Today, I’m going to go where, if you’re a woman, you’re never supposed to go. And that forbidden zone is to talk about the perils of women at work—and specifically, about that most fearsome of office creatures, the bad female boss. “Gird your loins!” Stanley Tucci warns as his tyrannical female boss, played by Meryl Streep, approaches in “The Devil Wears Prada.” Having survived a veritable parade of bad female bosses, my loins are fully girded.
Aware that I’ll now probably have to enroll in the Witness Protection Program anyway, I’ll just come right out and say it: I’d rather work for a man.
Correction: I’d rather work for a man than a wine-guzzling, insecure, jealous woman who’s more focused on rivalry and one-upmanship, or should I say, one-upwomanship, than in getting any actual work done.Which is to say, almost every woman I’ve ever worked for.
Working my way up to director of PR for a major financial company, I had only one good female boss—an erudite woman who embodied grace and truth and principles. She actually wanted me to succeed and did everything within her power to help me. She left two years after hiring me to go get a master’s degree at Harvard.
Aside from that one lovely exception, I was far more experienced in working for glorious train wrecks. I had the incompetent-because-she-was-young female boss, the boss-who-avoided-direct-communication-like-it–was-Ebola female boss, and the really-just-a-lady–who-lunched-but-wanted-to-be-able-to-say-she-had-a-job female boss.
Most recently, I survived the regime of Vicky*, by far the most wrecked, whose mantra seemed to be, “I’m a miserable human being, and I hate other women, so I’m going to grind the sharp point of my stiletto into your back.” She was the Queen of Snarky Comments. They ranged from scathing commentary on my afternoon snack of a handful of almonds, (“That’s your snack? That’s what I eat for dinner…”), to how I dressed, (“Those are interesting shoes. They look like knock-offs of a pair of Manolos I had six seasons ago…”), and who I dated, (“You have a boyfriend? Well, it won’t last. Trust me, I’m psychic.”). But I let them roll off; I’d come to expect that from corporate females.
Shortly into working for her, the C-level executive in charge of sales and marketing (and therefore a man, of course, since the C-levels in finance are pretty much always men), announced we would fly to New York to give a presentation to a major client. Vicky made it clear that she’d rather burn her Manolo collection than bring me lest I have even the slightest visibility to anyone vaguely important. But C-level execs must be obeyed, so fly down to New York I did.
“So … what’s the presentation on?” I asked Vicky the night before the big presentation, once it was clear she wasn’t going to volunteer any information.
“Don’t worry about it,” she snapped, narrowing her eyes and turning away in her custom-tailored suit. “You’re just here to observe.”
Her secrecy turned out to be an unfortunate choice for both of us. That night, Vicky got epically drunk at a business dinner. So drunk, in fact, that a few slides into her presentation the next morning, she ran from the room to vomit and I was forced to step up and give the mystery presentation to a roomful of men in her stead. As an extra-special treat, Vicky then made me take care of her on the floor of the public bathroom for the rest of the workday.
Surprisingly, this was not the end of Vicky’s career or her eyebrow-raising shenanigans. This senior vice president at a major financial services company continued to create some truly notable corporate memories—including belting out a medley of old show tunes on a mandatory shuttle bus ride full of our colleagues, executing crotch-flashing scissor kicks at the podium of as a “warm-up exercise” for executives at a national conference, accusing me of plotting a coup d’état to overthrow her and take her job (dammit, if only I had thought of that!), and telling me that she didn’t like my “rebellious breathing.”
There was, however, an upside to working for Vicky: Life under her was so untenable, I finally gathered the chutzpah to start hatching an escape plan. I enrolled in yoga teacher training. It took me 15 months of nights and weekends, but I got certified and was eventually able to leave the corporate world behind and start a new chapter of my life. The yoga world is certainly not without its eccentric characters, but I’ve yet to be accused of “rebellious breathing,” and I definitely haven’t had to clean up any vomit. For those reasons alone, I consider my yoga gig to be a huge improvement in my quality of life.
* Name has been changed.
Sara DiVello is the author of Where in the OM Am I? Sara teaches yoga and lives in Boston with her husband and their eleven-pound rescue mutt, Peluda. To learn more, please visit her website or find her on Facebook or Twitter.