After the conference I went back to New York and plunged myself into the new job. I hadn’t heard back from Sheryl or her book researcher so I put it out of my mind and focused on work. Things went smoothly for about two weeks when suddenly, I became a victim of workplace bias. I don’t mean bias toward men, but toward those in power. More specifically, toward the whims of a powerful female executive named Kimberly, who for a reason I couldn’t quite discern, was silently enraged that I existed.
My third week on the job, we had our first meeting together, just the two of us. Up to that point, I held Kimberly in the highest regard. She had also worked at Google, and although I didn’t know her directly, she had a tremendous reputation and was well liked by almost everyone.
Kimberly was also the person who finally convinced me to join Facebook. During the recruitment process, she showered me with outlandish compliments and knew exactly what to say to make me feel like…. she gets me. Her enthusiasm and flattery were so over the top it bordered on cartoonish, but all my ego could see was validation and the promise of accolades on the horizon. At one point, I did hear a small voice in my head whisper, “she doesn’t even know you,” which in retrospect, was big flashing red warning sign sent from my subconscious. But unwilling to have its parade rained on, my ego insisted, “she must have heard how great I am from George,’ a mutual friend who now worked for her. So humble of me, I know.
I approached Kimberly outside the conference room for our meeting, and right away, I sensed that her attitude toward me had changed. As the door clicked shut behind us, the fake, perfunctory smile vanished from her lips and a look of icy annoyance flashed across her face. Outside the door frame, where the world was watching, she was one person. Sitting across from me, where I was the only witness, she had transformed into someone entirely different.
It reminded me of Large Marge from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. The scene that haunted me as a child; the image of her human mask being ripped off and eye balls shooting out like yo yo’s from alien-like sockets. I understood Pee Wee’s terror as he watched the shocking transformation of Large Marge. Some of the scariest moments in life are when we find out we’re not dealing with the person we thought we were.
I’ll never forget the smug look of anticipation on Kimberly’s face as we sat down. Whatever she was about to say, she was going to enjoy it.
“Marissa, I’m going to give you a little bit of feedback.”
Hm, that was odd, considering I’d worked there for a total of 8 days and still didn’t know how to use Outlook. But sure, I’m always open to feedback!
“We hired you because we know you’re good. So you don’t have to go around trying to prove it to everyone. You’re coming off as frazzled and out of control.”
The punches to the gut kept coming. I ask too many questions. I’m never happy. I’m trying too hard. I spoke up just once during all of this, and it was to ask,
“Are there specific examples you can share that would help me understand why I’m appearing this way?”
She paused, started to go in one direction, then seemed to change her mind. With a dismissive brush of her hand, she answered,
“Look Marissa, you’re just not the same person you were in the interview process.”
Funny, I was just thinking the same thing about you! But ok, I get what this is now. After the tongue lashing, we walked out of the conference room together, and her persona of lovely, benevolent leader returned. Just in time for her to be seen by anyone that actually mattered.
The following months were a blur. I was supposed to be Kimberly’s marketing and strategy partner, but her disdain for me made it impossible. Not to let a pesky thing like my humanity get in the way of her desire to make me disappear, she refused to acknowledge my existence or engage me directly. Not replying to my emails and having deleted all of our meetings from the calendar, I found it almost impossible to do my job, or to do anything really. The problem was compounded by the fact that I was brand new and didn’t know anybody yet. Kimberly on the other hand, had a sterling reputation and had been at Facebook for over three years. I tried talking to my manager about what was going on, but she only knew Kimberly by her perky, public mask. She assumed that we were dealing with a normal situation that could easily be solved with mature, grown up communication.
My attempts to explain what was really happening only made me look bad. “Sheeee won’t talkkk to meeeee!” doesn’t come off quite the same way in the office as it does in the schoolyard. I would start to tell someone, then stop when I heard how petty and immature it made me sound. Panicked about not being able to do my job, and not having anyone to confide in about it, I started feeling isolated and depressed.
One night I went out to dinner with a few old co-workers from Google. When they asked how things were going at Facebook, I danced around the subject a bit. But as soon as I mentioned Kimberly, my friend Jocelyn quickly interrupted.
“Wait, you’re working with Kimberly?? Ok I know what this is about.”
Jocelyn spent several years working for Kimberly, and for the majority of it, things were great. But one day, everything suddenly crumbled. She explained,
“I passed by Donna [Kimberly’s boss] in the cafe one day and she asked how things were going on our team. I knew Kimberly didn’t like it when we talked to people above her, but what was I going to do? Not say anything? Anyway, Donna invited me to sit down with her and we ended up having a really great conversation over lunch. I never said anything about Kimberly — her name didn’t even come up! But it doesn’t matter. Kimberly hates that shit.”
You know those pictures that were popular in the 90s, the ones that looked like a random bunch of colors and lines, but then suddenly, if you looked at it right, a 3-D picture emerged? A second ago it looked like an abstract mess, but now you can see the picture so clearly. That’s what it was like after hearing Jocelyn’s story. Everything suddenly snapped together and I understood why Kimberly’s attitude toward me had taken such a swift and vicious turn only three weeks into my job. She was pissed about my meeting with Sheryl. I had seen the two women scooting around together occasionally, but it just never occurred to me that my meeting with her would be seen as some sort of political maneuver. I mean, I went in hoping to gossip like old friends! But it was clear that Kimberly saw it as a power move and a threat to their budding courtship.
From that angle, I could only imagine what Kimberly was thinking when I told her how well my meeting went — who the HELL does this girl think she is meeting with Sheryl in her second week when I’ve had to kiss her ass for THREE YEARS?
The absurdity of it all was almost amusing, and I felt better now that I could make sense of things, but it didn’t really change the situation. In fact, things were only getting worse.