My topic at Executive Secretary LIVE in London on March 29th was “The Elephant in the Room: Workplace Bullying.” Thanks to Lucy Brazier, the publisher of this ground-breaking magazine you are reading, it was the first time I have ever given an entire presentation on this topic.
Workplace bullying has been a passion (okay, obsession) with me since writing “Be the Ultimate Assistant” in 2004. In the research, I’ve spoken with business leaders, psychologists, leadership experts, authors, and assistants. What I know is there is an undeniable connection between the way assistants are treated in the workplace and their ability to thrive and succeed. The feedback from the presentation has been the strongest of my career. I am grateful to Lucy for giving me the opportunity to, as she whispered to me after it was over, get naked and speak the truth. As women who have experienced bullying, at least we were naked together along with many others, if you know what I mean.
This was my second time at LIVE and I have to say that the experience was even more powerful this year. There were 170 assistants from 17 countries in our space at the Grange St. Paul’s. This is what I learned as an American in London. I had an unforgettable blast.
HUMAN CONNECTIONS – What made this LIVE even more impactful for me was that I knew so many PAs who were in the room. Really knew them. I had met some at the Hays Conference in 2012, more at last year’s LIVE and even more at our Ultimate Assistant workshop in November. We have stayed in touch over email and Linked In. All of this meant that by the time we all started showing up on March 26th, it felt like a party of professional colleagues and friends who care about the same things. We were all so very happy to be together in person. The energy was electric and palpable as more and more PAs gathered. You could actually feel it.
As one of a handful of Americans at LIVE, I felt right at home. I loved hearing all the accents! We were a colorful and gorgeous United Nations of Assistants to which everyone belonged. I learned once again that PAs have so much more in common than not. We are the same.
So when the music started us off on Saturday morning bright and early at 9AM, we danced! It was spontaneous and it was joyful. We danced in celebration of the relief of knowing we are not alone and in celebration of what was about to happen. It truly was a “Happy” dance that lasted 3 minutes and then the magic continued on that life-changing day thanks to Lucy, Melba Duncan, Victoria Darragh, Sue France, Vickie Evans, Shirley Taylor, Debbie Gross and Duncan Slater.
The power of these personal / professional connections is like rocket fuel for the professional spirit and the soul. The PAs from the UK and Prague and Turkey and and and…The smiles and hugs translated into “how can I help you?” While email and technology is fantastic, there is simply no substitute for looking into someone’s eyes and really seeing them and understanding. The fire inside gets lit very easily and witnessing one another make uncomfortable walls come down. That’s the time to seize our opportunity for real change.
Connections were happening at lunch and on the coffee breaks. I could see groups of women with their heads together brainstorming and problem-solving and sharing stories. There was a lot of laughter and even some tears. Mentoring was happening right before our eyes. The best way to have a mentor? Be one. Women take easily to leadership when the door is opened.
I learned that there is a great benefit for all of us to slow down long enough to listen to the answer of, “How are you? What’s been happening with you?” Facts came flooding back. Who had been looking for work and found it. Who had been working to step up her skills and did it. Who finally stood up to her bully colleague and it worked out better than she dared to dream!
At the Grange, it was easy to see that PAs are 95-98% female which is what all the statistics state. I spoke of Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” (please read it) and I asked the PAs if they believe that we need to reject the old stereotypes of women in favor of a new way. They enthusiastically said YES. What this means is that women need to help other women, generously and without keeping score. Doing this will change the world. Begin today.
Facebook, Linked In and Twitter are game-changers for our profession. It is the way we are staying connected in meaningful ways. As Vickie Evans and I flew back to America over the pond, I felt full of energy and optimism for the future of our profession. While there may be many problems still to solve and much room for improvement in our global workplace, there is no group of people better equipped to take on these challenges. PAs are the brightest and most resourceful people in the workplace. Let’s keep getting clear on what we need to do and do it.”