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Women behaving badly in LinkedIn exchange

By Peggy Drexler
updated 5:50 PM EST, Sat March 1, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Job seeker posts sarcastic, mean reply from marketer and it goes viral
  • Peggy Drexler: Marketer was wrong but young jobseeker was wrong to post it
  • Drexler: Young women need mentors, and marketer failed to help her
  • Drexler: Posting on social media to humiliate someone is a form of bullying

Editor's note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler.

(CNN) -- This week, veteran Cleveland marketer Kelly Blazek learned the hard way that you should watch your words -- especially when you put them in writing -- after a nasty digital lecture she delivered to a young job seeker went viral.

In her sarcasm-laden message to recent graduate Diana Mekota, who'd asked to connect with Blazek via LinkedIn, Blazek wrote: "Your invitation to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky. Wow, I cannot wait to let every 26-year-old jobseeker mine my top-tier marketing connections to help them land a job. ... You're welcome for your humility lesson for the year."

Peggy Drexler
Peggy Drexler

It was hardly a lesson learned. Mekota countered by posting Blazek's response online asking people on Facebook, Reddit, and Imgur to "please call this lady out." She then forwarded Blazek's message to a local radio station and appeared on air to discuss.

Blazek's words were, of course, undeniably, and likely unnecessarily, harsh, especially considering Blazek has made her name as an advocate for Cleveland jobseekers, creating and updating a popular local jobs bank with some 7,300 subscribers. Last year, in fact, she was named the city's "Communicator of the Year."

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It's a time when many women struggle to find mentors. In a 2011 survey of more than 1,000 working women, one out of five said they've never had a mentor at work. And the "queen bee syndrome" is alive and well. Blazek might have aimed to correct what she considered Mekota's breach of protocol with kindness rather than condescension and cruelty.

Instead, she seemed to take glee in putting Mekota in her place. "I love the sense of entitlement in your generation," she wrote. "And I therefore enjoy denying your invite." She ended the note with "Don't ever write me again."

Certainly, it's hard not to wonder why Blazek -- a professional in a field where image matters, a lot, and an avid social marketer besides -- didn't anticipate the possibility that Mekota might share the note with others, although it turns out this was not the first time Blazek had delivered such an admonishment. But she's hardly the only one at fault here.

Blazek has since been the subject of national outrage; many have suggested that her career is dead
Peggy Drexler

By herself choosing not to ignore Blazek's words, and instead shame her for them in a most public manner, Mekota acted with malice, and caused the older woman significant damage. Blazek has since been the subject of national outrage; many have suggested that her career is dead. In the wake of the exchange, she issued a public apology and has deleted most of the contents of her blog and shut down her social media accounts, including the Job Bank twitter that served to help thousands of people find work.

No question, Blazek lashed out first, with unprofessional behavior that can only be described as bullying. An undoubtedly kinder, and wiser, alternative, of course, might have been to simply ignore Mekota's request.

But Mekota responding in kind makes her no less a bully. Perhaps it's not surprising: Bullying is wont to breed more bullying. And social media provides the opportunity to make anything public with ease and efficacy -- a ready and willing vehicle for public shaming.

But just because you can doesn't mean you should.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peggy Drexler.

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