Rebut ex-peers with facts and grace

Dear Joan:
How can I overcome the jealousies of my former peers who are still secretaries? I advanced out of that job into a professional job and am generally accepted by male and female professionals, but not the secretaries.

Breaking out of the secretarial ranks is no small task and must have taken an enormous amount of initiative and a boss who was willing to give you responsibility.

Perhaps the reason your peers feel resentment toward you is that they haven't been able to figure out a legitimate way to do what you did, so they assume that you simply "got lucky" or used organizational politics to get your break.

Ideally it would be helpful to spread the facts about how you earned the promotion. If you have a friend who is a secretary, he or she may be willing to come to your defense with the facts when someone starts sneering. Your professional peers may be able to dispel some of the jealousy by doing the same thing with secretaries in their areas. This sort of support can help you in the long run but should be subtle rather than a "campaign" to win them over.

In the meantime, try to be gracious by saying hello and making small talk when it seems appropriate. Don't dignify their negative treatment of you with a reaction, however. Work on keeping your hurt to yourself. It may help you to recognize that they don't dislike you personally. They are mad at themselves for not doing what you did, mad at their bosses for not giving them more responsibilities, mad about the lack of recognition and status in their jobs and at the stereotype that seems to trap them.

Don't bend over backward to try to make them accept you. If you try too hard, they are likely to feel a sense of power over you and this could reinforce and escalate their negative treatment of you. Another way it could backfire is that your professional peers and boss will see it for what it is; an inability to adjust to your new role in the professional ranks because you are too worried about being liked by everyone.

This could hurt your advancement. For example, you would not be considered as a candidate for a supervisory position because you'd be perceived as unable to make a tough personnel decision for fear of hurting someone's feelings.

However, if you handle this situation with grace and professionalism, those above you will not only remember it at promotion time, they may be willing to give another secretary a chance because of your fine example. 

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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