Blue Hair, Combat Boots, and Mini-Skirts

SecFlux

In the hiring process, it is essential to prioritize candidates who exhibit passion, attention to detail, and a strong work ethic, rather than solely considering tenure or seniority. I contemplated this as I reviewed the internal resumes for a firewall administrator.

The strongest candidate in this case was a woman working in the IT helpdesk who had worked her way up from a non-IT office position. Her journey demonstrated tenacity, a willingness to learn, and a meticulous approach to problem-solving. These qualities were far more valuable than simply having spent a longer time within the organization.

By focusing on hiring individuals who possess genuine passion and a commitment to excellence, organizations can foster a culture of continuous improvement and innovation. These candidates often bring fresh perspectives, adaptability, and a drive to exceed expectations. They are not bound by the limitations of tenure alone but are driven by their thirst for knowledge, growth, and a desire to make a meaningful impact.

I offered her the position and she accepted.

A few months later, I found myself faced with a frustrating and absurd situation — my direct report’s former coworkers in the IT help desk were engaging in petty acts to undermine her success by spreading false information. According to their claims, she wore blue hair, combat boots, and mini skirts to work everyday. My mind couldn’t help but roll its virtual eyes at the sheer ridiculousness of these accusations. It was clear to me that these were nothing more than fabricated lies meant to tarnish her reputation. Interestingly, the lies managed to become more concrete when a complaint to Human Resources came across my desk. 

My direct report shared with me the same representative from Human Resources contacted her as well. According to her account, she was told, due to protocol, she had to be informed about a complaint despite the lack of evidence. Even the representative outlined he had not seen her dress that way before and admitted he felt a bit surprised and frustrated by the comments himself.

During our subsequent discussion, I specifically recall her initial reaction.

“The funniest part of this is– I don’t even own a mini skirt! I probably haven’t since high school! Besides, my hair is platinum blonde, not blue!” She exclaimed with a bit of laughter in her voice. She took it in stride and joked about it. “How else am I supposed to feel? This is just petty!” She would say. 

You see, she had just been promoted to infosec over her coworkers because of her level of detail and quest for knowledge. She was passionate, motivated, and paid attention to particulars. But since her coworkers had been with the company longer, they thought they were entitled to the promotion.

Delving into the psychological motivations behind their behavior, I recognized jealousy and envy as significant factors. Seeing my direct report excel triggered feelings of inadequacy and resentment within her former coworkers. Their false claims about her appearance, such as the blue hair, combat boots, and mini skirts, were a feeble attempt to discredit her professionalism and demean her accomplishments. It was a desperate act driven by their own insecurities and the desire to bring her down to their level.

Furthermore, these individuals were likely driven by a fear of competition. My direct report’s rise to success threatened their own positions within the organization. Rather than viewing her achievements as an inspiration for personal growth, they saw her as a threat to their professional standing. Resorting to spreading false information about her style choices was their misguided way of attempting to eliminate the competition instead of striving for personal improvement. It was a way they could convince others to not take her seriously. 

Group dynamics and conformity within their social circle also played a role. The desire to fit in and gain approval from their peers compelled them to conform to the negative attitudes and actions. By participating in spreading false rumors about her appearance, they sought validation from their like-minded colleagues, even if they personally knew the claims were baseless. What’s more, the majority of the team were men and she happened to be one of few women within the department. 

Addressing this situation as a CISO required me to approach it strategically and with empathy. Individually, I engaged in private conversations with the former coworkers involved, aiming to understand their perspectives and address their underlying insecurities. I emphasized the need to focus on personal growth and development rather than resorting to negative tactics aimed at undermining others.

Simultaneously, I provided unwavering support and reassurance to my direct report, acknowledging her professionalism, dedication, and the unfairness of the situation.

If left unaddressed, such issues can have severe consequences. A toxic work environment may emerge, with negativity, rumors, and hostility becoming the norm. Team dynamics suffer, and morale plummets. The affected employee may experience emotional distress, loss of confidence, and reduced productivity. Moreover, the organization as a whole suffers, as talent and potential go unrecognized or, worse, become targets for sabotage.

Through a combination of addressing the psychological motivations behind their actions, setting clear expectations, and promoting positive team dynamics, I aimed to rectify the situation. By fostering a supportive work environment based on collaboration, growth, and mutual respect, I sought to create a workplace where false rumors, hostile behavior, and judgments based on appearance (right or wrong) had no place.

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