When Sheryl Sandberg appeared on the cover of Time magazine’s March 18 issue, she sort of made history. After all, it isn’t an everyday thing for a female executive to cover the newsweekly.
But don’t go celebrating the crashing of the glass ceiling just yet. The Facebook Chief Operating Officer appears on the cover with the headline, “Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Successful”—hardly the type of sentiment we’d expect to see alongside a male in a power suit.
There’s some correlation with the cover story, but not much. It acknowledges that, yes, successful women are often viewed negatively—such as being perceived as “bossy” where a male executive might not.
Yet, the line in the article that resonates most with the headline is this: “Awkwardly, it turns out, women don’t particularly like successful women either.”
A Forbes piece likened the headline to “starting a ‘cat-fight’” —good, perhaps, for newsstand sales, but bad for women, particularly among the younger set just starting their career path.
And before too many of them go in with naïve notions that opportunity and prosperity abound at every turn, Forbes poses this important question for them to ponder: “Will senior women mentor me or stand in the way of my career?”
Well, that depends. Not to say that all senior women—or even women period—in the workplace are bad, but it’s a question that needs to be asked and answered—or at least dealt with somehow—in the event one of those road blocks pops up.
And it’s not completely unlikely, especially when there’s books out there like Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster’s book “Mean Girls at Work: How to Stay Professional When Things Get Personal” or organizations like the Workplace Bullying Institute lobbying for healthier workplace laws caused by, you guessed it, bullies (who are often women) in positions of power.
Basically, some women carry the jealousy and backstabbing that was once seemingly in vogue in middle school into the workplace, where it often masks their insecurity or lack of experience, and use it to extinguish brighter stars around them. And it’s real enough and damaging enough that it’s worth addressing.
So while Sandberg’s goal of encouraging women to “lean in” to the ranks of the powerful in the workplace is admirable and noble, the mean girl syndrome won’t just quickly or quietly go away. And headlines like those on Sandberg’s Time cover help assure it—particularly when it glosses over the underlying issue.