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Here he was again, pouring out his unfiltered thoughts without consideration for the impact his words could have on my work ethic. As usual, his initial thoughts speared out into a long, audible conversation he had with himself – me still in the room.
Spewing on about how he worked so hard to look like all the other white men in the room. Going on and on without interruption about his journey, his emotions, his thoughts.
I spent so many hours in that chair while he talked at me, even berating me at times. I knew I had something to prove, but the way he acted in no way motivated me. He was actually well read despite not being formally educated. I really hoped he would stumble across articles about good leadership. If he did, he never retained any of that information. His style was to intimadate and lead with fear. It was his way or the highway.
I worked hard despite it. Maybe I thought that if I proved myself, he would stop. After all, My dad had already warned me that I would have something to prove in corporate America. He warned me that I would have to work 2 times harder than a non-minority woman and 4x harder than the non-minority man. I was wrong – proving myself made no difference. His rants continued.
I got the company recognized in Inc 5000, and his attacks got worse. He would come into the middle of a team meeting and talk about my “downfalls,” like Microsoft 365 not having shared calendar capabilities. This is just one example of what he would highlight as one of my shortcomings, but there were so many instances of this, and I did not have the option to leave.
My husband was not working at that time, and I was the primary breadwinner. Kirk used to randomly say that he thought my husband had probably made us independently wealthy – but that was none of his business. This man held my future and livelihood in his hands, and that reality was unbearable – him knowing it would make it worse.
I have a million examples of how he would undermine every decision I made or how he would even let his biases pour through in everything he did. But today’s story is going to focus on one incident.
One day I was out doing client visits like I usually did on most Tuesdays. It was cold and wet. I remember how my boots would sink into the mud as I walked towards the work site. These visits were always so awkward – but for an introvert, it is all awkward. All the hand shaking, small talk and having people talk to me like I was queen of Sheba. I never really got used to it – I didn’t lead with fear but it was the culture there.
When I got back to work the next day, our bank account had been overdrawn. I had worked so tirelessly to get this company’s finances in order. This time it was timing issue, because we had money on the way to that bank account. Whoever we wrote the check to must’ve had some way of running it that same day.
When I asked the accountant how it happened, he explained that he gave Kirk the options to:
1. Wait to pay a vendor until the transfer was complete, or
2. Send the payment and hope it all worked out for the best.
I usually signed all the checks, but they decided it could not wait until I got back the next day and sent the payment. Decisions like this went against my very principles. We were so different in how we looked at things – and I generally got to pay for those differences by having the honor of cleaning up the mess. Now I got to have the uncomfortable conversation with our banker to explain the mix up, and to promise him that the oversight would not happen again.
After all, before I got there the company had been in deep debt and had bounced so many checks that I couldn’t even buy a laptop at Best Buy despite the money being in the bank. Their checks were basically bookmarks. Just pieces of paper with ink on them – no apparent value.
Just a year prior, I came in and put together a plan. We had paid off the company’s debt in a matter of months, secured them a line of credit, and doubled their credit lines. Still here I was, answering for another decision I HADN’T MADE.
“Yes, sir. I assure you this was simply a timing issue. It won’t happen again.”
After all of that explaining – I was lectured about the legalities behind writing a check for what would be considered an “unauthorized loan” if funds were not available in the account. When the bankers left, we resumed our weekly meetings as usual. I was already so tired.
I met with Kirk and we talked over what happened. He said he signed the check, but that the accountant hadn’t explained it correctly. I knew better, the accountant was always so cautious. We all knew how Kirk was and if you did things he didn’t like, you paid for it. So it was customary to watch every step carefully.
Directly after that meeting with Kirk, we had team meetings. During the group meetings, Kirk proceeded to tell THE ENTIRE OFFICE TEAM that I had bounced a check and would personally be paying the overdraft fees. I was seriously stunned that he so carelessly blamed me publicly for a mistake he had made.
He really did expect me to pay the overdraft fees. He even went as far as to send me a few reminder emails. Spoiler alert—I didn’t pay. But he wrote more than one check with this incident. He wrote the check that gave me the last push I needed to run out the door.
Did I learn anything from Kirk? Absolutely. I can honestly I learned a lot from Kirk but the most notable things I learned were lessons on how not to lead.
In just one year after leaving I had started my own company and grown a team of 23 people. I have made all the decisions, no one questioned them. – no one overturned them. I lead by talking to each member of the team and getting their input. I heavily prioritized every team member feeling valued and listened to, ultimately they are what matters.
I’m forging my own path. There’s not a glass ceiling that can hold me. I don’t need a seat at any table I’m not welcomed at- there’s not a table I can’t build for myself, especially if I can build it with the minority women community.
Ultimately this is my journey and I get to choose not to let anyone hold me back or attempt to make me feel lesser than the educated, worthy woman I am today.
I have two small children and a legacy to build. I get to work each and every day to build a kingdom for my children – something that can outlive me.
So why am I writing about this now? What if he reads it?
Honestly, I couldn’t care less.
There are two sides to every story, and in his version, he’s not a misogynist or a narcissist. In his version I’m sure he wears a cape. I’m sure he believes I should thank him for the opportunity to work my ass off, and earn everything I got.
I don’t see it that way, and I will never give him the opportunity to mansplain it to me again.
We’ve all encountered several Kirks in our career. My hope is that you simply make them lessons along your journey to greatness. Because that’s what you’re destined for and that’s what you were made for. I’ll save you a seat at our table.
Bye for now, Masterly CEO’s.
Note: Names were changed in the spirit of keeping it classy – while telling my story