Staying Visible, Rules for the Workplace and Martha

Over the summer, I’ve had several print interviews–magazines that range from Cosmopolitan, InStyle, to Fitness. All on the same topics–women, power, sabotage, conflict and bullying.

The topic of Martha Stewart always surfaces. What do I think, what do other woman say/think, and was Martha targeted?

The thousands that I’ve interacted with since Marthagate birthed said basically that the outcome stinks; that she was targeted because she was, well, Martha; that there are gender issues at play (many said that they like to see a list of men who’ve been prosecuted and jailed under the same circumstances); that it’s OK and assumed that men will be aggressive and cheered for been assertive and women–the Marthas–will be labeled as bitches, egomaniacs, arrogant and selfish; and, that it was scary to be visibly successful.

Visibly successful? Can high visibility be a handicap to one’s career?

Since the mid-eighties, my research has shown that the more visible you are and the more successful you are, or perceived to be, the more often people will try to take you down. Women and men have shared those opinions and thoughts about sabotage in the workplace, failure, success and rebuilding confidence in my books Woman to Woman 2000 (New Horizon Press) and The Confidence Factor (Mile High Press).

In one of the magazine interviews, I shared a story about a dinner I had had with several women just after Martha had been convicted. They represented a variety of career categories–from attorney, to directors of a not-for-profit and a women’s shelter, educators, psychologist, even a recent grad of a local university.

All had talked about the mercurial position of Martha Stewart.

No one wanted to be in Stewart’s shoes; no one supported the verdict; and no one wanted her to go to jail. When I probed further and asked, “Do you think she was targeted?” All said yes. “Because she was a woman?” Yes again. “Do you think the verdict was appropriate?” Absolutely not. “Do you think there is any message–be it subtle or bold–for women?” Yes–don’t be visible.

Ouch, ouch, ouch. Here I’ve been telling women to pat themselves on the back, to bravo their successes and accomplishments . . . and if they don’t, others will take the credit. To be invisible, that hurts. Everyone.

Does that mean that if you are successful, others will target you . . . by prosecutors if it could be politically smart for them to do so? Maybe. Many in my audiences and readers of my books have shared that that is exactly what they endured along their career paths. As women, successful and visible women, there were plenty non-supporters tossing roadblocks their way. My dinner partners echoed the same.

So, what does one do as you transition along your career paths? All the women at my table said that they were fearful of being visible–high visibility can be a handicap. They wanted to continue to succeed, but public accolades wouldn’t be sought. As I listened, I said, “It sounds as though women should proceed with caution, moving stealthily.” All heads looked at me and nodded yes–being stealthy was the perfect word.

Are there different rules for women than there are for men when it comes to success, visibility, even celebrity? Women are saying so.

My advice and rules would be multi for women; and it would be the same advice I would tell a man:

Do the best you can–why bother if you can’t;
Take credit for your work and acknowledge those who contribute to it and along your career pathway;
Be kind to all two and four legged critters–it takes far more of your energy to be pissy;
Tell the truth–it’s so much easier and less complicated;
If you can’t remember all the details, say so–it’s not a crime to say you can’t remember (and as you get older, this happens more often!);
If you are someone who is on a ladder heading toward the clouds and/or ego wanting public recognition, expect potshots;
Ask for advice and help–very, very few are successful without a mentor or two.
Career paths are like elevators–they do go up, they do go down at times and sometimes they stay on a floor too long;
Give back–sharing your skills, talents and vision with others usually comes in a round trip package.
Don’t try to personalize everything (men don’t) and
Don’t divulge information to just anyone (it’s not uncommon to share information with others that is inappropriate and none of their business).
What about visibility? I don’t want to see women disappear and only operate/work behind the scenes. Nor does the great majority of the population want it either. My advice here is to access your vulnerability–where could potshots come from? Who could create them? What’s the worst thing that can happen? And if you feel that you are targeted, get help from someone(s) who is non-judgmental, trustworthy and has an understanding/expertise of whatever the situation is.

Will Martha Stewart sidestep visibility? Nope…all you had to see was her wave from the plane as she left prison. Sure, she was down. But, she’s not out. If you choose to delete yourself, so will others. It’s not a good thing.

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