When the person at the top of the chain is malignant and self-serving, unethical behaviour cascades through the organisation, as Lee Simmons of Stanford Business bluntly put it earlier this year. An argument could be made for the recent four years being the heydays of narcissistic leadership and toxic masculinity — with U.S. election in 2016 signalling a worrisome trend that seemed to surge in various sectors.
So much was true when Dandan Zhu quit her sales job in the very same year. “I was probably contributing to the problem”, she said in an interview with Thinknum Media’s The Business of Business. “I was a bro-ey sales girl. I had no idea sexism existed until I was 26, that’s how privileged I was. I was making excuses for everything I was experiencing, like my CEO hitting on me. […] I didn’t understand the power dynamic, it didn’t occur to me. We were right in that pre-Me Too time.”
Sexual harassment in the workplace continues to exist
Whether you want kindness and compassion, or simply someone to give you fair instructions — we all look for something different in a leader. Though mildly put malignancy and sexism aren’t necessarily the things we look for, for almost two-thirds of women, micro-aggressions are still a workplace reality. Even in light of the #MeToo movement, 35% percent of women in corporate America experience sexual harassment at some point in their careers. In Europe, numbers boil down to 6 in every 10 women.
“I saw that my growth trajectory was going to be stopped by external forces. This place is not gonna make me CEO.”
So much was true for Zhu, who continued to be a top performer within her sales job, despite the toxic culture around her. “At a certain point, the veil was lifted”, she said. “I began to understand sexual harassment. I saw a lot of boys club behaviour, and saw that my growth trajectory was going to be stopped by external forces. This place is not gonna make me CEO. Eventually I was the one female left on our team.”
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A transition to entrepreneurship
Zhu then transitioned to entrepreneurship. She started studying the ins and outs of social media — while amassing more and more popularity on LinkedIn and Quora. She founded Dandan Global in the very same year she was fired. “I wanted to create a social media business that’s going to promote my career coaching business.” That social media business quickly transformed into a recruiting business, when she was offered a unique opportunity by a recruitment firm.
“Somehow that never occurred to me. Recruitment firms are so isolated, that other than with a headhunter, how would you find candidates?”
“Recruiting companies also need candidates”, she said. “Somehow that never occurred to me. Recruitment firms are so isolated, that other than with a headhunter, how would you find candidates? Recruitment agencies use recruiters to hire recruiters.” Through LinkedIn, she met Victor Wong, who subsequently became her business partner — and that’s how DG Recruit was born.
DG Recruit: A five-star company
Glassdoor reviews are often telling. By giving former employees the opportunity to write honest (and sometimes unflattering) reviews about their previous employers, it helps people identify toxic cultures before they head into one. And is the case with DG Recruit, the reviews speak testament to the type of company Zhu and Wong have built. Multiple ex-employees cite an ‘amazing culture’, a ‘great environment’, as well as a ‘collaborative team’.
DG Recruit is well on its way (if they aren’t already) to becoming one of the hottest recruitment firms around.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has had an immediate impact on DG Recruit, they’re still forecasting a seven-figure revenue in year three of its existence. “We have eight people, soon to be nine, and we’re totally dominating our space”, she said. Emphasising strong leadership from the very early beginning, DG Recruit is well on its way (if they aren’t already) to becoming one of the hottest recruitment firms around.