Let's All Agree Not to Be Bitches at Work

I'm here today to present an idea about working women that may be as unpopular as the thought of wearing an Ann Taylor Loft sweater dress without Spanx: Being a bitch is a bad and crazy idea. 



Oct 25, 2011 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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Women, we are told, apologize too much and don't ask for enough.

This may often be the case; blame behavioral conditioning, lower testosterone, residual politeness from our centuries as professional subordinates, whatever. But when smart women begin to suggest to one another that simple pleasantries like saying "thank you" are actually detrimental to us, we have gone past corrective feminism and gone off the rails, straight into "Working Girl."

I'm here today to present an idea about working women that may be as unpopular as the thought of wearing an Anne Taylor Loft sweater dress without Spanx: Being a bitch is a bad and crazy idea. 



Yes, I know all about "Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office." I know that offering to get people coffee every time you go out will sooner make you known to your superiors as "the girl who gets everybody coffee" than someone they could think of in a position of authority. But, even without the benefit of a bunch of Canadian business school studies to back me up, I also know this: Being nice has gotten me places.

Here's a list of things being a bitch to people has gotten me in my life: sent to the guidance counselor, followed on the subway, screamed at, hung up on, and one time, hit in the face with a flip flop.

And why keep on allocating research money to find hard evidence about female niceness? So we can say once and for all that it's our own fault that we're overlooked for promotions and paid less?

I suggest we stop trying to force the idea that women are too nice, and start figuring out when we decided being an asshole was professionally admirable. Why aren't we testing for whether being a jerk -- male or female -- correlates directly to the amount of barista spit in your latte?

We do not need to apologize for our every action, downplay our intelligence or keep quiet in the face of life's daily injustices in the service of "niceness," but we also don't need a new generation of women to think that power and politeness are mutually exclusive. When women around the world are still making 78 cents to every dollar earned by their male counterparts, 
the problem is not about whether or not we should be nice to each other -- it's about passing blame.

We need to question the maxim that women are naturally nicer and more nurturing, but also that people respond positively to aggression and indifference. As many an assassinated dictator will tell you, respect earned through fear is not genuine, nor is it a productive long-term strategy. There's no recipe for success, but perpetuating a cycle where someone's always on the receiving end of the office equivalent of a good, old-fashioned paddling is going to get you little more than a sore ass at the end of the day.

Learning to stand up for yourself at work while treating other people like human beings is possible without the world as we know it going to shit. As I just heard someone say on the episode of "Law and Order: UK" I'm watching, "Treat people fairly and you'll get the best of them." 



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If you're confused about how to get the ball rolling on this kind of behavior, here are a few scenarios to help you get started: 



The situation: Your intern brings your beet and goat cheese salad for lunch. Upon close inspection, you find that there is a smattering of capers on top, and this bitch knows that capers killed your parents.



Bitchy: [Throws salad in trash] NOW IMAGINE THAT'S YOU.


Pushover: Oh my God, you are the BEST! Thank you so much. I'm so sorry for asking you to do this. Want half?


Polite and assertive: Thanks for doing this! Just for future reference, there's only one type of salty balls I'm into having in my mouth. 



***

The situation: Your co-worker tells you at the last minute that he's got a date this weekend, so he won't be finishing his work on the reports (that's a thing, right?) this weekend -- you will.



Bitchy: Hey, Tim! I know that your life has gotten super sad and pathetic since your wife died, but if you ever ask me to do your work for you again, the only thing you'll be eating for dinner is my FUCKING FOOT.


Pushover: Of course! That's so great for you! If you want me to babysit your kids or need ANYTHING at all, email me! Have fun!


Polite and assertive: I can't do it this weekend, but if there's ever a situation in which you know in advance that you'll need a hand with your work, we can talk about finding a reasonable solution.  



***

The situation: A sweet junior employee you manage at work submits a written document full of typos. 



Bitchy: You know what's funny a funny difference between German and English? In English we don't capitalize our nouns! That would be a hilarious mistake if you knew German but, come on, we can all tell you went to public school. 


Pushover: Innovative substitution of "your" and "you're." YOUR a genius. You should be my boss!


Polite and assertive: Thanks for sending this along, but this isn't quite what I'm looking for. Drop by my desk so I can show you a few changes you can make.