True Story: Shady Boss Behaviors
Names in this story have been omitted, and I’m writing in the third person because it makes it easier to tell the story, but everything REALLY HAPPENED. I left my job at Apple because of insane bouts of sexist behavior when I couldn’t find any help. Not from HR, not from management, and despite my clear pleas with detailed information that almost seemed straight from our employee handbook of “what not to do”, most definitely not from Tim Cook. So… I’m here to tell my story and I hope it can help others who’ve been massively screwed over like myself. You’re not alone.
“Jazzy, I don’t like him.”
Her grin faded as she turned to look at her mom, who had a sour look on her face, like she ate something that made her stomach turn. She glanced at her uncle who was sitting next to her mom; he looked stoic as usual.
They were sitting in the iTunes cafe enjoying their lunch. It wasn’t often that her family joined her for lunch on campus. The cafe was bright and full of bustling conversation, packed with both employees and food service staff. The cafe was one of her favorite parts of working there… with such busy schedules, it was important to be able to get a healthy meal, and fast. The food was yummy and the staff was friendly. Over the years, she had even made friends with the super cool, old school Italian guys who ran the cafe, hand picked by Steve Jobs. She loved every part of working at this company.
She was confused. She had only told her mom good things about her boss; she genuinely admired him. He was a family man — the kind of guy who met and married his high school sweetheart and went on to have a couple of kids whom he spoke highly of. She remembered how he had once told her a story about when he first laid eyes on his future wife and how he knew immediately she would be his. His stories were life goals.
“Mom, what do you mean?” She needed clarification. The interaction had been brief — her boss had stopped by their table on his way back to the office with his food in hand to say hello.
“I don’t know… something about him just felt bad. Evil almost.” Her mom went in to thought, trying to better understand the strong feeling.
Her uncle, a very nice and quiet man, didn’t seem to have the same reaction. She asked him, “What did you think uncle?”
He shrugged, “I don’t know, it was so short, but I don’t think he was anything amazing.”
She was kind of taken aback by her mom’s reaction. She of course didn’t expect them to know him in such a short time, but based on how many good things she had told them, she was SURE they would have had a better impression. At this point, she hadn’t spoken ill of him once to her family. He had been a big help to her. She didn’t dismiss her mom’s feelings though; her mom had always had something of a psychic ability — it was something she herself usually took pride in — being able to tell the good people from the bad. For her mom, the abilities presented themselves in the form of dreams, or strong intuition, and they were almost always right.
She shook her head. No, this can’t be right. Her boss was the kind of guy who would proudly talk about his sons working to help the homeless in poverty stricken countries. He was a church going man, in fact, she remembered a moment from one of her first business trips to Austin with him that still made her chuckle… They had settled in to their seats on the airplane and both reached for their iPads. As she eagerly launched the latest episode of one of her favorite shows (“American Horror Story”), she glanced over to see what he was watching. He wasn’t watching anything at all; he was reading the Bible. She smiled and shook her head — she didn’t think she would ever be as good of a person as him — but she sure was happy to have a role model like him in her life.
She had to think harder… what could be making her mom feel this way?
One of her favorite things about her boss was that he was such a “coach” in his personality style. She had played softball in high school and even had formed a championship winning parks and rec team in college. A coach, to her, represented a strong and honest character — one who truly believed in their team and had great ability to raise morale and bring people together. Her perspective may have been jaded as softball was really a way for her to get out of a home filled with intense, ongoing, family quarrels. She played outfield, third and was the star pitcher on her college parks and rec team. She had even played a couple of seasons on the Apple teams. Now that she thought about it… this raised a good point.
Her group in iTunes had a softball team; her boss was the coach. She had repeatedly asked him to play on the team and he always had a quick joke to dismiss her. This was confusing to her… she recalled how he even had two of his nieces on the team (who were also her co-workers), it couldn’t just be a female thing. At one point, she even remembered one of his nieces complaining about having to play — she wasn’t in to it. She had assumed he didn’t let her play because most of the people on the team were people that he had known for years ( 20+ years in a few cases).
She shrugged it off — that was just softball. That didn’t have anything to do with work… did it? She moved on in her head. What else could her mom be sensing?
They wrapped up lunch, and she headed back to her desk. She thought about other instances when she had been frustrated by her boss. There was the obvious sore spot when he wouldn’t listen to her severe warnings about the recent transition they did, causing them to lose significant amounts of important data. He HAD stood up in front of the whole group and admitted that they should have heeded the warnings… she KIND of felt better about that one.
When she had started experiencing what I’ll call “work interrupting sexism” in Austin (as described in “True Story: Hard Stop Sexism in a Meeting”), she did see other red flags for her boss…
- No Staff Meeting — After her boss was promoted because of the work done by her and her awesome co-workers, they were told they would need to fend for themselves for a while as he took over a much larger piece of the organization. HIS boss would take over staff meetings and any urgent issues. This, in theory, would have been great, except his boss had been at Apple for over 25 years and he (while SUPER nice) wasn’t super helpful when it came to work. When it came time to go to a staff meeting, because her boss no longer held his, she, as told, turned to his boss. She was told that because she was only an individual contributor (meaning, no direct reports), she would not be allowed to go to this staff meeting — the logic being that HR issues would be discussed in the meeting and only managers should be there. This frustrated her. She needed weekly updates and help from her team that would normally come out of a staff meeting. She consulted her husband (who worked pretty high up at Apple) to see if this was normal. He immediately shook his head and told her that in cases like this, managers should not exclude employees, rather save time at the end of the meeting to discuss HR issues (when other non-managers could leave). Over the course of months with no staff meeting to attend, she started to feel isolated and unaware of important information passed down through normal staff meetings. EVERYONE had a staff meeting to go to.
- Decisions Made on the Court/Field — Lunchtime was a popular time for the guys to get together and play basketball; having amenities like a good gym and basketball court are some of the perks of working at Apple. With her boss, it slowly became apparent that some of his decisions were being made on the court. They would have a meeting after lunch, and plans would have already been changed, often complicating her area of the business. Could the same thing be happening on the softball team? She felt like she was getting shut out… cornered even.
- Avoidance — She had fully understood when they told her that her boss would be busy for a while, but after six months of no communication with him, she desperately needed help. His boss wasn’t helpful, so she would start to seek her boss out again. He would avoid her, you know, the kind where she would spot him in a room and he would quickly look at his phone and disappear. If she went to his office, he would be too tied up with meetings, calls, or deliverables to help her. It almost felt like a bad breakup, only they were never going out.
- The Big Lie — The avoidance and isolation went on for months, taking a major toll on her. Her boss had been a friend to her, consoling her through both her father and uncle passing (encouraging her to take the time that she needed), so when he came to her strongly suggesting she take a mental leave of absence, she had to consider it. He pushed her, saying that he was very worried about her — he promised her that if she took his recommended mental leave of absence, she would be able to come back and work on a different project. She trusted him, and took his advice. When she came back, he told her that if she couldn’t do the same job, then he didn’t have a job for her. She was crushed.
“Jasmin, I have a wife.”
She stared at her boss. She was trying to understand the context. She raised her eyebrows and said, “I have a husband, what’s your point?”
That afternoon, she had decided to confront her boss. She headed in to his office and asked him directly, “WHY? Why did you leave me alone this past year with no support, no guidance, and why does it seem like you are avoiding me?” She was confused, exhausted, bewildered, and ready for an answer. Her mom’s reaction to him was a needed catalyst.
“I said, I have a wife. When she keeps hearing your name at home, that’s a problem,” he muttered.
She paused, “Why do you talk about me at home with your wife?
“Because I’m worried about you. You haven’t been doing well,” he responded.
Her eyes narrowed, “So if my name were Mike, or Joe, or any other male name… I would have had the support I needed over this last year? Instead, you chose to isolate, avoid, and demoralize me because YOUR WIFE WAS JEALOUS? This project put me on Zoloft — the only time in my life I’ve needed mental health medication, and for this??”
She was crushed. It was hard to breathe. She had dealt with men who couldn’t handle their school boy crushes on her before, but in this context, by her boss and mentor, it was devastating.
She had been through so much in her life… her career was her liberation from her dark family life growing up. It was her independence. She had been working since she was 14 years old and she had never planned to stop. She LIKED being productive, it gave her purpose. Working at Apple, and especially in iTunes, was her DREAM come true. She had already been there nine years and she had planned to retire there. She used to remember fondly walking through the doors to Infinite Loop 3, and calling Apple “Shangri-La”… only now it had become a very dark place.
Over the next few weeks, she utilized all of her resources. She tried working with HR — she had hoped that their female HR contact would understand or have some empathy. Like a robot, it was as though she was trained to belittle and undervalue her words. Her clear statements of how the men would not listen to her when she spoke in meetings, then when she went to her boss for help and how he didn’t because of his wife — they all went to deaf ears. Nothing was done. She pleaded with Employee Relations, after all, all employees had to complete those terrible business conduct training sessions… this was not allowed, right?
There HAD to be something to protect her from her boss isolating her, then dropping her like a booster rocket (to learn more about how bad managers use booster rockets, read: “Booster Rockets in the Workforce”).
There wasn’t; they acted like she was the problem. Her boss had left her with nothing to work on, no support, the whole team seeing her as a failure, and all after riding her hard work in to his new, shiny position. It was too easy to sweep her away. With no willpower to try any longer, and no hope for change, in order to take care of her mental health and self value, she quit. She walked away from her dream job, a lot of money in RSU’s, from friends and what she had known for the last 9 years. It was one of the saddest days in her life.
As promised, I’ve created a Facebook group to join ladies who have experienced ANY KIND of sexual discrimination or harassment. Don’t let others define how you are allowed to feel.