Friday, January 16, 2009

Jerks Come in Both Genders

A fellow LinkedIn member forwarded this article from The New York Times along with a request for reactions. It's not like I need an invitation for one of my rants but this latest tirade was provoked.

The columnist, Peggy Klaus, is obviously a thoughtful professional and a talented writer. In this opinion piece, "A Sisterhood of In-Fighting," she he did a pretty good job of avoiding the stereotypical and sexist language that is usually included in stories about competitive women. My problem is with her sensational choice of topics. Is this really newsworthy?

Are women sometimes less than supportive of each other in the workplace? Yup. Do they sometimes undermine their colleagues in an effort to look good in comparison? You betcha. But, men are guilty of those things, as well. Is The New York Times publishing a story about the motivation behind male professionals' cut-throat behavior? No, because it's not considered news or even an issue worthy of commentary.

Men are praised for being ambitious and competitive, even when it's at the expense of friendship. They are expected to be that way. But not women. When women fail to support their "sisters" in the workplace, they are referred to as "back-biting," "conniving," or with some other less-than-flattering character descriptions. While the author did not use any of these phrases, she did refer to female coworkers as "sisters." Unless a writer is talking about policeman, firefighters, or soldiers, they don't usually talk about male colleagues as "brothers." Male professionals are not expected to treat each other as siblings simply because they are the same gender. So why are women?

I am not excusing or defending the actions of anyone who tries to sabotage their colleague's success. I think it's wrong if men or women do it and, frankly, it's just not nice. I try to be supportive of my colleagues and treat them with the patience and respect that kind mentors demonstrated when I was starting out. Sometimes I try to treat them how I wish I had been treated. Sometimes, I fail with both male and female colleagues. On a bad day, I've been known to gossip about this or that co-worker who dropped the ball on something. I don't blame that failure on my gender, though. I blame it on my humanity.

My father didn't give me a lot of really useful professional advice, but he did give me this one gem that I try to remember when I'm faced with ruthless behavior: People can be jerks.


  1. Julie, I read both the article and your post with great interest. After reading the article, I had that sorta fuzzy feeling that comes to me with any discussion of, "why can't we just get along". I honestly was thinking to myself--"That's RIGHT! Why should women treat other women that way? What good does it do anybody?" I got sucked in.

    When I read your post, I realized that you were right. Sure women do this to each other, but men do it too, and frankly, women do it to men as well. And you were also right to ask the question, "Is this newsworthy?". I went back and looked at the section they'd placed it in--JOBS. Hmmmmm....the more I thought about that the angrier I became. With all these people out of work--myself included--why, in god's name would they be publishing an article about THIS?? This may be happening out in the business world, but why remind people of this? If I go to an interview tomorrow and the interviewer has read this article, how do you think it would color how he or she sees me as a woman? Or merely a job applicant? I know maybe this is small potatoes, but it does matter. I've seen examples of it at my former job with applicants and new hires.

    I just heard on the radio today that Circuit City is liquidating all its holdings and closing 500 stores. That's 30,000 more jobs lost. Seems to me that how you deal with manipulative, immature, insecure colleagues at work is definitely NOT a newsworthy topic in this time of joblessness. In good times, it would be fluff. In these times, it's an insult.

  2. I've been guilty of blaming some things on gender, but more often I point out how gender shouldn't give anyone a pass (as in: Guys act like that. Women are more nurturing). There are a lot of outreached claws in the workplace and it is all the more sad because so many of us claim to be so enlightened. ~Mary