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What We Can Learn From Bullies About Business

What We Can Learn From Bullies About Business

This weekend I watched Sally Kohn’s TED Talk, “What we can do about the culture of hate.” It was the most powerful 17.5 minutes I’ve watched in a while, and I found it to be particularly relevant for the world we live in now, where we grapple with the corrosive effects of hate. We see its ugliness in our public discourse; and Sally makes the point that sexual harassment is also a form of hate.

Sally starts the talk by confessing that she was a bully as a child. Try to watch it without feeling like you’ve been punched in the gut.

For me, it hit home because I was bullied as an adolescent.

I was that kid who was forced to eat lunch alone in middle school, was one of the last ones picked for the class teams (I remember the shame of standing there alone as the other girls were chosen), was mocked for my too-short, homemade skirts. It got so bad that my grades fell and my mother took me out and sent me to another school, where I made a fresh start and flourished.

Being bullied — or being a bully — as a child shapes you as an adult.

After I was “reorganized out” of running Merrill Lynch, one of my friends asked me if I would close up shop and head back to my hometown. But there’s part of me that wants to prove to the bullies — the ones in middle school, and the ones who told me to “sit down and shut up” when I expressed a different-than-the-guys’ opinion while working on Wall Street — that we can help change women’s lives through investing and financial planning. And that women aren’t just a “niche market” to be targeted through some “don’t buy that latte this week, invest that money instead” perky marketing program.

Sally makes the case that a solution to hatred is familiarity: Living in neighborhoods or going to school or working with people who are different from you.

That may be one reason why men who have daughters tend to become greater champions for women in the workplace, and it may be one reason why diverse companies have less harassment.

It’s thus probably not a coincidence that male venture capitalists with daughters post better performance than those without, and that diverse leadership teams outperform non-diverse ones. It would follow that removing hate — removing bias — is an unmitigated positive ... for so many reasons, and also for performance.

Last week’s newsletter addressed the concept that everything that’s good for women is also good for men. (Think family leave, think wheelie suitcases.) Sally’s important TED Talk reminds us that the opposite is true: That hatred and harassment leave us all worse off. Hate hurts us all, not just those who are bullied but also those who hate.

This piece was originally featured in the Ellevest newsletter, What The Elle.

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