I work with all women, and it is awful. The industry I am in predominantly employs women, and I seem to never be able to get away from the gossip and back-stabbing. I love my work but not working with other women. Help! ~Karin, Rochester
Hello, Karin. It is ironic that you emailed me this question, as I have had several conversations this past week on this exact topic—the misery of working for and with other women. And no surprise, I have a lot of opinions on this.
For most of my career, I, too, have worked in industries that have employed primarily women, and my experiences have varied. I’ve had some toxic experiences and, thankfully, some awesome experiences. Here’s what I have learned.
Misconception: It is always like this working with all women.
Nope, not buying it. Leadership is EVERYTHING. I’ve witnessed how a healthy, thriving team evolved to a toxic culture and turned over 90% of its employees due to its leadership changes.
Here’s the short story: The leader, who hired me, had spent a lot of time building cohesion among her team and as a result, had collaborative, high-performing employees. After her promotion, she was replaced by someone who had a completely different leadership style and was an insecure personality. What happened? The pettiness started creeping in. After time, the women realized how miserable they were. As a result, the team turned over in 18 months.
Own your part.
The nasty work environment does not exist on its own. Toxicity starts somewhere and then begins to grow. It is so easy to get sucked in and not even realize you’re in the throes of negativity. Instead, be the person that “takes the high road.” Each one of us can stop or reduce gossip by shifting the conversation. Say, “I’m not comfortable talking about ‘X.’” By doing this, you let your coworkers know your boundaries, and hopefully, this will cause them to look inward.
There is no “I” in “we.”
I once did a team-building workshop for the female partners at a law firm. Besides the issues of back-stabbing and gossiping, I heard, “Why do the lawyers who don’t have kids have to work so much more than those who do?”
The ironic part was that each attorney had to adhere to a minimum of billable hours—kids or no kids. Even though the kid-less attorneys were at the office working late, chances were that the mom attorneys were working after putting their kids to bed and/or on the weekends. The judgment and lack of support among the women was thick.
I honestly don’t know how working moms do it. I have never been in their shoes. The stress must be tremendous to keep all aspects of their lives moving. As a kid-less employee, I trust that my parent co-workers are meeting the expectations set forth for them. It is also my responsibility to own my own time. If I choose to work long hours, that’s on me, without martyrdom. We need to do our part and support our teammates who are caregivers. Your time will come when you need that support too.
Not a female issue.
Toxic work environments exist because the leadership allows for it. Leaders drive the culture, and the employees respond to it. Fortunately for the prior-mentioned law firm, the female leadership wanted a healthier work environment, and it all started with them. They led the change.
Karin, assess your team and the sources of toxicity and do your part to make changes in your interactions. If possible, address your concerns with your manager and show viable examples of how the culture is damaging the work environment. Hopefully your manager will listen, with openness, to your feedback and take action. Be sure to pose it as, “What can WE do about it?”