#corporatestoo? Or why the city’s not there yet…


When I wrote last month’s blog on how women struggle to be successful in large businesses with very masculine cultures, I didn’t foresee that it would become such a topical point of discussion. Just a week after I’d hit the publish button, the Harvey Weinstein story broke, quickly followed by a raft of news of sexism in the film industry, politics and business.

To be clear, I am by no means saying that the experiences of people struggling to survive in difficult business cultures equate to the sexual abuse allegations in the media. Yet the response to my blog shows that in business today it’s still difficult for women to get the support they need to deal with tricky situations, and that men in senior positions are often to blame.

At the end of last month’s blog, I included a survey, asking women and men for their experiences of surviving in organisations with high pressure, high stress cultures. To the 52 people who completed it, thank you. The number of respondents makes the survey more qualitative than quantitative, but there is still a lot that can be learned from the input. All respondents had worked at some stage in a tough masculine culture and 89% were women. 50% of respondents said that they had found it difficult or extremely difficult to operate effectively in this kind of culture.

Their anecdotes made tough reading (and these are only some of those received):

 I ended up having panic attacks and feeling completely unsupported, lonely and my self-esteem was also heavily affected. I felt I wasn’t good enough, and that there was something wrong with me.

 I often felt like I was approached in inappropriate ways. I didn’t want to come across as too harsh but still wanted to draw a line. I often noticed that because I wasn’t as “friendly” as some of my other female colleagues I was given less opportunities, projects weren’t coming my way and I received overly negative feedback. Once, I was mocked in front of everyone by our male boss because I had been in a long term relationship with my partner since an early age, saying it must have been a planned marriage and asking if I was going to wear a hijab soon.

 Seeing a young woman in a senior position causes a lot of questions – I’ve been asked during serious business meetings how I managed to get this job, who is my father/husband, am I really the person they were supposed to meet or am I just substituting my boss.

 My most recent position had me working for a man who I felt was very threatened by my success. We clashed regularly and I began to be undermined on an almost daily basis. Instead of being proud to have a strong woman on his team, he belittled and bullied me. I eventually had to have three months off work with stress and am now on antidepressants.

 I was offered my boss’ job. I did my due diligence and found out what he was offered when he started the role four years prior. When I received my financial package it was €20,000 less than his of four years ago. I was pressured to take the job and made to feel that I should be thankful for the small incremental raise that they were offering.

These kinds of experiences have a strong impact; one that businesses should be aware of. I asked whether respondents felt they had to hide parts of themselves to succeed in these environments. 77% said they had. I asked what the effect was on them personally; 48% said it had had an impact on their state of mind, 29% said they weren’t as effective a professional as they felt they could have otherwise been and 24% said it caused them stress.

I recently saw a senior female business consultant interviewed on the BBC News. Asked about the #metoo issue, she said business was different and that “The city is getting there.” I beg to differ. The evidence of those people who filled in the survey would seem to say otherwise too. The city still has a long way to go.

In next month’s blog, I’ll look at what survey respondents would like organizations to do differently and the advice that they themselves have for others struggling to survive in tough business cultures.

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