Profile Photo

Handling problems in the workforce, the realities of harassment and a response to Trump Jr.

A moment when I simply can’t stay silent. 

After reading the following quote from Trump Jr., I found myself literally shaking and running over and over again in my mind my response to his ignorance and his contempt for women in the workforce. I needed to share my personal story (or at least a few of the many) and quickly posted to FB.  After seeing how the initial post struck a chord – I said yes to sharing this blog post.

 The original statement of Trump Jr. is found here.

“If you can’t handle some of the basic stuff that’s become a problem in the workforce today, then you don’t belong in the workforce,” Trump Jr. told The Opie and Anthony Show in a 2013 interview that BuzzFeed just unearthed. Jr. continued, “You should go maybe teach kindergarten. . . . You can’t be negotiating billion-dollar deals if you can’t handle, like, you know.”

Jr. — I got my JD at Stanford Law School, spent over a decade leading teams to close thousands of transactions on four continents, and have closed many many multi-million dollar deals. This Spring I will have been teaching negotiation at Stanford Law School for a decade to a mix of extremely bright law, business and other graduate students. And I coach purpose-driven executives – on leadership, aligning their teams, and scaling their impact.

I would be happy to take you on in a deal – anytime.

Being a kindergarten teacher is a noble job – not my job, though – I preferred (for a time) to play in the realm of big corporate deals.
When I graduated from Stanford (and very certain of my rights), I was astounded to see a partner at my first law firm make frequent comments about my body – and have the audacity to invite me to his office in my birthday suit in an email. Armed with that email as part of my formal complaint, I was certain that the EEO committee would take action – and yet the only action the committee took was to inform me that “birthday suit” could have many meanings. Within a month, I found a new job as a corporate attorney closing tech deals, at Wilson Sonsini, one of the large Silicon Valley firms.

Years later when my dad was going through chemo, I decided to take on a new job because I hoped the increase in salary would help me pay both my mortgage and my parents’ mortgage, if that became necessary.  After I had shared with a male VP about my dad’s health, the VP let me know that there was “no room for a woman’s emotions in the office” and that he “never wanted to know if I were having a good or bad day.” His comments about me as a woman were egregious and his retaliation when I made a report to HR  was the basis of a settlement that paid off my law school loans. And again – as a result of the comments and lack of support, I chose to leave the company within just a few months. (And I had the good will and solid track record to be welcomed back to my previous company – in an upgraded position – again leading a team to close corporate deals.)

So let’s be clear – our capacity to know our worth and our rights and our conviction to be treated well is not a shield to prevent harassment. That kind of behavior is not *prevented by* women being a badass – it is often *provoked by* us being a badass.

Provoked – yes. Like the time a client consistently asked me to work on his deals — because I was doing great work. One (soon to be promoted) VP was disturbed that his guy wasn’t getting more of these deals, and the VP made a totally unsubstantiated claim that I must be sleeping with my client –why else would my client so consistently request to work with me?

Yes, these are systemic issues that require systemic solutions.

And WE can handle the big deals, the workforce, and misogynists like you – not by being able to prevent harassment, nor by staying silent and simply tolerating it, but by knowing our worth and our rights and speaking out, by taking action when you show up, by (leveraging the privilege we may have with education and opportunities and) finding workplaces that honor who we are and what we bring, and by finding allies, women and men who find your behavior unacceptable, who stay committed to holding harassers accountable and who support women on our merits.

Speaking of allies – when that client requested my good work, and it provoked one man to lash out with a rumor – imagine the humiliation I felt when I received a call from my manager, and he asked me if I was sleeping with my client? And yet, imagine the trust and courage it took for that (male) manager to call and ask me directly, to stand by me as the rumor swirled, and to call out the accuser’s baseless rumor as unacceptable. And imagine that male client who wasn’t deterred as he continued to request me on his deals — even the high profile ones that required travel. That is what it means to be an ally. To the men and women who stood by me, who held my hand when I was afraid, who held me when I cried, who were with me when I screamed and when I strategized, who reminded me that I am worth more, and who showed me that there are people (men and women) that I can trust to have my back – I say thank you! I have needed you! 

And I didn’t need you to save me or to “fix this” on your own.  I get that it might not always be obvious how to help or what to do.  I recognize that I don’t speak for every woman.  But for me, the difference between the workplaces that became unbearable and the ones where I stayed and thrived – hasn’t been the absence of sexist jerks, but the presence of strong male allies. #heforshe
It was about the real men who would come to me and say

“I noticed …”
“I heard …”
“I saw …”
“How can I help?”

Strong allies are the men who didn’t become a Billy Bush in the face of sexist comments, but who would call out other men. The allies chose to be known as men who wouldn’t stand for women to be spoken of that way – even if we weren’t in the room.

Allies are the men who have amplified a woman’s voice – in the meeting when a woman speaks and gets cut off, or someone else seems to take credit for what she had to say, allies acknowledge the point and attribute it back to the woman who originated it.  A simple – “great point Sally, and here is what I would add.”

And allies are the men who mentored, promoted, and gave key assignments without bowing to the fears that they might be ostracized or questioned for giving too much attention or opportunity to a woman.

After writing my original post, I heard from hundreds of women about their stories of harassment in the workforce.  But what buoyed me in the days as those messages were rolling in were the many comments and messages from men — of their support and (even more powerful for me) their actions as an ally.  Especially in the time of these ugly elections in America – can we share the real stories of strong allies?

#heforshe  

Creating business cultures where we can leverage our differences as a source of value and where we can achieve our organizations’ missions together is critical – and to do so requires strong allies!

And to Jr. – if you can’t take a stand against harassment, if you can’t create a workplace that honors each of us on our merits and show up as an ally, if you can’t recognize what all of the research says about the business value of diverse teams — then maybe the real question is

If you can’t handle some of the basic stuff that’s become a problem in the workforce today, then you don’t belong in the workforce.

Jeanine Becker
CEO, Collaborative Leadership Consulting & Lecturer, Stanford Law School

The original statement of Trump Jr. is found here.

Login