What a woman must NOT do when fired

Here is a beautiful story about my friend Judy Adams.

The story of Judy Adams
(captured by Maureen Fitzgerald, PhD., LLM, JD, BComm 6 August 2012)

 When Judy Adams got fired from her job as General Manager with a large international hotel chain, she thought things could not get worse. Having climbed the corporate ladder for over 22 years and becoming a top performer in the corporation, she was sure there was some mistake. She called the best employment lawyer in Vancouver to help her get her job back, but instead she found herself being dragged into three years of litigation hell.

And although she ultimately won her case at trial and the judge found the corporation liable for wrongful dismissal the $450K+ award did not cover her $600,000+ legal fees, nor the emotional rollercoaster and crushing of her career and self-esteem.  

 What went wrong?

Judy is beautiful – inside and out. She is smart, witty, fit and sensitive. She is an educated and experienced business professional. As a star employee she worked hard and propelled many people along in their careers. She is not stupid. She went into this “dismissal nightmare” with her eyes wide-open and made difficult decisions all the way along.
But what Judy later discovered is that she could never win. No matter what she did, no matter how powerful her brain, she was working within a culture and institutions that were built hundreds of years ago – that were designed to keep her down. And although these institutions wreak havoc (usually on those with little power) because they are invisible they go unseen and unchallenged.

And unfortunately Judy had two institutions to battle with: the corporate system and the legal system. As she came to know, both these systems are set up in a way so that certain people have access to power, while others do not. The rules were made to keep the power at the top and to allow those with certain characteristics and lots of money access to this power.

As for the rest of us, well – talk to Judy. “I have learned that although I was a “successful woman” in a big corporation, I was disposable. This is the corporate model. It allows those in power do frankly illegal &/or unethical things and never really held accountable or suffer personally. They are protected by a corporate shell and group think.”

In her case it was very clear, “The lawyers representing the hotel chain are estimated to have spent over a million dollars defending senior executives whose actions were wrong.  And the people who fired me never had to pay a penny or suffer any consequences. The corporate system gives those in power immunity – and then hides the evidence.”

And to make matters worse, when Judy decided to fight for what she legally and morally deserved, she had to engage in another similar system – the legal system- which not only prevented her from getting her what she deserved, but actually exacerbated the problem.  “And to add insult to irony, I beat myself up after telling myself that I had a choice and I must have made the wrong one. But looking back, what choice did I have? I had no job. My career track had been crushed. If I did not hire a lawyer, they would have gotten away with it and I would have been in serious financial difficulties. ” The irony – that this is where she ended up- is not lost on her.

Judy survived with help of her family and friends. She re-mortgaged her home & ultimately sold the family home, suffered from personal stress causing health issues and staggered through the complete disruption of her career, home life and self-esteem.  Still Judy is not bitter; she simply wants others to learn from her mistakes to avoid an experience that is a no win situation. She wants women (and men) to know her story – not just to help women make different choices, but to draw attention to the “invisible systems” that prevent women from getting what they deserve.

So here is Judy’s advise, for those who find themselves in a similar situation. “First and foremost, do not allow yourself to feel shame. Those who fire you want you to go away with your tail between your legs. Know that firing (wrongly or rightly) happens to people every single day and the reason we do not hear about it is because the shaming has been successful.”

“And as for my learning about how our traditional systems keep powerful women back, I think you need to know three things:
1.       As for the corporate system: Recognize that there exist deep-rooted stereotypes and discrimination at play. Women have less access to power and are told that the system is fair, and they simply need to work harder at fitting in. Speak louder, dress in dark colours, moral courage is not valued so always do as you are told and never criticize a man in public etc. . And when things go wrong, don’t look to the men who worked beside you year after year. The system is not personal, you know.

2.       As for the legal system: In situations where there is a serious financial imbalance of power (think team of corporate lawyers versus Judy) neither the courts nor non-court negotiation are effective. The truth is that you must pay to get your day in court or pay a negotiator. As most lawyers know, the legal system is not designed to do many things – like get jobs back. And sadly, in many cases it allows victims to be re-victimized. Stay away from the law if at all possible.

3.       As for women in power: Women are particularly vulnerable in our culture. Not only do we think we know the rules, we actually follow them. Meanwhile the men are all laughing hysterically.  These invisible rules rarely work for women and sadly, do significant harm. Women, who have scaled the ladder, do so at a very high cost. They not only, rarely make it, they lose touch in their attempts and with “what they know for sure”. Many adopt a masculine way of being, cutting themselves off from their feminine intelligence. And it is this intelligence that needs to be released into the world, not only for a woman’s own personal growth, but also for the evolution of the whole world. Never allow a system to squeeze it out of you. END

copyright Maureen F Fitzgerald, PhD

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