One year, six months and four days ago, I submitted my letter of resignation. The job had been far from what I imagined it would be, but almost every job is. I left not because it was unfulfilling, but because it was a toxic environment. I no longer wanted the career, much less the paycheck.
I’d started at the job 20 months prior. Along the way, horrific things had happened: my boss had slept a lot, during the day and at his desk; the suborganization I worked for sank further into disrepair and debt, which made me scared they’d eliminate my position; the broader organization experienced firings left and right; a board member called his subordinate a vulgar name on a team strategy call; that subordinate yelled at and thoroughly embarrassed me in a meeting I coordinated; I got questions from multiple board members about my boss’ fundraising inaction; I reported some of these things to human resources, with the hope that systemic changes would be made; my boss’ boss learned of this report and threatened me in a meeting he’d never turn over notes about; I felt continually more hopeless. Three days before I left, my boss’ boss publicly humiliated me in an all staff meeting, giving all of my coworkers the impression that I’d been terminated. In reality, I’d given over seven weeks of notice, to give them time to figure out transition – especially with regard to the budget.
They never did. Two months after I left, my former boss sent me repeated emails asking for my help making sense of the budget. There was no indication that he recognized I had no obligation to them, or that I’d given more than 3x the customary amount of notice. There was no offer of payment. I knew I had no moral obligation to help them, and that doing so would be psychologically destructive. I asked my now husband if I had a legal obligation to save their asses, still scared of being retaliated against. He laughed. “No. You owe them nothing. You did too much. They didn’t take this seriously when you turned in your letter of resignation, or in the weeks that followed it. You don’t owe them shit.” So, I pretended I never got them. It wasn’t my problem they were desperate.
Less than five months after I left, both my former boss and his boss were fired. These were the same men who’d respectively left me to flounder and retaliated against me again and again. And as soon as they were fired, people asked me: “Aren’t you just thrilled that [boss] and [boss’ boss] got fired? Don’t you feel so good?” It was a deeply disturbing question. No, I wasn’t happy that men with families to feed suddenly had no income -- much less thrilled. What's more, the organization suffered. I suffered: I’d been damaged professionally, and lost both time and money as a result of it. Them getting fired was karma in action, sure, but it didn’t make me whole. In fact, no one cared if I was whole. No one sent me a thank you note that said, “We realize in hindsight that you were right. Can we pay you for it? Can we in some other way compensate for it? Can we meet you in person to tell you what a wonderful job you did trying to take care of a fledgling organization? It’s a shame we didn’t listen to you then. We were wrong. You leaving taught us how much you’d been doing, and we cleaned house. Will you please give us a chance to fix this?” So, no, I didn't feel vindicated, either.
You know why no one ever sent that letter and, more importantly, why no one ever will? Because, in general, people refuse to self-examine. Self-examining is hard, even painful. In this instance, self-examination at the highest levels of these organizations (big and small) would have required admitting that these men had no accountability for years. It would have required examining strategies and leadership that were ineffective at best, counterproductive at worst. It would have required a deep dive into stupid spending trends. It would have led to a cost-benefit analysis no one wanted. By firing these men, this painful undertaking was avoided. Which means these men were fired at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons.
I mention this because Matt Lauer was fired today. #SomewhereAnnCurry trended after that, essentially suggesting that Ann Curry was celebrating or feeling vindicated. But, if she’s anything like me, I’m guessing she isn’t. Matt Lauer was fired because he was a liability in this day and age, not because he was awful to her. The damage done to her can never be undone. The desperation she felt was disregarded. The devastation she felt was ignored. They chose him over her. She wasn’t the reason they got rid of him. Her career hasn’t been restored. If they’d attempted to see things from her perspective, things might have been different for her and the other women Matt Lauer worked with. But they didn’t. They chose the man and money over her. The short-term outcome was that Matt Lauer was emboldened; the long-term damage was to the women he worked with and, just as importantly, to the organization.
Ann Curry and I don’t celebrate. We still grieve. Okay? The men who wronged us getting fired makes very little difference. The problems are much more systemic.