As I walked into my office early one morning, the frosty atmosphere hit me as surely as if I’d opened a freezer door. Conversations stopped. Eyes swivelled away. I swear even the wall clock stopped ticking and the printer ceased humming.
Obviously, everyone had been talking about me. I’d barely got one arm out of my jacket before the barbed comments began: ‘That’s a nice NEW suit Katie,’ sniffed a secretary. ‘I wish I could afford to buy clothes like that.’
‘Lunching out again today, Katie?’ snapped another, pointedly stalking past me with her home-made sandwiches into the fridge. ‘I hear that new restaurant by the river is nice . . . not that I could afford to eat there, of course. Not like you.’
It didn’t take a sleuth to work out the office talking point was my salary, recently elevated to six figures since my arrival, four months earlier, as a commercial director.
I was paid almost three times as much as my colleagues – in recognition of my experience, responsibilities and track record. It was supposed to be a closely guarded secret. How had it got out? I confronted one of my colleagues and the answer stunned me.
The woman who worked next to me stole my unopened payslips out of my desk, opened them, photocopied them and circulated them around the office.
We also swap stories about the women who can be the nastiest of all: secretaries. Their resentment of women bosses knows no bounds.
They pull every trick in the book to make the successful female’s job harder. It’s as though they want to make us suffer for daring to step away from the administrative positions women traditionally occupied in the sexist times of old.
I used to travel widely for business and regularly found myself booked into a different (inevitably nastier) hotel than my colleagues.
If a flight landed in some far-flung and dangerous place like Lagos or Johannesburg in the middle of the night, that’s the flight I’d be on.
Depressing though it might be, this ugly side to the feminine psyche is not confined to the workplace. The back-stabbing starts in the playground. My daughter India is only eight but already her class is run by a team of ‘Queen Bees’ who dictate what every little girl should wear.
‘I can’t wear a skirt to school any more, Mummy,’ India told me recently. ‘The other girls say skirts are silly and everyone who’s anyone is wearing trousers.’
Of course, I encourage India to stand up for herself. But, as I know, it’s tough. Little girls can be mean and will only get bitchier as they grow up. Even if they don’t enter the workplace and become stay-at-home mothers, they will still move hell and high water to be top dog.
Weeks ago I took India to a maths workshop, part of the Government’s Gifted And Talented programme to encourage bright children. I’d happily paid £30 for her to attend.
Waiting to pick India up, I found myself explaining to another mother that I was delighted to spend the money to help India improve.
‘Oh, my daughter doesn’t need to improve,’ this woman sniffed. ‘Clarissa is already having coaching for her GCSEs.’
Clarissa skipped out of class and her mother gave her a home-made muesli bar, then raised one perfectly arched eyebrow as she clocked the doughnut I’d bought for India.
‘I guess you are far too busy working to cook,’ she sniffed.