What are they saying about you, girl?

Stanley Fish of the NYTimes today explored the “hate Hillary” movement, something that he said he was reluctant to do “because of a fear that it would advance the agenda that is its target”, in other words, embolden Hillary haters into sending him more trash email of the type where “the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry was a model of objectivity” in comparison. He was not arguing with people who genuinely prefer other candidates on the issues. Instead he was examining those for whom “the level of personal vituperation unconnected to, and often unconcerned with, the facts” has become an all-consuming hatred that he felt was akin to that vehemence expressed by anti-Semites.

What I found interesting was a thoughtful comment from “J” (number 176):

Thank you for this piece. As a woman working an a male dominant field, I’d like to think I am equal to my fellow co-workers and am a welcomed member. But with the development of this campaign you can not imagine the vitriol I hear in my office. In my professional office I hear men talk about the size of her thighs, how grotesque they find her, stating that they would never “allow” their wives to wear pantsuits, that a woman will never make a good president and continually pick her apart physically. This is in loud voices as though I am expected to join in, not a private conversation by any means. It often makes me wonder what they think of me in this office and what would be the effects of my being promoted.

“J’s” note reminded me of something a very wise older male African-American executive once told me in assessing your standing and value to a company. He said that it was very important to listen to your co-workers when they talked about others without managers present. If it was disrespectful and unfair, than he said that’s exactly how they talk about you behind your back. If they spoke about others with respect and fairness, then that’s how you were spoken of.

So “J” is right in her concern about how she is perceived of and spoken of when she’s not around, because this vulgar conversation could indicate she’s not considered part of the team. If she were, then her co-workers would be much more aware of how a fellow member of the team feels about their vulgarity (and believe me, a lot of men loathe this kind of stuff too). Professional men and women are quite capable of self-control if they believe it is demanded by the team to get the job done.

Silicon Valley attracts the best and brightest in innovation of all religions, creeds and colors. The thing that unites us is our dedication to the creation of new technologies, products and businesses — workstations, operating systems, networking, enterprise software, and Internet. The key to success with such a diverse workforce is building the team to accomplish the mission. “Outing” members of the team imperils their ability to do the job and diverts resources when focus is needed to survive in a “world is flat” global economy.

So what would be the best advice for “J”? The direct way (and the best to clear the air and refocus the team) is to find the manager and point out that the team isn’t focused on building the product but instead involved in indulging individual whims. I wish I could say it will work — there are a lot of bad managers out there who don’t get held accountable when their teams fail to achieve — but sometimes sanity prevails.

But what if “J” fails to get satisfaction? In this case, she’d have to do what a lot of women are forced to do — try to find another job and pray she isn’t “too old” (for women I’m told it’s now 40, for men I’m told it’s 50, and yes it’s discriminatory but as an SV attorney said not so long ago “You can’t prove intent”). “J” can’t ignore that a lot of men (and women) agreed with Rush Limbaugh when he said nobody would want to watch a woman, no matter how smart or experienced or good at her job, grow old.

Would be safer for “J” to keep her mouth shut, hunker down and try to last a few years longer? Perhaps. In a recession, taking a risk like this, even if it’s right and good, may require “J” to pay too high a price. It isn’t fair, but what if nobody is either?

I can’t see a good answer here. Is there one?

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Lynne

Lynne Jolitz is a Silicon Valley OS pioneer, inventor, and startup founder.

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