, for the sake of our gender’s success?

What is it that makes some women so unwilling to trust each other, and downright disdainful of their female colleagues? Are we just competitive on our way to the top, or do we fail to recognize that we can be each others greatest asset?

Rosalind Wiseman wrote about this in Queen Bees and Wannabees, the inspiration for the movie Mean Girls. The funny thing is, the book and the movie focus on girls in high school. HIGH SCHOOL. What about the ones who drag these behaviors into Corporate America?

Well, there are plenty of books that that, too.

meangirlsatwork-jpg_224530mgbook Mean_Girls_Grown_Up_Adult_Women_Who_Are_Still_Queen_Bees_Middle_Bees_and_AfraidtoBees-119320316111799

There are a lot of different opinions on this, and for me, it’s a general observation–a gripe–and certainly not the rule.

For as many challenging female coworkers I’ve encountered, I’ve had twice as many who’ve become mentors and lifelong friends. I credit them for helping me get to where I am today, both professionally and emotionally. They’ve inspired me to continue the cycle of positive female support that I pay forward whenever possible.

Because it’s the right thing to do. Because it’s easier to be nice. And because we’re stronger when we’re united. With this type of mentality, women won’t just ascend the rungs of the corporate ladder, we’ll start to shatter the glass ceiling.

We don’t have to bake cupcakes and be cheerleaders to do this. We just have to play fair and be nice. If not, we’ll continue to limit ourselves with competition and the wrong motivations.

Giving a little often yields a lot, so as we continue to lean in, I hope it’s toward mutual respect and empowerment.


4 thoughts on “Lean In, and Please Don’t be a Bitch

  1. Love this. I saw a lot of this in the military too. Women are hardest on each other and often it’s for the wrong reasons. You’d think in an organization like the Army, or any where women are the minority, that they’d want to group together and support one another, but instead it seems to be the opposite. It’s very sad.

  2. Jessica, I really like your thoughtful comments about leadership and how women can sabatoge each other. As a senior executive who has lived through many gender changes in the workplace (including the 80’s when we dressed like the men with shoulder pads and bow ties!), I have watched mean or disingenuous women and men make it so far, but in the end, no one really wants them around. Treating people the right way ALWAYS wins out, in career and in life and I’m glad you feel the same way.

    What America needs is more gender balance in our workplaces because we are so much better off when we have a balance of views represented. Unfortunately, we still don’t have enough balance and I for one, am working to get more women into senior positions. My point is, every individual really can make a difference, even if it is just helping another female colleague along the path, or writing a blog about it to create more awareness.

    1. Terri,

      Thank you so much for the kind words and positive feedback, and most importantly, for being such a great example of a strong female leader for Apollo. I have to admit, I was floored to receive your response (almost fell off my chair), and am so flattered you took the time to read and respond.

      I feel incredibly fortunate to have female allies and role models, and people like Alicia who “sponsor” me and inspire me to achieve more than I ever imagined. I can only hope to return this positivity to others, and continue to chip away at the negative energy so often found between females.

      Lately, as our organization continues to evolve through massive change, it’s encouraging to see different individuals emerge as leaders. Not in the traditional sense, but those people who simply set an example by quietly leading the culture through their actions and attitude. It’s made me realize that even though women may not always have as much representation in the most senior roles, the impact we leave is often more dramatic than that of someone with a higher title.

      Now I’m rambling 🙂 Thanks again for your note, hopefully we can connect in person before too long.


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