Combative, or…Courageous? Hmm…
I don’t normally talk about this kind of stuff here, but this has been weighing heavily on my mind lately, and today, I was directly asked about it and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It’s now 3am, I’m not sleeping, so clearly I need to get this out.
When I told my parents I was going to take a job at Defense 8+ years ago, dad said I would be really frustrated. I said “that’s probably true, but if everyone backed away from a challenge or a frustration, then nothing would ever change.” That conversation, while we were in the car on our way to lunch in Northern Michigan, has played back in my mind a lot over the years since.
It’s so true, but not in the way one would think (at least, not in the way he or I meant it back then…bee both thought the majority of my time would be battling out vast differences in political ideals, etc.). But that’s not what happens…we don’t really speak much about politics at all, at least not in the sense you’d think. But the statements are spot on when speaking about the underlying tenets of working in a male dominated workplace.
You see, for some reason, I have this need to speak up when I see someone doing something incredibly wrong, and that is not really appreciated. And then I’m punished for saying something. Not by the formal organization, but by the culture of the institution that I work for, and/or as retribution by the person who’s the offender. The culture of the institution is still very much a “don’t make waves” type of organization, no matter how much they try to do the right thing as an institution to change the culture. The place has come a long way even in the time I’ve been here – they are truly attempting to change – but as the largest corporation in the world, it takes time. And meanwhile, the person who’s the offender – who’s usually in a higher power position – feels the need to go out of their way to tarnish the other person’s name in response for asking them to stop whatever it is they were doing (that is usually harming the team and the organization as a whole).
I was told today (not the first time), that some have said that I’m “combative”, “aggressive”, “not a team player”. Except what some people interpret as “combative”, many others would call courage to stand up and say something when they see something wrong going on. I look out for my team, but I’m labeled “not a team player” when I try to stop abusive or bullying behavior. Of course it’s the guy who’s the bully tarnishing my reputation after being caught, or someone else who feels one shouldn’t rock the boat, but it truly wears me out sometimes. For some reason, the five people who hate you outweigh the hundreds of allies you’ve made over the years. I have literally had thousands of people come up to me and say thank you for speaking up, but somehow those are not the opinions that matter.
And I hate to say it, but this particular “corporation” is full of testosterone-laden, forceful personalities that see no problem with shoving people on the playground when someone stands up for themselves. Anyone who knows anything about me knows I don’t like to be shoved, nor will I stay silent when I see someone else shoved. I just can’t stay silent. It’s not right.
Every single “aggressive” moment can be traced back to someone either being railroaded (not allowed to share their perspective), something illegal going on, someone taking advantage of someone (as in, making someone else do their job for them while they got paid for doing mothing), someone being outright harassed by someone else (sexually or otherwise), or someone physically assaulted.m
For instance, just last week, I overheard – again – a male coworker seriously verbally abusing a female coworker. He lit in to her in a manner that was just so out of line, and loudly, it was everything I could do to stay in my seat. This was the second time in about a week that it had happened, and my other coworker and I listened and cringed while this conversation went on. And on. What I wanted to do was get up, walk around the cubicles and confront him. But in the past when I’ve said something directly, while the event is happening, the offender has then gone to my supervisor and reported ME for “aggressive behavior” and then somehow I end up being the problem. (I KNOW.) So instead, This time, I went to my supervisor and said something to him and explained it was not the first time this had happened to this woman by this man, and my supervisor said he’d look into it. Of course, he then asked me if I’d approached her about the situation and talked to her about it, and I said no…she and I aren’t really friends – I didn’t want to embarrass her by telling her I’d overheard the entire thing each time – I just couldn’t sit there and listen to her have to be treated like that. No one deserves to be talked to like that, and she’s not the kind of person that would appreciate someone bringing this up, so I was hoping he could help her out. The guy is in the position of power, dresses her down loudly, discounts everything she says, and yet is perfectly collegial with all the men in the office (she’s the only woman on that team), so no one would believe anything bad about him if she said something anyway. “If you can’t take it, leave. Oh c’mon…can’t take a little criticism? What’re you going to do when you’re presenting your case to Congress…cry?” (It’s our job to stand up for our position – that’s what we do for a living – but for some reason so many men still feel the need to get personal…when they fail at facts, they attack our dress, looks, sex, emotions, whatever…it’s so unethical and yet they get away with this as acceptable behavior).
I’ve been asked by several people over the years, “why do you feel it’s your job to speak up?” Hmmm…sometimes, on days like today, when I’m dealing with yet another attack on my reputation, I ask myself that. Because my parents taught me that you should always do what’s right, not what’s easy, no matter what the consequences, and frankly, I can’t just let someone do this to people. Sometimes it’s me on the receiving end, sometimes it’s not. One way or another, isn’t it everyone’s responsibility to stop injustice when they sew it’s? How else does it stop? Because in my experience, if you let a person get away with something, they will push the boundaries even further the next time the same situation arises because they got away with it the last time.
As a woman, no kidding, we deal with stuff like this every single day. The workplace is still very much a “if you don’t like it then leave” place. Just three weeks ago, I had to ask for certain members of our office – if you’ve ever worked for the military, you know what I mean – to stop changing their clothes in the middle of our office because it makes some of us uncomfortable. I have to ask…what other professional workplace would you find yourself walking into your office where people are changing their clothes, all the way down to their underwear, and it’s considered unacceptable for you to ask for people to do so in the bathroom or at the gym instead of in the middle of a bunch of desks with people walking through? Seriously. And the retired military now civilian coworkers justify this behavior! I’m the jerk who doesn’t want to work in a locker room.
Honestly, it wears me out sometimes.
Now, I admit that sometimes I have some work to do on how diplomatically I approach the situation, but usually when I step up its because it’s emotionally charged. I recognize that, and I’m actively working on it.
So today, I was told that some perceive me as combative, and I explained my courage to speak up. I won’t talk about the specific topic, it doesn’t really matter. I do have to say, it was refreshing that he asked me for my perspective….normally, people just accept the label from the one that threw it out there and don’t care what the other side of the story is. I thanked the guy for giving me the opportunity to share.
And thank you as well.