Learning from the Boss

Images I had breakfast with someone this morning and it made me think about work environments.  Then later in the day I met with someone who is of the same generation and we talked about collaboration among non-profits in Africa.  That collaboration is better for everyone.  When we share resources and ideas the outcome is better for everyone from the top down.  I am a big believer in collaboration but many people of older generations, particularly women, were always of mindset of having sharp elbows to hold down their territory probably because they weren't always embraced to be part of the team. 

When I worked at Macy's, fresh out of college,  I found that there was definitely a group of women who screamed louder, back stabbed better and worked four times as hard as any of the men who were at the same level.  As a young aggressive bull in a China shop, I found that behavior concerning that women didn't seem to be treated as equals and wondered if I should sharpen my elbows too. 

I was in my third job at Macy's which was an assistant store manager of the New Rochelle store.  I loved that job.  I was responsible for 1/3 of the store and I over saw cosmetics and all of womens ready-to-wear.  I loved helping each person who worked for me grow in their career and teach them the business.  Being able to make daily changes that would directly effect the numbers of each individual business was rewarding. 

I learned so much in that job.  I happened to work for an amazing woman who was all about collaboration.  After working for one woman who created the fear of god in everyone and wasn't very warm to a woman who was dumb as a post and just fed on her power over me to a woman that created a cult like atmosphere, the store manager of New Rochelle was so refreshing. 

She taught me about the power of being a woman and using it.  Every 6-8 weeks the men (literally) who were the top brass at Macys at the time would come visit the store.  It gave the store an opportunity to basically clean house prior to the visit.  Every store room would be cleaned, every floor would be organized and the place would shine.  The men would walk through each department and the sales managers would come out to shake hands and introduce themselves and answer a few questions.  As the assistant store manager, I would walk them through my areas and recite data that they wanted to hear and answer questions. 

Every morning, the store manager would always ring me.  Every been in a store and hear those bells.  Every person at a certain level has a certain bell.   I'd hear my bell and I'd call a number which was the store managers to find out what was up.  She would come in the morning and sometimes ask me to come upstairs to give her a fb (french braid).  You spent so many hours there it was like a family and she was wonderful. 

The day of the visit I got there early and as usual heard my bell.  I called and she asked me to come upstairs to prep for the day.  I was wearing my black suit.  I walk upstairs and see that she is wearing a tight black leather mini skirt with a tight red sweater and 4" heels.  She had an incredible figure.  When I saw her my mouth dropped.  I said "did you forget who is coming today?"  She just smiled and said, "I know exactly who is coming today and I believe you should use everything that you got." 

She was incredibly smart saavy and chic.  She taught me an invaluable lesson too.  Be yourself and if that means standing in 4" shoes then do it. 


Comments (Archived):

  1. AnaRC

    I love this story.  We often undermine our assets due to fear of rejection or an arrogance that really hides our insecurities.  When I was a manager at the UN, the women were in constant power wars.  It was a tough environment (we were 7 women and 82 male managers in a very technical agency and I was the only mom among the 7).  It was sad to see such smart women often reject their own femininity.  

    1. Gotham Gal

      we need to embrace femininity not hide it somewhere.

  2. ellen

    interesting. Evidently what I think is appropriate  business wear  is no longer the norm.I saw a you tube video of a friend and powerful woman and her breasts were almost totally exposed at a business conference

    1. Gotham Gal

      casual is fine exposed is another. suits are just not necessary. being yourself is applauded.

  3. Andy Ellis

    That’s a great story. Much of my childhood was spent in a department store (Belk) where my dad managed one, then several, and eventually was part of the ‘brass.’ He liked working on the floor much better, but it was interesting for me growing up to see some of the themes you highlighted here and never put too much thought into. It was normal life, I associated the people that took good care of themselves and valued their presentation as the more successful. I’m sure it’s always a delicate balance, but what an asset it was for those that had their sense of style down!Thanks for the lost, it brought back some good memories.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Department stores are unique internal places. Love that your dad was part of that world

  4. ellen

    call me old fashioned but when a physician walks in with an armful of bracelets and stiletto boots to tell me a relative has cancer I just can’t take the moment properly. It doesn’t seem like proper business attire for her occupation.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I get it. Perhaps industry appropriate

  5. Tereza

    Great story!I’ve had some really awesome women bosses and am thankful for it. Only one that was really truly bad (ironically, she was at the time pursuing a degree in ‘managing people’. Oy.)All these good ones were like “work what you have!” and actually so were my male bosses, too. In a place that is customer or client service, you don’t want to leave any advantage behind if it might make that sale.One trick I learned was — if you want to move up, actually a part-time mom of young kids who’s experienced and smart is pretty great to work for, because she is beyond time constrained and looking to delegate big pieces of work and also have eyes and ears looking out for her when she’s not there. I had someone like this and she gave me so much incredible opportunity. And I always had her back. We were a great team and I’d work for her in a heartbeat.Funny thing is though she (and some of the other women I’d worked for) had these reputations of spitting people out. But I just didn’t see this as the case at all. What I did see was they had 5 minutes compared to other’s 15 minutes on an issue, so no time to F around and mince words. And particularly the guys were sensitive to this. But if I did a ‘here’s what I think you should do and why’ they always loved it.

  6. Melissa Kushner

    Love this story Joanne. Each one of us has so many secrets to share. From the little tricks up your sleeve to the major no no’s. I have learned so much from so many people – older, younger, smarter and not as smart…its all about learning from each other and being the best that we can be – break out the 4″ heels!!!

    1. Gotham Gal

      and it is about collaboration…