There are so many things that they don't teach you in college about life in the corporate world, and they really should because in some situations it's like sending the puppies in with the sharks, rats, and snakes. One thing I would recommend to anyone newbie or seasoned, is to stay away from the Energy Vampires. These are the people who literally suck the life out of you, and you will know it right away because you will feel physically and mentally weak after spending time with them. The venom from these downers can affect you in ways you may not realize until weeks or even years later. Here was my first introduction to the Energy Vampire.
When I was 25, I attended my first networking mixer for work. I was so excited to be there in my new Macy’s poly blend dark blue pant suit sipping a glass of chilled Chardonnay. Ya, you know that look. All us wanna-be-superstars trying to look like “big girls.” All that was missing was my corporate bob ‘do as I still refused to cut my beautiful long black mane, my signature.
I was at the beginning of my career in the tech industry and I was highly optimistic, ambitious, and full of hope for the future. What wide eyed 25-year-old isn’t? My goal was be a Vice President. Of what, I didn’t know yet, but the first goal on that climb up the ladder was to be like Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, but start at the end of the movie where she had Harrison Ford, and a windowed office with an assistant.
At the mixer, I met a woman at the event who was 20 years older than me and she chatted me up pretty good. I’m acting like an excitable new born puppy because a “Pro” took time to chat with a plebe like me. At the end of our conversation, she felt it necessary to give me some advice that stuck in my head the rest of my career. She said:
"In your career, you will be labeled a bitch, a slut, or a secretary, so decide right now which one you want to be because it will make your life much easier as there are no other images for a woman working in a male dominated industry."
I stood there speechless with eyes like deer in headlight nearly choking on my Chardonnay. I felt like Cinderella was just told that Prince Charming was nothing but a douche bag pig, and that her life in fairy tale land was going to be a choice of bad, worse, or “get used to the idea that you’ll always be treated like a second class citizen.” There is no happy ending for you, so get used to that now my chickadee.
After coming off the hornet sting, I brushed off what that woman said to me figuring that she was just “old & bitter.” After all, I was young, talented, and sharp. I was also in the midst of a skinny-me phase so I looked hot. I had the total package. With all that going for me, I figured that my career would be different than this woman’s career, and that times had changed since she started out.
Women had more opportunities they never had before, and men were more open minded and progressive in tech. How is it that a culture who created workplace casual with jeans to work and breaking all the rules could also be a place where women were treated no less than equals? It didn’t make sense to me, so I dismissed any thoughts that contradicted my optimism.
...The weight gain for me was more about pounds of protection. ...
Fast forward 12 years, and what that woman said to me was not far off the mark.There was a nugget of truth to her statement. I've worked at startups to Fortune 100 companies and I've seen it every where, to varying degrees, but it is there. Honestly, I cannot know for sure sometimes whether her words planted a seed in the garden of my young mind and grew because it was subconsciously looking for proof and found it, or whether it is simply a reality that women need to be aware of. However, what you focus on is what you attract to you.
I do know that when I ask other women if they have experienced any of this, almost all shake their head yes, and go on to tell me their own experience. This is an example where encountering an Energy Vampire early on in your career can taint you. What I should have done after this shocker was found a positive female mentor, an Energy Uplifter.
Where the woman was off was that there are other roles that
women can play in a hard balling male dominated industry like mommy, maid, and baby sitter. And it isn't secretary anymore, it's Admin or Assistant as if that is supposed to be "better." Whenever there is a mess in the office literally or
metaphorically, women are inevitably doing the cleaning up, the
comforting, and the appeasing. Yes, women have the same opportunities to be the "homerun hitter", but men are never labeled bitch or slut when they exhibit their aggressiveness or sexual independence. No guy is ever accused of sleeping his way to the top, and even if he is, he's viewed a stud. "Asshole" can even be excused as long as the guy keeps hitting those home runs and grand slams. And how often do you hear, "My right hand woman?"
During my ascension to the upper levels of the ladder, I experienced being branded bitch, slut, and "honey" more than a couple times, and dealing with it was much harder than I could have ever imagined. Adding to stereotypes, being an Asian woman, I'm supposed to be submissive or subservient, which I am not at all, so, let's add "Dragon Lady" to the mix which really is just another form of bitch. The stress and the agony would give me ulcers, hives, anxiety and panic attacks, and of course weight gain.
The weight gain for me was more about pounds of protection. See, when you are a young and attractive woman and the only one working with a group of guys, every day almost feels like walking into a bar where you are gawked at, hit on, and sexualized. In a bar, you expect that, but at work, it makes life unbearable, frustrating, and frankly scary. Work should be a place where women feel safe, but that is not always the case. Ask any HR person who works in tech, and they will tell you stories you thought only happened in Lifetime channel movies. I’ll elaborate more on this tomorrow.
All I ever wanted out of my career in tech was to just do my job, get paid my value, and be appreciated for helping make the company successful. It sounds so simple, and still to this day, I don't get why it has to be more complicated than that. Really. Call my naive, but I don't believe that business has to be cut throat, watch your back, or dog-eat-dog. This is why I left Corporate America, to create something or be part of something that is closer to what I believe. Someone told me once about "enlightened business" and I want to explore that.
On the upside, it is true. “That which does not kill you only makes you stronger.” But it does make you harder, and you have to decide whether you can live like that or not. Life in Corporate America is about competition, dirty and clean, and there is no avoiding it. You have to be a warrior to make it to the top and survive, whether you are a woman or a man. I thought I could live like that and become that Vice President I wanted to be when I was 25, but in reality my soul didn’t want to, and it kept trying to tell me that through sickness and depression, but I didn’t listen, at least for 10 years until my body forced me to hear it. Sound familiar to any of you?
Tomorrow, life in the fast lane.