This content was created by Girlboss in partnership with AllVoices.
Here’s the sad reality: In many modern workplaces, the HR and employee protection policies are failing women. Want proof? Look no further than these five real stories of women who faced harassment, unfairness and discrimination from their managers and even peers. In most cases, their best recourse was simply to quit—the reporting and accountability processes simply didn’t exist.
That’s why platforms like AllVoices, which is a platform that enables employees to provide anonymous feedback to their companies, can be a lifeline for women who want to change broken systems without fear of retaliation. Here, women get vulnerable about their worst work experiences. We truly hope that they are their last.
“I felt like my boss was ok with toxic colleagues as long as they delivered.”
“While working at the Big Four in downtown Toronto, it was expected that you maintain a work-life integration. From 7 AM meetings to 8 PM calls, my working hours as a senior associate were crazy. Not soon after, my boss showed me a dangling carrot to become a manager. My boss was a partner and he saw potential in me. He told me that if I were to take up the project he was offering, he’d make me a manager.
It can take three to five years for a senior associate to be promoted as a manager, and I became one fairly quickly within two years. This was hard to digest for peers my age whom I was now directly managing.
I remember one particular incident with a female colleague who was part of the project I was managing. She refused to work with me, and blatantly lied to my boss, who actually believed her story! He didn’t take any disciplinary action against her, and I was shocked that our mutual trust was evaporating. This colleague put the delivery of my project in jeopardy, and my boss valued her skills over building a culture of transparency. I felt like my boss was ok with toxic colleagues as long as they delivered.
There was another incident that made me question my boss’ motives. At that time, my mom had been diagnosed with cancer and I had to fly back home to care for her. He let me work remotely but showed no empathy whatsoever. He piled on more work than I could handle, and this was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. I knew he was taking advantage of me, and I started feeling like I was just another pair of hands only as valuable as my billables. — Ellen, 28
“The criticism began in the first month, with my manager asking me to improve my tonality.”
“I found a new job during the pandemic as a sales development representative within a digital marketing agency, with no prior experience in this field.
I had never worked as a telemarketer and my first month was so miserable. We were given a long script to follow with opening paragraphs, engaging one-liners, counter arguments, and other conversational topics. All our calls were recorded and monitored, so I had to be extremely careful with how I spoke. We also had a digital whiteboard where everyone’s scores were tallied together. The top management always had the best scores; I believe it’s because they had the best leads to follow that garnered conversions.
The criticism began in the first month, with my manager asking me to improve my tonality. “You have to feel upbeat while talking. You have to be smiling,” he told me. I began to give myself goals every month that would encourage me to stay. I worked hard to prove myself during the initial three-month probation period, and then I successfully shifted my focus towards touching the six-month mark.
My best performance came halfway through in March when I met all my allotted sales targets! Ironically, it was the worst period in terms of my mental health. I had multiple breakdowns that month, and I was constantly anxious, feeling like I was going to be fired if I didn’t meet my daily sales quota. At night I would lay awake in bed, overthinking about the conversations I had with colleagues and potential clients, unable to fall asleep.
The biggest revelation about my company’s dirty policies happened when I was accidentally transferred my colleague’s salary on pay day. It was four times higher than what I was making! I was shocked beyond belief; my minimum-wage rate salary looked puny compared to hers. My self-esteem shattered into a million shards of glass. I just wanted to feel happy again.
My friend helped me write a resignation letter, and I asked my colleague for guidance on what to say to my manager. He wrote a few lines and I followed it like a script while on the call with my manager. I guess I did improve my tonality after all.” — Cindy-Georges, 31
“This was a major concern: there was a real minority of women in leadership roles. ”
“I was working as the senior sub-editor at a leading daily newspaper, and to be honest, the red flags were always there. I walked into the job knowing fully well what I was signing up for. But I really needed the money, and no other publisher paid as well as this one.
The workplace environment was inordinately toxic. My friend, who was previously employed there, had already warned me of this, including the long hours and late nights silently expected from all employees.
Three days after I joined, a top editor resigned (or was fired) after being publicly denounced in the #MeToo movement. Ironically, he was the one who hired me! He was known to act inappropriately with women in the office, but everyone had been putting up with it. Apparently, he used to go behind his female colleagues and randomly hug them from behind when they were sitting. I didn’t interact with him much, but I did question my colleagues as to why they didn’t report this issue. I was told, “That’s just how he is.” This general atmosphere of quiet resignation at my new workplace didn’t sit well with me.
There was another senior employee told one of my newly married colleagues that she should be thinking of having kids soon because “her clock is ticking”. The editor I was reporting to wasn’t any less of a misogynist himself. Previously, the women working on the desk had been told that they were only here to kill time and that the earnings from this job were mere pocket money as their husbands or fathers were taking care of them.
This was a major concern: there was a real minority of women in leadership roles. The business desk was headed up by a woman and the second-in-line in the bureau was a woman, but that was it. I was also passed over for a promotion I deserved in favor of a man who is four years younger than me! When I asked why I didn’t get the promotion, I was told to keep working hard.
I didn’t realize it, but my mental health suffered a lot because of this job, and it started affecting my physical health too. That’s why I was driven to quit, and now I’m taking some solid time off to recover.” — Aakanksha, 29
“I was told I shouldn’t handle clients because I don’t have an American accent”
“When the marketing manager at my company quit, I was promoted to the position without any increase to my compensation or benefits. Ours was a start-up company working remotely during COVID-19; we had employees all over the world. I was told that as we grew, the team would get a raise—little did we know that they were empty words.
Just a few months ago, I was convinced I had found my dream job. The hiring manager who brought me on board fiercely supported diversity and made me feel part of an inclusive culture. It was evident she deeply cared about the company, but she resigned shortly after I started.
Her new replacement wasn’t nearly as concerned with inclusivity. I still remember when she told me that even though I was the manager, I couldn’t attend client-facing meetings because I didn’t look American or sound like one. This incident deeply shattered my confidence and trust.
Over time, the stress of the job started affecting my mental health. The hours were becoming increasingly long, and I was also urgently called to work on days I had requested as paid time off.
I tried to voice my concerns by writing emails to my boss, and she kept saying that she would make things better. My boss preached about empowerment, but she was using emotional manipulation and deception to make us work extra hours. Instead of teaching me how to be a good manager, she was shattering that ideal within me. Working in this toxic environment with no job security made me question my career trajectory. I didn’t like lying or being lied to either; I wanted to work with a leader who was accountable for her actions, not one who got her way through coercion.
I finally decided it was time to quit and emailed my resignation letter to my boss. Her reaction was unexpected; she didn’t want me to leave and tried to make me change my mind.
Finally, my last day dawned, and I was the happiest in a very long time.” — Sarah, 31
“My manager told everyone I was diagnosed with PCOD”
“I’ll always be grateful for this opportunity as I was going through a tough time before I landed the job. I started my new role as an IELTS and PTE teacher-trainer with full positivity and enthusiasm.
However, over time, my colleagues and the senior management started showing their true colors. There wasn’t a single person I could share my concerns with. Everyone on the top was expecting devotion and flattery from their subordinates. The whole hierarchy was a mess.
In my first three months, I had to take an emergency menstruation leave due to my PCOD. This became such a big issue that four managers in different cities got to know that I was diagnosed with PCOD!
During my onboarding, I was told that the company was 98% women-led as they promoted women’s empowerment. But they had their definition wrong. Uplifting one woman and degrading another doesn’t equate to empowerment. When I started taking a firm stand for myself, the senior trainers didn’t miss a single chance to belittle me.
They started calling me names, and began body-shaming, not just us trainers, but the students we taught as well. Once, one of the counselors asked me to order one of my students to wear appropriate clothes—when all she was wearing was a simple T-shirt with jeans—while making jokes about her body weight.
Meanwhile, there was another counselor spreading religious discrimination among our colleagues. I tried escalating the matter to our manager, the education head, the HR, and even the branch manager, but they never responded and barely answered my calls.
There came a point when I had reached my wit’s end and wanted to resign, but I stayed on for two more months just for the sake of my students. My relationship with them was respectful and healthy, and I didn’t want to lose that amazing bond.
Finally, after eight long months of toxicity, I quit.” — Ash, 25