Updated: Feb 2
I recently had an eye-opening experience that challenged my understanding of oppression and how it is experienced and expressed by different marginalized communities. I used to believe that there was a solidarity among oppressed groups, but my experience working at a community nonprofit for over a year has shown me otherwise.
I was employed there as a Program Manager. My boss, Mike, is well-known and popular. He is highly knowledgeable about the systems in place and has a talent for manipulation, always knowing the right buttons to push to get things done. He is a great speaker and can give an impassioned speech without much preparation. However, his methods of working are not always transparent to his employees, who often put in hours of hard work, only to be criticized for not following his specific, undisclosed preferences.
I recently became aware of the traumatic experiences of my friend Lora, who suffered from sexual assault and then was further traumatized by the systems meant to protect her. The lack of compassion and unhealed individuals in leadership positions, who project their own issues onto others, were at the root of the problems she faced.
When Lora sought help from the police, they failed to protect her and instead, perpetuated the systems that favored her aggressor and further traumatized her as a victim. She was told that she was lying and that her reality was being denied, which is a deeply disturbing and unjust situation. The current systems that are meant to protect us often fail those who need it the most, and this is a glaring example of that failure.
As a woman and a leader, I have often been subjected to mistrust from men in the workplace. It has become a norm for me, and it is disheartening to think about the number of times I have been questioned, doubted, and challenged simply because of my gender. However, I have also had the privilege of working with wonderful men who were supportive, especially those who were brown or black.
I recall being grilled by white men in private workplace settings, and the memories of those experiences still make me uncomfortable. This lack of trust stems from societal norms and expectations, where girls are taught to be passive and seen but not heard, while boys are consistently placed on a higher pedestal and deemed superior in all ways. These gender biases have a profound impact on how women are perceived and treated, especially in leadership roles, and it is something that needs to be addressed and challenged.
As a person who has had to face criticism at work, I understand the feeling of being grilled and having someone redo your work in front of you. The emotions that come up can range from frustration to embarrassment, and it can be difficult to continue working with confidence after such an experience.
Let's examine a couple cases.
"It appears that you have put in a considerable effort into this project. Keep up the good work, you are on the right path. Focus specifically on section three, there is room for further exploration. I understand that grammar may not be your strongest area, but Jill has a great eye for it and I am certain she would be willing to assist you with editing when you're ready. What is your estimated timeline for this project? Do you anticipate having a second draft ready for next week's meeting? I will arrange a 15-minute presentation slot for you on the agenda and the team will be available to collaborate and offer feedback if that is your next step. I can sense your passion and dedication, and it seems that you are progressing steadily. How do you feel? Do you require any support or have any lingering concerns?"
"Sher-rah, that's definitely not going to cut it." "We don't have time to deviate from the task at hand, stick to what's relevant right now." "I expect an answer immediately." "What's your plan of action?" "What steps will you take to ensure this doesn't happen again?" "Listen carefully, complete these specific steps, make contact with the designated person, and send the required message without fail." "Got it, but I won't be satisfied until it's done." "Let's move on to the next project, and I expect it to be executed perfectly without me having to micromanage every detail." (Essentially, the speaker is frustrated and dissatisfied with the lack of immediate and accurate action, and the absence of mind-reading capabilities).
As I venture out of my comfort zone, I am assuming that you have selected the first example to be the boss. Unfortunately, the second example reflects the leadership approach of many individuals in our system. It is disheartening to witness the utilization of power, money, fear, and shame as means of leadership.
As a person passionate about creating positive change, I am compelled to speak out against toxic leadership. We have seen far too often the devastating effects of leaders who prioritize their own power and interests above the well-being of those they serve. But it is not enough to simply observe and lament this reality. It is time for us to take action, to stand up and say enough is enough. We must work together to promote and cultivate leaders who embody true servant-hood, who listen, empower, and uplift those around them. This is the only way we can create a brighter future, a world where every person is valued, supported, and free to reach their full potential. So let us not be passive witnesses to this injustice, but let us be active agents of change. Let us rise up and fight for a world where toxic leadership is a thing of the past.