We are constantly urging women who work in male-dominated occupations to develop self-confidence. It takes confidence to advance and lead in a masculine work environment. But, there is a big difference between confidence and arrogance. Confidence will help your success and affirm your right to lead. Arrogance might do the same – briefly – but can have a deadly affect on your workplace, and your soul.
One of the most astonishing examples of arrogance is found in the story of Elizabeth Holmes. She shone briefly during her meteoric rise as the wunderkind founder of Theranos which she promised would revolutionize blood testing. After earning billions for her unworkable idea, she fell wih a thud when charged with wire fraud and conspiracy.
Theranos – The Story of an Arrogant Woman
Elizabeth Holmes is a exotic bird on the female landscape. Her arrogance, shamelessness and bullying tactics are so rare that her investors saw them as believable confidence and charming intelligence. Her investors were mostly older, powerful men. It didn’t hurt that she was blonde. And tall. And thin. She fooled many out of investing millions of dollars, experienced journalists into writing articles of praise and Walgreens into installing her Edison machine into a number of stores.
Her whistleblowers were young scientists who worked for her and were stunned by her lack of ethics, and silenced for long periods by her bulling threats. They were aided by a journalist, John Carryou, would worked for years to unmask her. Eventually all her lies were revealed despite her desperate and elaborate efforts to conceal them.
Holmes was largely uneducated in either science or medicine. She dropped out of Stanford School of Engineering after two years with several chemistry classses under her belt. But the the department chairman, Channing Robertson, came with her as her mentor and a highly-paid advisor to her board. Most scientists working in their chosen fields today have at least an advanced degree. Holmes had a compelling idea, the confidence to attract a powerful mentor and the zeal of a world changer. But as another of her Stanford professors said, good ideas are common, implementing them is what is hard.
Most women scientists come to their work, not with a desire to make money from a grand, untested conclusion, but with questions they want to test and explore. They come with curiosity and extensive study, not a desire to become a very young billionaire as Elizabeth did.
Elizabeth Holmes stepped into success and acceptance quickly, unlike many women in science and tech who struggle against male colleagues who ignore them, bully them and destroy their work. This is the role Holmes played for the scientists who worked in her labs. Unlike what happened at Theranos, it is vital that women are treated as equals, employed in larger number, and funded with sufficient money to advance their ideas.
Beware of arrogance in others and in yourself. Recognize that it is different from charisma or confidence. It is unlikely that you, in pursuit of excellence, inclusion, and a seat at the table, will cross the line between confidence and arrogance. It takes an enormous amount of self-deception to be so mistaken. But, learn to spot it in management and realize the deadly implications for your health and your happiness. We continue to believe that learning how to speak up successfully and become a part, rather than an adjunct, of the team is critical. We will continue to support women taking those steps.
Learn more about Elizabeth Holmes.
The Dropout. A podcast produced by Rebecca Jarvis, a product of ABC News Nightline and ABC Radio
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyou
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley directed by Alex Gibbens for HBO Documentaries
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