Time To Take a Stand

Carolyn Leighton

October 20, 2020

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When the story broke about Governor Gretchen Whitmer's life-threatening experience with would-be kidnappers, I realized how numb I had become to the most outrageous stories.

Here was a woman, a Governor, whose life and family could have been destroyed, were it not for the amazing work of the FBI.

EQUALLY (or maybe more?) OUTRAGEOUS was the fact that the President of our country had not only incited this group of thugs to commit such an act, but continued to bully her after such an egregious act was prevented.

According to reports from the Guardian and ABC News, as far back as 2015 Trump has been connected to documented acts of violence, with perpetrators claiming that he was their inspiration.

In fact, thousands of people have enacted violence in Trump's name.

I have never meet Governor Whitmer, but the story stirred in me the same outrage I have experienced my entire life when I've witnessed a bully. Shouldn't we, as women, take a stand in support of Governor Whitmer and anyone else we see bullied unfairly?

Please don't tell me you don't discuss politics or you are "not political." As a member of the WITI community, would you ask someone their politics if they were being threatened and bullied in front of your eyes?

If you have learned nothing else from being a member of our community - and from life in general - I want to believe you would not hesitate to stand up for a sister, a colleague, in such a situation.

As the impact of bullying played out on the screen all day long, I thought about how many times over my lifetime I had seen similar faces - faces of victims of bullies and the torture they endured.

The first time I witnessed bullying, I was just a child - perhaps around seven or eight years old. There was a girl named Sandra in our neighborhood who did not look like the rest of us - she was unusually large, and unattractive. The first time I happened to be around when a mean girl started bullying Sandra, I felt a strong surge of outrage go through my entire body. I stood between Sandra and the bully until she backed down and went away. Sandra confided that she had to deal with bullying just about every day of her life - just because she looked different - and I learned that bullies often back down when someone stands up to them.

The second most memorable bullying event I remember occurred when I was 25 and working for one of the top law firms in Beverly Hills while my ex-husband, Steve, was going through law school.

I had become friends with a woman named Eileen, a widow of an ACLU attorney who was in her 60s. Eileen was sweet, gentle and always feared for her job because of her age.

Her desk was just down the hall from mine, and every day I could hear a young attorney named Jeffrey scream at Eileen and throw a tantrum about some deadline missed or word not included in a document. The second I heard Jeffrey screaming at Eileen, "that surge" inside me took over. I would run down the hall as fast as I could, stand between Jeffrey and Eileen and tell Jeffrey to STOP bullying Eileen. How dare he? He had no right!!! This became almost a daily ritual, until one day the Senior Partner of the law firm, whose office was right outside the bullying scene, came out of his office and told me how proud he was of me for standing up to Jeffrey's bullying behavior. It was so great to have my feelings affirmed and feel supported - something I had rarely experienced during my then young life.

Throughout my career, I have both witnessed and been the victim of bullying. When I started WITI, a group of women in technology who had formed their own organization sent mean girl emails to each other about me and the fact that I had no right to start WITI. I was so devastated when one of WITI's earliest members sent me copies of those emails, I would get into bed and pull the covers over my head. I kept thinking, how could the very women I wanted to help be attacking me for starting WITI? I had such pure intentions of saving the world and I was so naive, not realizing until years later that they believed the space for women in technology belonged to them and were furious that they had not started WITI themselves. Ironically, a few years later, one of those women was inducted into WITI's Women in Technology Hall of Fame.

When I worked with Hewlett Packard Labs, I would see women engineers bullying the secretaries, believing that they were smarter and better then the secretaries because they were "engineers." I immediately gave every secretary at Hewlett Packard a free membership in WITI.

That "surge" - the outrage when someone is bullied or treated unfairly - has dominated my life. It is that surge that drove me to start WITI and continues today whenever I witness one person or a group of people discriminated against, treated with disrespect just because they were different.

And that is why we wrote the WITI Code of Ethics, to ensure that long after I am gone, no one will be treated with disrespect when they participate in a WITI Event. (link to WITI Code of Ethics)

Here are some take away messages:
Bullies come in all genders, sizes and colors - boys and girls, men and women, all acting out their unresolved childhood issues every day in the workplace. When bullies are in positions of power, we all know the destruction they can cause to individuals, departments, and entire companies.

The majority of bully victims take it or leave, rarely standing up to the bully. Each of us makes a personal choice when that situation occurs:
Stand up to the person bullying us.

Take a stand for the person being bullied
Report every incident to an Executive at the Company and to Human Resources; Record each incident in a personal file - including the time, date and people who are present.

There is nothing more empowering than making a personal decision that we will no longer allow any human being to treat us or anyone in our presence with disrespect. Period! End of Story!

I would love to hear your experiences with bullies! Carolynleighton25@gmail.com

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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