Women in the Workplace – Behind Enemy Lines

Workplace women

Originally I was going to focus on the competitive environment I’ve seen between women in the workplace.  This includes the outright lack of support from other women – Can you say “throw me under the bus – AGAIN?!”.  I had enough content to make anyone cringe, and therefore wanted to dig deep to understand the “why.” But after doing some research on the subject, I found a sad theme of these types of stories. Therefore, I decided to take a different path.

I want to take a look back at the positive experiences I’ve had instead, and reinforce how we can do the same for other women. We can’t rule the world if we are putting each other down.

In thinking about ideas for this blog, I kept asking – what if anything came positive out of various interactions with women? Were there times when I truly felt inspired, empowered and supported?  It turns out there were. So let’s go back to the days of the pink razor flip phone, Destiny’s Child and file sharing sites like Kazaa to begin the journey.

Getting into my Executive MBA was no easy feat.  I was WAY outside the demographics including age, years of experience, title, and even gender. But I was determined to get in despite the initial rejection. So I spoke with the program administrators A LOT.  Eventually, I built a rapport with the women and got them to agree to accept me if I would go back and increase my GMAT score.  So a month later when my new and improved score arrived – I was in.

Midway through my MBA, I decided to start to learn about other departments within Eli Lilly.  I had a BS in Biology, and very few business classes prior to the MBA. I also knew that I didn’t want to be working in a QC (Quality Control) Lab running the same tests for the next 25 years of my life. I’d personally rather have gouged out my eyes with a fork.  So at the advice from my boss, I began to network at our site.

It was during this time I met the Site Finance Director.  When I met with her we discussed my experiences and goals and how to obtain them.  So moving to FP&A (Financial Planning & Analysis) from the lab seemed like the perfect fit.  She eventually became my advocate, she was going to help me out by giving me little side projects to help her with.  It was a win-win.  But as it turns out there was an opportunity in corporate FP&A that she thought I was good for and should apply to. She called her colleagues, put in a good word for me and after the interview – I got the job!

Now is the turning point in the story where things got a little hairy. No longer was I bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the world of business. I became cynical and bitter. But at the advice of a dear friend and mentor – you can always find the silver lining to any cloud if you look hard enough.  So I’ve decided, to take a second look and find the positive.  It’s always been there, sometimes you just need to look a little bit harder.

workplace women

My first position in FP&A at Lilly gave me not just one, but TWO female bosses who were trying out a “job share” pilot.  Women or not, this idea was ridiculous for so many reasons.  When the two individuals have very different management styles, what do you think happens  (can you say duplication of work?)!  The one memory during this time, that will be ever seared in my mind was the 1:1’s or reviews that I would have with them. I will never forget being handed two full pages of bullet points on what I did wrong the past two weeks and what needs improvement.  Luckily the third page contained two or three bullet points was what I had done right. Yippee.

The additional feedback my business partner had so eloquently provided was, that I was NOT like my predecessor (a man). And it was at this point, at the ripe old age of 25 –  what broke me.  There’s only so much you can take. After hearing this and listening to an hour and half of what a terrible job I was doing bullet by bullet and then to hear I wasn’t living up to the standard that was set was crushing. And almost 13 years later, its impacts still lingers with me.

But there is a silver lining. Because of the harsh style, I was able to pick off an amazing amount of new skills.  She had me take a lot of internal training courses for SAP, powerpoint, and excel (I even learned to write macros).  I also was set-up with a couple of mentors who went out of their way to give me additional feedback and guidance.  I learned A LOT.  And quickly. But soon the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself and I ended up moving to California to work at Amgen.

workplace women support

For the first 2-3 years, it was business as normal.  I worked with mostly men and didn’t have many issues.  But then I joined the Commercial FP&A team and it became re-organized to what I’d like to call “Lord of the Flies – Sorority Edition.”  It’s bad enough to have five women in the same group with one male coworker and one male boss.  Especially when the boss allowed us to rip each other to shreds during team meetings.  He turned five women in their late 20’s/early 30’s into fighters, who stepped into the boxing ring at every meeting in efforts to win. But what the hell did we win?  Nothing. Absolutely nothing. To top it all off, this wasn’t the worst thing that happened.

Eventually, we all had had enough and started looking for new positions.  One got a promotion and moved to R&D and another a promotion to treasury/tax.  Another left the company and moved to the Bay Area. Then there was me. I originally applied for a lateral position in the Treasury Department.  I interviewed and things went well.  But for some odd reason, I didn’t get the job.  I was perplexed.

Not only because of what she’s created and done but more importantly what she’s done for me and other women.  There are very few times in your life that you get to meet and work with someone like this. To say it’s life changing is nothing short of the truth.  A woman who can be a mentor goes out of her way to empower and support you, is doing more for your career then she can ever realize.

I eventually found out the real reason why.  It wasn’t anything I had done. The boss actually really liked me and wanted to hire me. But the one coworker who had got the promotion into that area had decided she didn’t want to have to work with me again. She told them not to hire me, I’m sure bad mouthing ensued and they listened. I was crushed. By another woman. Again.

Now, this was someone I had worked with and never really had an outright battle with. There were other coworkers who would still probably love to take me out if we met each other in a dark alley. But it didn’t matter. I wasn’t getting the job.

Interestingly enough, she had done me a great favor. Without that rejection of a lateral position, I never would have gotten promoted and moved into Global Strategic Sourcing.  And this has been my calling ever since.

I have two favorite bosses during my tenure in Sourcing/during my career. And due to this ex-coworkers’ spite, I got to work for one of them.  This man was inspirational and amazing.  Aside from the Lilly experience, I never had learned so much, so quickly in such a short amount of time from someone (and in a positive manner!).  This time was different, I enjoyed learning and dedicating myself to the job. I didn’t mind working 10-12 hour days because I felt appreciated and I knew it would pay off.  He gave me a level of respect I hadn’t had in any prior position. All of that eventually changed when I left Amgen, but the empowerment and support he gave me, is still present to this day (especially when I ask him to be a reference).

I did have a brief stint outside of Pharma, and it’s one of those situations that are better left alone.  And dead.  Like a decapitated mouse in a trap.  I just need to keep on moving so I don’t have to revisit it the dead body sitting in front of me. But even from that very painful experience, I managed to make a great friend who I still talk to and consider to be one of the most wonderful friends I have met to this date.

procurement

When I took the position at Gilead, the situation once again with women ended up being no different.  I had been thrown under not only a bus, but also tow truck, a school short bus, and a semi. But it didn’t matter. I knew the game the business partners were playing and I had accepted it. And for the second time I had made a dear friend who I still talk with, plan holidays with and consider a great woman in her own right.  The hole she had to dig herself out of due to her boss (of course a woman), to move on and be promoted – is nothing short than amazing.  Most people in her position would have crumbled after a few years.  And many already had.  But she made it out the other side alive and empowered.

So finally we come to my current position.  I can’t say that I haven’t had my ups and downs with business partners and coworkers. It’s a new breed of women I’ve never seen before, who feel the need to overly asserting their dominance.  Or sometimes slam the door in your face.  Then lock it.  So at times, I feel like I’ve been thrown to the wolves and left for dead. But despite these things, I have made some of the greatest connections of my career. Not only internally, but externally too.  I’ve met three of the most inspiring and empowering women. I look up to these women and see them as great mentors, but they are so much more.

One of these women has been the inspiration for this blog/website.  Encouraging me, pushing me and motivating me when I didn’t know I truly needed it. When another woman supports you, pushes your boundaries, elevates you and inspires you to be better – it’s more impactful than any man doing the same. And it IS because she is a woman (sorry men!).

It’s women in the workplace like this, that I truly aspire to.

 

So as you can see, every dark cloud I have encountered truly does have a silver lining.  Despite the situations I’ve experienced that I feel have grown to be worse over time, I’ve gathered even more empowering ones. And that really should be our focus. I’ve met women who have changed the world and pushed boundaries.  And it’s their support for other women that will forge their legacy into stone.

So here’s my final suggestion to other women: Let’s start a revolution in the workplace #WSW here’s how:

  1. Leave all the things that have happened in the past behind, and let them stay there PERMANENTLY.  Just walk by that dead mouse and move past it.
  2. Don’t feel like you are in constant competition with your coworkers or peers. Just don’t do it.  Don’t step on their heads when you think it will get you ahead.
  3. If you aren’t already a mentor or don’t have one – find her.  These relationships pay off in spades.
  4. Call your old colleagues and friends. Who doesn’t love to hear and comrade and share war stories?
  5. Take steps to repair tattered relationships in the workplace.  We all make mistakes, let’s just ensure we learn from them.

So please join me in a new era where women become the dominant force in the workplace. Let us work each day to empower, inspire and support each other. Because we are SO much more than just a pretty face, we are warriors! And we CAN rule this world!

Workplace

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3 thoughts on “Women in the Workplace – Behind Enemy Lines

  1. Ms Category Management, excellent POV, I really enjoyed reading your path to success, hard times and good time , cloudy skies to clear skies. When the going gets tough the tough get going. #W4W

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