A Rare Breed

by Melinda White '91

After Scripps, I expected professional women to embrace my educational foundation, helping to foster my confidence in confronting a “man’s world.” The students at Scripps were competitive, but there was an overall sense of support that made the competition healthy.

Since I have been in industry for 14 years, specifically in the predominantly male technology arena, I have been astounded at how truly cut-throat women can be. I thought that I would be working with up-and-coming Carly Fiorinas, whereas I discovered that they are simply catty with their personal agendas. Backbiting women think that they are snowing other women, when their vulnerabilities are simply transparent.

There was the flag-waving Ivy League alumna who was in a race for a director title before she turned 30. I could see her agenda in stages: Cornell education, a directorate, marriage, then children. She stomped on her colleagues and stole credit for our work. She had an unusually close relationship with our VP, since they had worked together previously. He made exceptions for her and for no one else. When she resigned, the VP customized a lavish severance package even though severance was intended for laid-off employees, not for those who voluntarily leave.

There was the candidate who was in direct competition with me for a directorlevel position. She landed the job over me because she made a political maneuver with the CEO’s wife. When her team realized that she was more style than substance, she was demoted, and I was offered her old position at a lower salary. I declined.

Most recently, I left an Internet darling that is colorfully known for their search engine, as a result of some rancorous behavior that affected me personally. A colleague there demonstrated how “evil” their employees could be. She was resentful that I attended a “better” college, even though we were clearly more than 10 years out of school; at this company alma maters mattered, and I landed the job over her (male) friend. She was so bitter that she relentlessly attempted to set me up for failure. The last straw was when she tried to defame my character and prevent me from landing a job with their chief competitor (known for their yodeling). This individual had an infamous reputation for getting along better with men than with women.

Ironically, I work in human resources, a department that is supposed to epitomize parity and professionalism within the workplace.

On the bright side, occasionally I have been fortunate enough to work with more supportive women. Usually, their advocacy stems from having suffered in the workplace, or in life, so that they have developed a strong sense of compassion. Two women to whom I reported genuinely believed in me, my background, and championed my potential. These women were survivors. They were well-educated, secure, and they thought out-of-the-box. They weren’t afraid to bend the rules and challenge the status quo; they weren’t about “kissing ass” to get ahead of their female associates. I have a colleague who partcipated in Berkeley’s EECS program, a program that pioneered combining electrical engineering and computer science with a very low acceptance rate. She has struggled as a minority woman in the workplace and, even at Berkeley, to overcome her racial and gender status and prove that she can compete with men in engineering roles. As a result of her obstacles, she is a crusader for other women in the male-dominated technoogy field, and she is appreciative of efforts made by women to advocate her professionalism. But these women are rare, and I am convinced it is because adversity breeds empathy.

Men have just not seemed as clever or inherently malicious. I was surprised to acknowledge that, for the most part, I work better for men as managers—assuming they are not misogynists and they do not possess the same vicious female motives. Or, I work better for women who possess some male traits.

In order to endure, my recommendation is two-fold. First, expect the unexpected; it is rare to find women who had the unique opportunity that Scripps provided, therefore the workplace is a fierce and selfish competition. Second, stay strong and true to your values and integrity. Don’t give up early because that seems to be the only alternative. Persistence and tenacity make the difference. While women have made significant strides throughout history, there is still a lot to accomplish—this time involving not just our interactions with men, but with women as well.