When women suffer professionally at the hands of men, figuratively, we yell sexism.  But at the hands of our sisters, what should we yell?

I once attended a panel discussion for and about women in a particular industry.  It isn’t pertinent which industry, only that the speakers, the moderator, and most of the audience consisted of women.

I don’t recall the question, but in response, a panelist shared an anecdote about the time a man took credit for her idea.  The crowd went full-on rhubarb in collective, sympathetic agreement and the conversation degenerated into a Men-Hold-Us-Back extravaganza.

I’m sure the brave males in the audience were regretting their decisions to be progressive.

I recall thinking these women would be better served defending themselves from women and men alike.

Equal opportunity, and all that.

I was so fortunate to have fantastic, mentoring bosses when I first started working.  I’ve written about great lessons from Andrea and will write about Sam (a he-mentor. Gasp.) very soon.  As a result of these positive experiences, I wasn’t really prepared for what I have witnessed.

Jan* used to show up at work crying about her boyfriend who had a drinking problem.  She would insist that we keep the door locked because he might storm in and hurt her. Once, she said she was scared to go home.  She put her work on my desk because she was too upset to do it. She would wail, “Don’t you understand!?! I’m homeless!  I HAVE NO HOME!”  It was always something.  By the way, Jan was 45, and I was 23.  I have to believe that you were expecting the opposite.

I never said anything negative about her behavior.  I tried to take the high road and simply put the work back on her desk and walk away.  She in turn told our boss that I was being unprofessional.


Years later, another situation found me navigating landmines.  A new lady boss, Jane*, came in to the department and told me behind closed doors that she felt her male boss was deferring to her male counterpart too much.  She needed me to help her gain respect in the department.  She wanted to be sure that she spoke for our team in meetings.  The projects I worked on should be presented by her.  The traveling I had done for a year would be done by her from now on.  It was better for our team this way.

I was naive.

I knew I’d been had when I overheard her telling her boss that I simply didn’t participate and didn’t want to travel anymore and that I should be demoted.  Ohhhhh.  When I quit the next week, the head of HR wanted to know why and I simply said that things had changed in the department. It was just time to move on.  I thought I was being professional, taking the high road.  Leaving gossip and emotion out of it.  A year later, I found out that she had told everyone she’d fired me.

Here’s the thing about the high road.  It’s bullshit.

I’m convinced that the person who invented this concept was an asshole who wanted honorable people to keep their mouths shut so that he/she could travel more freely on the low road.

These are two separate issues, hence the two titles.  Both make me wonder what I could have done differently, but since I can’t do anything differently, I’ll just ready myself for future attacks.  Nowadays, I understand that it’s possible and necessary to stand my ground and defend myself without sounding overly emotional and defensive.  My side must be heard and must be conveyed effectively.  All in all, excellent learning experiences, both.

Oddly enough, I’ve never had an equally diabolical experience with male colleagues or bosses.  Yet.

*names have been changed to protect the lame.

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