I’m not your competition…

It’s been a difficult summer, but I’m still gonna miss it.

I read the above NY Times opinion piece a few years ago about why women compete with each other. There’s always a lot of talk, when it comes to human behavior, that revolves around natural instincts versus learned behavior. I get that when we are young, we have instincts, and we learn behavior from our surroundings, parents, peers, etc… however, at the point at which we become an adult, I don’t understand bad behavior, in this case competitive behavior, being blamed on instincts. We should be able to recognize our own bad behavior for what it is, and not do it.

As written about previously, our company is in a growth stage. During this process, not by any design, but merely due to the qualification of individuals that were presented to us and are being presented to us, we have expanded the number of women working for our company. To me, this is a really cool thing.

I have been the only woman working for our company for many years. Part of that was because Blue Eyes made such horrendous choices at the outset of setting up his own company. During his active sex addiction years, specifically 1996-2001, two of his acting out partners were garnered and somehow rationalized through his business activities. Then there were all the years he used business travel as his excuse to spend time with his third acting out partner. Having other women around him, even after he was outed, diagnosed, and made promises to me every day that “he would never do it again…” just seemed wrong, kind of like an alcoholic working as a bartender. Why do that to yourself. That was my thinking anyway.

There was also the fact that there weren’t as many women in our line of business as there were men. I am not even trained to be “in our line of business.” I am trained to run a business and I’m good at it. I’m not a specialist, but I am adaptable. The past couple years I have gone part time and focused more on the things I want to be doing, and less on the business, and things started falling apart. And by falling apart, I mean there was communication break-down. Blue Eyes was distracted by a new venture he had started and was focused less on our core business. My brother, who also manages the company, became engrossed in a software product he was developing. Revenue plummeted. Not exactly conducive to my main goal: retirement. When I was in Ojai earlier this year, my brother started voicing his desire to be out of the company… where just a few months before he had been aggressively planning on purchasing the company. I had to quickly wrap up the Ojai purchase so I could get back home, evaluate the business situation, and try and correct our course. That included sending my brother on a 6-month leave and hiring a new Managing Director. We then had two employees quit in the same week, and they were (two men) replaced by one woman. Yeah, turns out they weren’t working very hard, and she is a rock star. We also have a woman financial analyst now working for us. She is a bit less than a rock star, quite a bit less in my opinion. If there’s one thing I want to stop doing in our business, it is keeping people around who aren’t pulling their weight. We’ll see. I’m attempting to re-direct focus with her.

So, last week our two new Managing Directors set up an in-house corporate retreat. The day was designed to bring a cohesion and camaraderie to the team. There was a review of what has transpired, financially, over the past couple years. There was goal setting. There were breakout sessions by department to tackle one task of each of the new Managing Director’s choice. Blue Eyes and I were really there to sit back and enjoy the ride. We didn’t need to prepare anything or make any major speeches. Blue Eyes did set the tone of the meeting by explaining how he found himself in this business in the first place (family) and what ideals he wanted to continue nurturing in the company, specifically a high level of customer service that generally doesn’t exist with our competitors.

At lunch, we were paired up with some questions that we were supposed to ask our lunch partner to get to know them better. I was paired with one of the new Managing Directors. I found out some incredibly interesting things about him. I really liked the way these two new directors set up the day. It was informative and had a team-building vibe. Until we reached the end of the day, that is.

Blue Eyes had to take a call with a Japanese client, so he wasn’t in the room. The room was split roughly half women, half men at this point. Most of the people, however, were relatively new. Other than me (16 years as a Managing Director of the company, most specifically in charge of Human Resource Management and General Operations) and one of my brothers (not the one who is on leave) who is basically our CFO and has 15 years’ experience. A couple people have been with the company a couple years, otherwise, we’re dealing with new hires, and some growing pains.

Two questions were asked of us: (1) what the areas in our job are where we feel like we are at capacity, and (2) what we have learned about the company that we think we can improve on. The financial analyst, a 30-something woman currently very pregnant with her second child (and who I have since found out has zero financial education), was first. Potentially if she had stuck with the task, things would have gone better. But instead, she complained about how many meetings she must attend, and basically said she was concerned with the company turnover and that we need to keep one specific person happy. I’m not sure what kind of look was on my face… perhaps shock, perhaps confusion, perhaps frustration. What wasn’t on my face, however, was a smile.

It is a very long story, but I have been working with this person that she felt was unhappy, and whom she doesn’t work with much, and who does quite a bit of complaining, and who worked directly for the brother who is on leave of absence, and who I just gave a monstrous raise a couple months ago to “keep him happy and working hard.” Because he was directly trained by my brother, who has serious issues with Blue Eyes, apparently this guy has serious issues with Blue Eyes, which in my mind, is the death knell of employment with our company. Blue Eyes is our leader. He brings in the vast majority of the business and has decades of networking and knowledge under his belt. 

No one stopped this person from not answering the first question at all, so let’s all assume she’s not at capacity. As far as her second comments, I found them immature, ill-advised, and uncomfortable for most in the room, but I was not leading this show and I don’t have much interaction with her. Not my place to fix her problems. We proceeded around the table with everyone else answering the questions asked until we got to the “unhappy one.” He did not answer the question about being at capacity. He basically just complained and in a very round about way, called Blue Eyes a micro-manager. I get it. When Blue Eyes doesn’t like the quality of your work, he does tend to hound you until he gets what he wants, but most often it’s because he won’t send an inferior product to the client. I decided I needed to hone in on his little “bitch session.” I really wanted him to stop complaining and provide some potential solutions. I asked him a couple questions, trying to get him to switch from complaining to solutions. But, I was cut off, by the woman managing director sitting next to me. Let’s call her A. She hadn’t cut anyone else off. This last session of the day was supposed to be collaborative, to maybe throw out some ideas to get things working better. It was my understanding that we did NOT want it to turn into a bitch session. Her comment to me as she interrupted me, “let’s table your comments for a later discussion.” What the actual fuck! I looked at her like are you kidding me. I was the only one actually trying to get something positive going. I didn’t want to put her on the spot, as she had me, so I said “it’s your show, but this is a missed opportunity.” She kind of glared at me and we moved on to the next person.

The next day she sent me an apology saying she knew I was angry about her cutting me off. Due to my seniority, she said she should have deferred to me, and did I want to talk about it. I told her I did not. That I knew what I was doing and her cutting me off was a missed opportunity to get something positive from this employee, but that I’m not shy and if I felt that I needed to continue, I would have. I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable as she had done to me. She responded that she understood, but had her own perspective. Um, okay.

I’ve thought about this situation a lot. I actually do believe that A cut me down because she could do it in the moment, feel powerful, and set a stage where she has control. She is very much used to working in a man’s world, and I think she used her instincts, which is to step on another woman while climbing that ladder. She did not interrupt the other woman, someone who is below her on the corporate ladder. The thing is though, I’m not in competition with A. I will never be in competition with her. All she accomplished was missing my point completely, and losing the opportunity to learn something. We all lost. Following the meeting there was no animosity on my part. We went out to dinner as a team and I was again sitting right next to A. We get along great on a social level. She is a divorced mother of two. She works hard and is very assertive. I respect her for that. But…

I explained my frustration to Blue Eyes later that evening. First, I feel like I need to be respected within the company for my position and the time I have put in. I hired both the new Managing Directors. They were both long term connections of Blue Eyes and I was thrilled he brought such skilled people to the table who wanted to work with us, and I am fully on board with them running the company and potentially purchasing it one day. I don’t want to do anything to sabotage that. But Blue Eyes needs to set the stage for the respect I deserve. For me, this is not a power play. This is not a woman on woman “thing.” It is about respect for me. Blue Eyes apologized for having to leave the meeting. He had a meeting with A a couple days later, at the office, on a Saturday, just the two of them. I’m not sure what she actually said to him, and I’m sure she said things that he is not sharing, but he is the one who ultimately needs to set the stage. I know a bit of A’s history and I think she likes the attention of men even as she is an assertive powerful executive. She has scheduled meditation time with Blue Eyes in his tea house each week. She has delineated two hours a week as her time with Blue Eyes. She needs this time to learn her job. I get it. She’s an attractive 48 year old woman. I am not jealous or insecure. Blue Eyes is nearly nine years into his sexual sobriety. I am not worried about sexual acting out or an affair. What I do know, however, is that people feed off each other, and power is an effective aphrodisiac. I want all this energy to be positive for the company, because I’m tired. I’m burnt out and the last thing I want to be doing at my age is explaining why I deserve a little respect.

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