Raise the Red Lantern: or What to Do When Women Fight at Work

Darling, ‘soft power’ at work means getting unfair perks because you are on good terms with the boss. Unfortunately it is often the result of women trying to out-giggle each other and the necessary corrective is to watch Raise the Red Lantern.

Raise the Red Lantern is an instructional horror film (you will notice that the villain’s face is never seen!). At the beginning of the movie, you think that the women are all ghastly, then you gradually realize the problem is not the women – it’s the man who set up a unfair, unwinnable competitive system. As women fall apart (death, insanity) the evil dictator sails serenely on.

Watch this movie and watch it again. See the young, beautiful heroine decide to stay out of the fight but then join in, only to lose her way, causing mayhem for herself and others. Then re-think your strategy at work. I have lived through enough Raise the Red Lantern scenarios to know that withdrawal is the only effective tactic. If you have an evil boss who pits women against each other – leave the job or leave the fight. There are no other alternatives that will preserve your soul.

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, we speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen: fighting for the bosses’ attention is something that you should not be any part of.

A and B were hired at the same time and went all-in to see who could butter up Boss X in order to get to work with the more important clients; B was ahead for a while, but A eventually won. Then Boss X was demoted and Boss Y took over. A lost her protector and was suddenly vulnerable. A had snubbed B and all the other women on the team but, without the protection of Boss X, she changed tactics and became super friendly and polite, to no avail. A year of preening self-importance had alienated A from her co-workers.

B went on to establish a beach-head with the Boss Z. All was going well until C was hired. Within months C became Boss Z’s favorite, was given prime accounts to manage and put in charge of an important task force. B seethed.

When B came to me to complain, I tried to explain that I felt sorry for C. C has unfair privileges based on her ability, her smiles and her flattery – a position that should evoke pity, not envy.

B could not understand my pity. I tried to explain: “C honestly believes that clients want to work with a beautiful woman. She knows she has these accounts because of her knowledge AND her fabulous looks. She knows she does not have the best credentials for the work she is doing now, so she lives in fear, waiting for another woman to become the favorite of Boss Z. She’s not on solid footing and she knows it.”

30 years in this industry and I know serious clients don’t care if you look like Frankenstein, they want results. I love Aveda, Rituals, Lush, Clinique, Body Shop, Penhaligon, This Works, Charlotte Tilbury and every French fashion house but I am resolutely, resoundingly, perennially, professionally, boringly, bland at work (Darling, I know it is difficult to think of me as bland given the number of glitter-sparkle platform heels I own, but keep the pink feather boas for nightlife and weekends!)

B did not believe me, nor take my advice to concentrate on her career and stay away from the competition for Boss Z’s attention. She went after revenge in the quiet, brutal way women have when someone tries to take away something they got unfairly. B pretended to be C’s friend and gifted her an item to wear that B knew would make C look ridiculous. C wore it and looked ridiculous. B preened with joy. Sigh.

Darling, don’t behave like this. This is not the path to truth, joy, peace and harmony. In-fighting with other women leads to gum disease, wrinkles, tension and foot odor that no peppermint oil on earth can solve.

Darling, you must never, never be party to such hostilities. Lose salary, lose bonuses, lose promotions, lose chances but never lose yourself. Find mentors as you can and look smashing, but never take a benefit that you don’t deserve or, at least, share your opportunities. When C was given the three important clients, she should have taken one or two, and recommended B be given the rest. If she had shared, C would now have an ally at work. Instead C has an implacable enemy she isn’t aware of. Think about the long-term objectives, not immediate gains.

If you see women fighting – give a soupçon of advice as you can and then leave them alone. Build a career on your capabilities and watch Raise the Red Lantern when you are tempted to accept a dinner invitation from your boss.