The Stigma of Being Fired is a Myth

Stigma, Schmigma.  

“Hey, Google, what is the simple definition of stigma?” I asked.

Google answered in a rich baritone: “A  stigma is a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.”  The bolding is mine.  This definition has a sense of justice about it.  It does not include synonyms like dishonor, shame, taint, and my favorite, blot.

How many of us still believe that being fired is a stigma?  How many think that it wasn’t a business decision, but a blot against our character?  Are we worried that being fired or pushed out speaks volumes about the dark side of our Imposter Syndrome for all the world to see?  

Caught in the grip of an emotional, even irrational reaction to someone else’s judgment about us, we may skip over the facts and develop black-and-blue welts on our psyche.  

Just the Facts, Please

Here are some statistics that may surprise you:

Women CEOs are 45% more likely to be fired than male CEOs, especially if they’re doing well.  

40% of Americans have been fired from a job during their lifetimes.

100% of the women I interviewed for my book, Involuntary Exit, had been fired or knew a woman who had been fired.

91% of executives who were fired ended up finding a position as good or better than their last. 

Losing a job at someone else’s behest is not only becoming increasingly common but also more accepted as part of the arc of careers and business mandates.   The major layoffs from the tech industry—”community firings”– pierced the veil of overheated hiring in a changing climate.  We’re getting used to hearing about these (unfortunate) firing storms, which helps to normalize our own experience.

When Surviving Job Loss Becomes a Competency

The Harvard Business Review conducted a 10-year study of more than 18,000 C-suite leaders across all major industry sectors as part of its career transition research. Here’s the good news. They found some signs that the experience of losing a job — when handled the right way — might even make one a stronger candidate for future roles…. Experienced hiring managers know that setbacks are inevitable and want to see how individuals have handled failure in the past.”  Essentially, they’re looking for a leader’s resilience, self-awareness, and readiness to move on with purpose.  One of the questions I was asked in an interview with a CEO was, “How did you cope?”  She was probing for those very qualities.

Firing Rituals Have Changed With Remote Work

Fuggedabout the gossip monger in the next cubicle.  Wait, the next cubicle is actually your kitchen. Walking the gangplank of hallway goodbyes is no longer part of the firing ceremony.  You don’t have to meet anyone’s eye.  It’s a relief.  On the other hand, being laid off virtually can leave you adrift, facing the refrigerator.  It’s lonely, but trust me, you’re not alone.  When you speak up and reach out, you’ll find your community. When you find your community, you’ll discover stories, allies, and solutions that empower you.

Ask Yourself These Questions

Ask yourself, “How Can I use this Challenge to My Benefit?” Write down your answers.  Revisit them frequently and revise until you have a statement that resonates for you.

Losing a job will lead to new opportunities and personal growth.  I hesitate to be labeled a Pollyanna since I know it doesn’t feel like this at all the day or even months after you’ve been asked to leave.  But my work with hundreds of women who have gone down this path has shown that reframing what happened to you is critical to activating change.  

Consider this:  A friend and colleague recently posted about losing her job at Disney, recounting all she had learned.  Her announcement has been reposted three times with congratulations pouring in about the new opportunities that await her.  She put the lid on boiling up stigmas for ourselves and others.  

Here’s another key question.  “Hey, Google, what’s a simple definition of opportunity?” Obligingly, he answered, “An occasion or situation that makes it possible to do something that you want to do.”  Then he added, “A good chance for advancement or progress.”  I’ll take that.

Data Sources: Forbes, 2018; Zippia, 2023; Harvard Business Review, 2018

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