Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The So-Called Equal Opportunity Abuser

I've worked with some executives, supervisors, and coworkers who were frequently or always offensive, hostile, abusive, rude, disrepectful, and nasty to just about everyone they came into contact with. And, while I can say that I've witnessed these folks being abusive to Whites, I can't say that they didn't have harsher reactions and even more increased negativity when dealing with minorities.

Dealing with the so-called equal opportunity abuser can make it extremely tricky to try to negotiate around this person and to change your work environment, should you complain about the person's behavior. "Oh, you know how he/she is!" or "That's just his/her way of working. He/She really gets things done!" or "He/she is like that WITH EVERYBODY!" might be the types of responses you get, when complaining about working with this type of person.

Some people--legitimately or simply feigning ignorance--believe that this type of person just may be an alpha personality, who everyone just has to learn to tolerate because of their position/status at the company or because of their connection to higher-ups or because they work on lucrative or high profile projects. They'd simply like everyone to get "tougher skin" or to "be the bigger person," not realizing that in some cases there really may be a serious problem lurking that violates federal statutes.

I worked with a VP, who was routinely nasty to staff and managers. However, when I was dealing with her--after she first joined the company--I was one of the few that she liked. She joked around with me on the phone (she worked out of state opening up a new office) and was generally pleasant. She thought I was reliable and I was assigned as her liaison with our office.

Then, she makes her first visit to our state and her mouth dropped when she saw me. I knew her reaction was based on my race. Someone pointed me out--because she asked where to find me because she couldn't wait to me in person--and her mouth dropped. As I smiled at her and approached, seeing she was looking for me, she turned and went the other way.

From that day forward, I was treated worse than those she was already targeting and butting heads with. I received offensive and hostile emails and voicemails and I was suddenly being accused of not being dependable and of not being able to follow instructions. I was told that she was sending work and requests to other staff because she wanted to make sure things got done properly and she couldn't trust me to do it. This is the rumor that was being spread about me by a VP.

When I complained of her behavior and that it correlated to her seeing me in person (details of how she reactd to me), I was told:

--It's not race. She's like that with everybody!
--You know how she is!
--You won't believe what she said/did to so and so! It's everybody--not just you!


They were so busy trying to ignore the potential racial component of what was happening that they were actually admitting that a VP was being abusive and hostile with EVERYBODY! Is that an acceptable defense? Don't complain because everyone is a target?

The question is...was everyone being targeted for the same reasons? It's one thing to just be a nasty b*tch. It's another thing to target people because you're a nasty b*tch and because they're Black, Hispanic or Asian. Just because a person supposedly spreads around their wrath and attacks to all races, doesn't mean that specific races aren't being targeted by this person due more to the color of their skin (or partially because of color) than just based on simple alpha personality syndrome.

Despite all the protests, a Black secretary came and confided to me that her boss (a White, male director) told her that the VP's problem with me was "this." When he said "this" he ran his fingers over his cheek to refer to my skin color. She also told me that the President/CEO was aware that it was "this" in my case and with some other staff, including Hispanics.

The male Director told his secretary that the VP was told she had to change or she would lose her job. There was no requirement for diversity or sensitivity training, no apologies, etc. Behind the scenes, she was told it was unacceptable and to our faces we were told that we were crazy. It was everybody! She didn't stop her behavior, so I went about DOCUMENTING EVERYTHING.

--I forwarded nasty voicemail messages to her supervisor with remarks that I would not tolerate anyone speaking to me in that fashion.
--I forwarded offensive and abusive email to her supervisor with a cc: to Human Resources stating that I wouldn't tolerate anyone writing me such nasty emails and blaming me for things I had not done.
--I took notes during any phone calls with her to document any nasty and offensive comments she made on the calls.
--I kept a log of any other negative incidences, such as coworkers telling me negatives things she'd said about me behind my back to slander me to my cowokers.

Within 2 weeks, upon seeing the documentation and complaint record I had created, I was no longer the liaison and had nothing to do with this VP for quite some time. Other staff in her office worked with me on their budgets, etc. On rare occassions I had to deal directly with her. When writing emails, the sentences from both of us were short and professional.

To this day, this was one of the more difficult situations to deal with because the company kept trying to push this argument that she was an equal opportunity offender, when that was only partially true. She did have race-based issues and this was understood by everyone in the power structure. Of course, they wanted to avoid liability for race-based harassment, so they created this story that she was "just rude" or "was stressed" from opening a new office" or "was like that with everybody."

When I looked at her issues with me and other minorities and her issues with White workers and managers, there were differences. The level of accusations and the language she used escalated in negativity and hostility. The insults fell into stereotyping with minorities and the attacks were reputation destroyers and personal. Words like "stupid" and "lack of trust" and "incompetent" were her favorites with minorities--to their faces and behind their backs.

With Whites it was more about being demanding and having an "I want it yesterday--do it now" type pressure. She was extremely rude and often verbally offensive, but she wasn't talking about "trust" or intelligence or competence.

Equal opporuntity abusers aren't always equal opportunity abusers. You do yourself a great service by really looking at the individual incidences and speaking to other staff to get an idea of the types of problems, language, abuse they are receiving from the abuser and then comparing that to your own treatment.

You may find a pattern of negative behavior that is specific to minority workers. You have to do your due dillegence and investigate what's going on. DOCUMENT EVERYTHING!!


Blogger Chandira said...

That's a great post, and helpful to me, after the last comment I left a few minutes ago about my 'one person' who was like that to everybody!

Mine is one of the 5 company Principals, who I do have a good relationship with personally, (as I generally avoid working with him!) but I see him being a total *sshole to everybody else! And because he's an owner, nobody, not even the other 4 partners, will stand up to him or take any action about it, when it happens. Maybe documentation would help! Great advice.
Thank you.

12:01 PM  

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