In a recent NYT article a scientist laments that her career has been stalled because of a sexual assault that happened while working in the field 30 years ago. While her assailant was a complete stranger, she noted that it is colleagues whom many women scientists have been assaulted by – and which derails their careers.
Her posit was that this makes it tough for women to move ahead in scientific research. Unfortunately, she is being myopic. Women across all fields and industries are unsettled by those who need to control and overpower others. Just this week current and former firefighters for the US Forest Service joined forces to file a complaint about systemic and persistent sexual abuse; last week it was US senators and television personalities admitting that men in their lives crossed many lines – over and over. It happens in women-dominant fields like media, and women-less fields like STEM. And it happens to men too – just not as frequently.
As I read this scientist’s story – and the ensuing comments – my own career and those of my friends played like a movie: The CPA at a big (then 8) firm who used to switch to flats to outrun a partner she had to meet with; the VP who held me up against a wall in a locked office at a (then) top 3 media company while anxious colleagues begged him to let me out; a multinational telecom CEO who shopped for wives among the office administrators (security cameras are a bitch). And don’t forget all those women in the armed services who tell harrowing stories of fearing for their lives – not from the enemy, but from their ranks.
In every one of these instances, the story is not about a one-off event, but systemic, repeated abuses by (in these cases) men, whose bosses allowed it. The fish stinks from the head — and organizational/workplace violence is no different. Reporting these individuals to HR – in all the above cases – resulted in the woman being let go or being disgraced in a way that left her unable to do her job.
My dad was over the other day, and for about the 78th time he was asking me about my job and what it is my company actually does, and I heard myself gushing about MarkLogic. I mean school-girl gushing. And I realized as I was talking, that over the last two years, with the switch in top management, the values in our company had shifted from one of arrogance to thoughtfulness. Our top executives are confident – but not cocky; red-blooded capitalists – but not blood-sucking vampires — and that’s filtered down the chain. We have had organizational changes that put inclusive thinkers in charge: It’s no longer acceptable to shout down (or talk over) a colleague’s idea – you must actually ponder it. Posturing is out; delivering is rewarded. Rudeness is out; respect is in. We fired an exec who got stupid drunk at a company event; management will not tolerate it.
We now have women and women mentoring women in every area of the company, including having world-acclaimed female engineers like Mary Holstege who will be speaking at Grace Hopper in October. We are a tech company that values women over 40 — experience, maturity and tenacity matter. And we can have fun together! A group of us traveled to London and decided to see a play. There was our founder, the CEO with his wife, and five women.
And maybe that could be the end of my story – but really for my company it is actually just the beginning. The company struggled for a decade until our CEO – and the team he assembled — came on board. We had our niche – but niche player was not what the investors had in mind. To expand our footprint we had to expand our approach. And expanding one’s approach means letting in new ideas – across cultures, genders, sensibilities. And we have. Our revenue has skyrocketed, industry acclaim from esteemed sources is pouring in, we are profitable and our employee retention has never been higher.
Can we do better? Yes, absolutely, we can. Which maybe is why I was motivated to write this article, to shout that this company is amazing! It is great for women. In fact, it is great for men. It is an environment, an entire culture in which all can thrive. And, oh yes, we are hiring.