Tallest Poppy

For those following the news in Quebec, the bombshell of the week was the surprise announcement by the Mayor of the city of Gatineau, France Bélisle.  She announced that she was resigning from her position, effective immediately.  The reasons she highlighted were both disturbing and unfortunately not uncommon: toxic and hostile work environment, personal attacks and death threats, and overall lack of support to name a few, and the impact this was having on her health. 

Perhaps what is not surprising are the comments from colleagues following this announcement wishing her well but also suggesting that the workplace is actually not that bad, healthy actually, and that her personality played a role in the situation. This being said, there was also a reference that the situation may be worse for women than for men.

Really? No shit.

Having experienced my own stint in an unhealthy work environment and having supported others as they navigate their own journey in toxic workplaces, there is one thing that has become very clear to me: if someone tells you the situation is toxic, it does not matter whether you think ‘it is not that bad’ or ‘non-toxic’, it is.  It takes tremendous courage to speak out, given the fear of reprisal and the perception of being difficult or needy.  Ms. Bélisle could have said that she was leaving for health or family reasons, but she went the extra step and called out the situation. She was a true leader by showing courage and vulnerability.  When confronted with such a declaration, employees and employers need to take a step back and remove any subjectivity associated with the assessment they make of it.  After all, if there is toxicity in our workplace, we may be contributing to it.  I would also argue that, given the state of our world, our perception of what is normal or healthy, may be distorted somewhat.

Women have made significant strides in the workplace over the last decades.  They are now present in all industries and professions and every day, glass ceilings are being broken.  Despite these efforts, many women are still facing significant challenges in the workplace.  

The Tallest Poppy 2023 is an international study of women from all spheres of life to determine how their mental health, well-being, engagement, and performance are affected by interactions with their clients, colleagues and leaders.   I encourage you to read it - here are two graphs from the study:

What are your thoughts on these results?  

If Ms. Bélisle had been Mr. Bélisle, would his strong character be questioned to the same extent? Would the reaction of colleagues/media/population be the same?

1 comment

  • Alan

    I agree completely, Mireille — thank you for bringing more attention to this. This is what I’ve written elsewhere:

    This is a scandal.

    When women like France Bélisle are driven from office by hyper-partisanship, intimidation and even death threats, we all lose. It is not enough to thank Mme Bélisle for her service and then return to politics as usual. We are witnesses to—and participants in—a sick political culture that is undermining our democratic institutions at all levels. When good people are afraid to serve the public interest, and citizens tolerate this state of affairs, we should not be surprised by the race to the bottom among candidates for public office.

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