I attended a meeting a few months ago to pitch an idea to a brand. The meeting itself was with a “middle-man”: a conduit between ourselves and the brand in question. In terms of the power dynamic, she had the budget, the ear of the client and the meeting took place at her office. Throughout the meeting, she beamed at us, nodding encouragingly and looked enthusiastic, but intermittently, with that same beaming smile, she would drop a stealth bomb. So stealthy, you might not recognise it the first or second time, but then you notice them coming thick and fast:  “Oh, but you’re quite small aren’t you?” “We all have to start somewhere”. “Well done girls”.

And therein lies the rub. Patronising, belittling digs, wrapped up as innocent commentary.

And you think – we have KILLED ourselves to get here. The challenges we have overcome, the sacrifices we have made, the stereotypes we’ve had to endure; yet we are sitting here presenting our brand – a brand we have built with our own hands – to your global client and you’re demeaning us. Why?

It’s a weird power-play I’ve noticed that is specific to female inter-relations in a work environment. Men can be bombastic and overbearing, but they are direct – they get to the point, regardless of a confrontation. Women however, can create these multi-layered communication styles, so that they can administer a lethal injection whilst looking like the most enthusiastic person in the room.  And it’s all a tactic to remind you of rank and hierarchy.

In a previous meeting in London, after sprinting across one side of the city to the other in the baking heat, we arrived on time to a meeting we had especially flown over for.  We had a 45-minute window before we had to leave to make our return flight. The senior female executive arrived in with her junior male executive, a breezy 15 minutes later, with no explanation. We flagged that we now had half an hour for the meeting, to which she replied “oh, I imagine we’ll only need ten minutes”. She then sat there beaming and nodding at us and proceeded to wrap up the meeting before we had even managed to have a sip of water. Even her executive looked puzzled. But we stood our ground and explained we had flown over specifically for this meeting at their request and we required some more feedback. With that same beaming smile, she stated we had “a lovely little business” and they would be in touch soon. With a dismissive nod, we were excused from the meeting.

Again, it felt like a power-play…her tectonic plates had been shifted by the mere fact we mentioned we had a much-shortened time-frame and her response was to patronise and demean, almost showing off in front of her (male) junior exec.

It feels like the same issues from a generation before – women have to work excruciatingly hard to get a seat at the table…and only so many seats are reserved for women. So they will do everything they can to hang onto that seat – instead of CREATING MORE SPACE AT THE TABLE!

And I just think; that Jellyfish Queen has a daughter or a sister or a Mother. Doesn’t she want them to succeed? To get ahead? Doesn’t she want to pay it forward and create more opportunities for women to succeed?

So, how do you deal with the Jellyfish Queen?

–          Ask her to repeat herself. Having to repeat something that was meant to evaporate makes it more real and concrete and makes it more accountable.

–          Ask for clarification – this is a sure way to ruffle her feathers: “Could you explain why you think X, Y, Z”

–          Defend yourself – in a calm, neutral tone, with a big smile on your face. The whole point of the Jellyfish Sting is to “shock and awe” you – the best thing you can do is actually fight back.

–          Be REAL – don’t resort to those passive-aggressive and bitchy tactics, no matter how much they warrant it. Otherwise you’re compounding the problem.

–         Nurture new talent – commit to being positive, supportive, enthusiastic and forward-thinking so that the new generation can change the dynamic.

Tell us your experiences of the Jellyfish Queen and how you addressed the issue.

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