Yesterday I had a good long chat with a former assistant of mine. She was hands-down the best assistant I ever had, and as a result of being so awesome and gifted, she now runs her own show at a different company. These days we’re just plain friends instead of boss and assistant and she occasionally asks me for advice. This makes me feel old, but since I had an amazing mentor/friend of my own when I was her age, it also makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and want to sing “Circle of Life.”
Ms. Protegee just came to a very important crossroads in her career–the first performance evaluation for an assistant of her own. She and I have talked about said assistant before. Unfortunately, he is an eager young practitioner of Dudely Privilege. He was hired to assist both another (male) executive and Protegee, but is so eager to achieve a senior-level job that he’s apparently forgotten that he needs to do an entry-level job first. So he doesn’t. Tasks are neglected, projects are half-finished, and all the while he muses aloud to Protegee about all the amazing projects of his own that he could acquire only he had a corner office.
Dude has been in this job for three months. Before that, he was in college.
Protegee reminded him, at first gently, and then slightly more forcefully, that he needs to get his shit together and do this job before he’ll ever be promoted. He just sheepishly smirked and ignored her. She said to me: “If someone had told me when I was an assistant that I was royally screwing up, I’d have wanted to cry.” But not Young Dude. Her pointed advice slid off him like water off a duck.
Now when women get criticism–constructive or not–they tend to take it personally and pay attention. We’ve been conditioned to respond to personal comments, especially negative ones (which leads to all kinds of problems for us, but that’s another post for another time). Dudes, on the other hand, especially bright young priviledged dudes, just slag it off. Society has endowed them with a sense of entitlement and jackass confidence that has mostly bypassed their female counterparts.
Ms. Protegee was clearly struggling to decide what to do with Young Dude’s performance evaluation. Young Dude had already written his section of the evaluation, detailing his plans to move up the ladder ASAP. Needless to say, Protegee was annoyed as hell at his presumption. But while she could state very clearly to me how Young Dude was falling down on the job, but she was bit conflicted about doing what she truly needed to, which was to whip out that performance evaluation and BE A BITCH.
Fortunately, she’d come to the right place, because these days it seems I am all about dispensing that advice, be it to my friends or myself. So while Protegee ate some leftover bacon cake from my birthday party, I made my case for her to BE A BITCH.
Women are continually being told: Don’t be critical. Don’t be confrontational. Play nicely with others. Don’t get upset. It’s a message hammered into us in a million ways, both subtle and unsubtle. So when we’re told to judge the performance of others, it’s understandable that some of us balk. Coming right out and saying that someone lousy at his job, or has a bad attitude, or does not deserve a promotion is surprisingly hard, even when you’re in charge. Hell, I’m hardly a shrinking violet, but it’s taken me years to be able to write negative performance evaluations without feeling a twinge of guilt, as though I’m somehow being mean to that person.
This is what I tell myself when I have to do it: Becky, you’re not being a bitch in a bad way. Evaluation is your job. It helps them as well as you. These days, I also know how to dish it without sounding harsh or judge-y, which could make the evaluation less effective.
I told Protegee, “You don’t have to say Young Dude blows me off. You can phrase it as objective statements of fact: When I ask Young Dude to complete certain tasks, it takes more than a day for him to finish them or Young Dude’s writing is still not satisfactory, despite several discussions about how he could improve it. It’s not being mean or–God forbid–all emotional about it. It’s simply stating that there is a job to do and he ain’t doing it.”
I also impressed on her in my best feminazi bonerkiller way that his Dudely Privilege must be called out. We work in a female-dominated industry. Young Dude needs to cut that shit out, pronto, or he won’t last long. Granted, his entitlement complex is not entirely exclusive to dudes. I once fired a young bunny who told me that her Ivy League degree made it difficult for her to do office work because “it’s not where I envisioned my education leading.” But in this case, Young Dude is most definitely blowing off Protegee at least partly because she’s female; he does not cop the same ‘tude with the male executive he works for. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s not doing this intentionally–he’s just acting the way society has always allowed bright young dudes to act. Getting an honest performance evaluation about how his work’s falling short–and from a woman–could be a very useful wakeup call. Even if it doesn’t get him to change his behavior, it could convince him that this might not be the right job for him. And if he insists on staying, it puts the bad behavior on the record so Protegee can fire his ass in a few months if there’s no improvement.
Have any of you ladies ever had to BE A BITCH in the workplace? Did you have to get over initial qualms, or were you just a natural-born bitch? Please share…