As a confident, outspoken Black female employee at tech companies and startups that failed at diversity and inclusion, I’ve been exposed to stereotypes, harmful behaviors and unrealistic expectations of all kinds.
What Is Toxic Femininity?
Toxic femininity holds women to outdated and harmful gender stereotypes via shaming, bullying and game-playing and prevents women from fulfilling their career potential.
Which brings me to toxic femininity and how it occurs and oftentimes goes unnoticed and unchecked at work. Toxic femininity means holding women to rigid and limited gender expectations. It takes the shape of shaming women, discouraging them from being ambitious and basically encouraging them to be passive, docile and cooperative. Do unambitious, passive and docile people make it to the top of the career ladder? I don’t think so.
If this sounds familiar, and I’m sure it does, then it’s crucial you understand how toxic femininity can affect you and your career path. It’s actually why I quit corporate America as it’s been reported that toxic femininity can cause mental health issues when you never had any in the first place. Let that sink in.
Yes, it can be tough to spot, address and challenge toxic femininity in the workplace. Need help? Here are five examples from my time in corporate America; if they’ve happened to you, you might well have experienced toxic femininity.
Women Aren’t Heard
One manager I had at what I thought was my dream job did whatever she could to shut me down, and purposely leave me out of strategy meetings around a huge PR campaign involving a celebrity for something I ultimately would be doing all the work for. It’s also worth noting that this campaign and product launch was one of the main reasons I was hired by this manager and the company.
After almost a year of securing incredible press that other departments started to notice, I warned my manager that we needed to take the campaign in a different direction if we wanted to garner the press we were hoping for, which was the whole point. Needless to say, that was ignored, and as a result I was fired. Come to find out that the launch moved forward anyway and resulted in zero press, as I had predicted, and my former manager quit shortly after.
Women Are Expected to Fall in Line
Despite being the top performer, a manager at a company whose whole mission celebrated female empowerment kept telling me that I needed to change.
Change what, exactly? It was never implied that this was in regards to my personality or background, but let’s call a spade a spade. I’m vibrant, upbeat, opinionated and everything a publicist should be. This, however, wasn’t the mold that the company wanted me to fit. Of course I wasn’t going to change who I was for a job, especially one that I was doing incredibly well.
As months went by and colleagues were fired for no apparent reason other than speaking up, I started to notice that the company encouraged and rewarded individuals who were quiet, submissive and afraid to go against their superiors. Because I wasn’t fitting the mold of their preferred employee, I was painted as difficult and ultimately was pushed out of the company. Okay bye!
Women Are Seen as Delicate Flowers
A manager of mine kept saying that I had so much on my plate, when I didn’t. That’s downright patronizing; why not let me decide how much work I can and want to handle?
But wait, there’s more. This manager also tried extremely hard to block a unique PR campaign of mine going to market that I had worked on for months to showcase our company’s unique data capabilities.
This wasn’t my first time doing such a task; in fact, it was probably my second or third successful data campaign with the company that garnered a ton of impact. This manager knew of the past initiatives I was referencing and chose to disregard the achievements and accomplishments that occurred prior to her joining.
Did she have FOMO or even worse, was she jealous? I’m not too sure, but had she succeeded in her desperate attempt, it would have kept me from showcasing my storytelling capabilities that were and are necessary for my career growth.
Annoyingly, it took months of convincing and no celebration from this bitter manager for the impressive press I secured in top news outlets like NPR and Associated Press.
Women Are Expected to Do Less With More
What was I given at a new job to do the work to the best of my abilities? A used laptop, misleading benefits, plus none of the tools that I needed to perform well and manage an underperforming PR agency that was costing the company thousands a month.
I was definitely feeling the pressure to deliver and exceed expectations even with these unfortunate circumstances. But after asking my manager for almost a year for the support and resources needed, all while trying to be as mindful as possible to reduce costs, I was essentially told to grin and bear it. I couldn’t. I found a new job because I just wasn’t able to accept being silent and complacent with something that was absolutely not okay, and that was essentially setting me up to fail.
It’s Okay to Play Games With Women
Overbearing control, manipulation and pitting employees against one another ran rampant at one company I worked for. I was one of the very few if not only senior employees, and a big red flag was that the CEO kept trying to instigate unfriendly competition at work and start rumors just for the fun of it. This same company had a churn and burn environment from employees coming and going to clients and wouldn’t even allow you to leave your desk during the day.
Talk about toxic. There was so much bullying and insecurity among the senior leadership team that they wanted to ensure that everyone else was just as miserable. Thankfully I wasn’t, and was able to tell within the first few weeks of working there that this hostile environment was not for me. I was gone after only three months.
Work is already stressful, and it can be so hard to feel supported and a sense of belonging when it feels like your colleagues are out to sabotage your career. If you’re over the backstabbing, juvenile games that are so high school, and it dawns on you that your managers are hamstringing your career, skills and development, then you might want to consider saying goodbye to offices filled with toxic femininity and doing what I did: Your own thing.