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In the United States, as of 2017, women make up 46.8% of the labor workforce, making this gender gap translate to roughly 10.3 million more men than women. Women only hold 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEO roles and 26.5% of all executive/senior management positions. This lack of representation and genuine support from our teams are not only stifling to these industries, but can lead to discouragement and dysfunction that oftentimes send us into a state of depression, or cause suffering from lack of sleep and anxiety because of the mental strain they cause.
Why are women being slept on?
When it comes to problem solving, it is wise to get to the root of it all in hopes of preventing the problem from happening again. So who breeds an environment where women are being overlooked? It’s a combination of things: some people misuse their strengths and transform them into flaws that are not accepted by their coworkers, some use extreme tactics and aggressive office politics to get advancements in the workplace, and some are expressing misbegotten beliefs they don’t even notice they possess.
“It was very much a boys club,” says Alissa Nevita, former marketing staff at a popular sneaker consignment shop. “I would go in there and say ‘the sky is blue’ and get denied. Then 5 minutes later, a male counterpart would come in and say the same thing and they would be like ‘oh wow that’s the greatest thing in the world.’ Why it was like that? I don’t know, but if you want to get down to the deep psyche of it, I think it’s all insecurity.”
Toxic habits, behaviors, and people motivated by misplaced or malintentions are the cause of these types of toxic work environments. Over time, these issues have snowballed, creating outrage within our communities and sparking revolutions that aim to create a new era for all.
Many of us find ourselves spending more time in our offices than we spend with our friends and family. Some might end the week feeling accomplished with what they’ve achieved in the office, but unfortunately, for others, that can leave us physically exhausted.
A toxic work environment is sort of taboo; rarely is it spoken about, but when it is, some might feel they’re putting their career in jeopardy in fear of the chatter backfiring. Personally, I stayed mute before ultimately walking away from the music industry as an audio engineer. Before switching over to a digital media career, there was a lack of support from my employer, who deliberately shamed me in front of a client when giving insight during a recording session.
When asked if I wished I could’ve told my former boss something about what he said, my response is: Absolutely. I’m seeing a lot more women in this space and a lot of younger women who aspire to be in this field, who want to be behind the scenes, there’s definitely a come up. I can’t say how much time he has left in this industry, but I know he’s going to encounter more women in this space. One of the things I’ve learned about creating a safe environment for your employees is to listen and to value people’s opinions. Listen to them. You might not agree with what they’re saying but taking the time out to listen says a lot.
Those in power often use fear as a way to get employees to “sleep on it” and move on; fortunately, we are experiencing an awakening of sorts. With recent social movements, society’s awareness has peaked as a whole, which has caused us to create safe spaces for men and women to share their experiences. Women face unique challenges in the workplace, especially around establishing and getting co-workers and clients to respect our boundaries on professional relationships. “Sometimes lines can be blurred when it comes to being professional, especially for women,” says Jenna Novak, International Marketing at Sony. “Being able to create a strong environment with women who support each other is important. We need to continue conversations regarding women empowerment and equality, especially to help our male co-workers be more aware of these issues.”
Though some women have had their fair share of being overlooked, men are coming to the forefront and fighting for these rights. “I think it’s important that women get paid equally. I think it’s important that people of color get promotions. I think they have to be honest,” says engineer-turned-shoe-designer Jeff Henderson. It’s clear what alienating a group of people does to one’s psyche, but when will enough be enough?
Women are exhausted
Like a pair of Jordans that has been worn too many times, people who work in toxic workplaces can only take so much. “I think when you’re in an environment like that, you become numb to it, up until something happens,” Alissa recalls. According to career coach Melody Wilding, top signs of a toxic workplace include poor communication, office drama, tyrannical managers, and dysfunction, just to name a few. As expected, each of these reasons can cause someone to break up with their employer.
Nemat Abdela, Marketing Manager at a world-renowned record label, spoke about an incident where a male colleague commented that he would not bring her into meetings because of her outfit choices. “He made a comment about the way I was dressed. He wouldn’t take me to meetings dressed that way because it wasn’t good enough. I remember I mentioned it to my boss and he said ‘oh he was only joking, you know he didn’t mean anything by it.’” She was told upper management was going to handle the situation, but when they didn’t keep their word, “I think it was at that point I was like I need to leave. I need to get out of here. This place isn’t for me.”
Depression, self-consciousness, insecurity, sleep deprivation, and lack of ambition are common effects when things get way out of hand in the office. When someone is in the thick of this type of toxic situation, it can be difficult to see this hardship as a sign that a shift needs to happen. Witnessing more and more people opening up about their experiences with inequality has not only inspired countless women to walk away from the situation but also raises the issue in hopes of creating change for a healthy work atmosphere.
Sleeping better at night
It’s easy to lose yourself when things get dysfunctional at your job. Fortunately, our interviewees were able to find a mental escape in the meantime. Therapy is also a common outlet for people dealing with injustices and repercussions that come with toxic behaviors at their job. Most find refuge in their support group of friends and family, who provide them with advice and a healthy way to ease the mental stress.
Some, like Alissa, found healing in running the Brooklyn Half Marathon. London resident Nemat later found a more positive environment where she is able to share her marketing expertise and be 100% herself. Staying in tune with nature and being cognizant of what you consume — whether that’s food or social media content — are also ways to stay afloat as you are executing your exit strategy or are in communication with HR about these issues.
Rise and shine
About 5 years ago, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg released a body of work called Lean In. The critically acclaimed book gave an in-depth view of how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. “This is the ultimate chicken-and-egg situation,” Sandberg wrote in Lean In’s introduction. “The chicken: Women will tear down the external barriers once we achieve leadership roles. […] The egg: We need to eliminate the external barriers to get women into these roles in the first place.” Though she admits she couldn’t do much about the egg, by publishing Lean In, Sandberg says “I am encouraging women to address the chicken.”
Since the book’s release, many women have “leaned in,” but many haven’t been granted a seat at the table. “I think leaning in only really works when there are people on the other side who are accepting you,” says Jeff. “Women and people of color have to learn to ask more aggressively for raises, promotions or just being allowed to be in the room in certain ways. On the other hand, I think anyone in a director or a management role has to realize that that’s not their nature. They won’t necessarily say this is what they want. They won’t ask for things that other people have.” Simply because there are very few people like us in power, we often don’t get those back-end secrets on how to “climb the corporate ladder.”
Preye Crooks, Columbia UK A&R sides with Jeff on there needing to be a change in upper management in order to create more opportunities for women and people of color. “I don’t think you can have that much of a visible change at the label without somebody at the top making a really considered decision to do that.” Changing the way we look at team structures, our approach to hiring new candidates, and the way we manage are a few key factors when thinking of how we shift towards an equal-opportunity environment.
We have come a long way and there’s still so much work to do. Women have an enormous potential to create a much bigger impact in the workforce if we’re given a fair chance, but with the help of our male counterparts, this process can be expedited. Empower your peers through example. We all deserve a seat at the table.
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