Recently, The New York Times published an article about the new era of fashion-magazine editors-in-chief. The world’s largest publishing houses—which produce the likes of Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar—have recently let go many of the heads of their key publications’ international editions, some of whom had been in office for more than 20 years, in an effort to end diva behaviour and single-minded points of view. Welcome to 2021!

When I started working in media in the early 2000s, editors-in-chief had all the power—and exercised it over their staff. Those at the top of the hierarchy reminded everyone else that there were many hopefuls seeking jobs in the industry and very few jobs. “You should consider yourself lucky,” they would say. It was management by fear.

You might have thought no one could be as bad as Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, but I’ve seen worse. Many of us in the magazine business have experienced the tyranny of an editor-in-chief for whom addressing employees in a rude way was the norm. Insults, criticism and excessive anger—not to mention the expectation that staff put in long hours—were par for the course with one boss I had.

That was several years ago, but a colleague who also worked under this person recently told me that she has spent thousands of dollars on therapy to help her recover from the experience. And she’s not alone. According to recent studies, 47 percent of Canadians say that work is the most stressful part of their day and 16 percent say that their work environment is a source of depression, anxiety and other mental-health disorders.

So why didn’t we stand up to our boss—someone who was supposed to encourage us and guide us? (Doing so can be effective, like when employees started a petition denouncing the unacceptable behaviour of the former Governor General of Canada, Julie Payette, and it ultimately cost her her job.) For one thing, public discourse was not the same 10 years ago. We did, in fact, present the situation to senior management and human resources, but we were told that “leading is not a popularity contest.” Financial results took precedence over everything for the company. It took years—and the help of a third party—for the team to finally be heard. By that time, I was long gone.

I welcome the current conversation about toxic work environments with open arms. It’s high time we denounce the people who taint our daily lives, even if it’s not always easy to prove psychological harassment. Respect should be a given, especially when you have the responsibility—the privilege—to lead a team. I’m certainly not a perfect leader, but I can tell you that I strive every day to be the kind of boss I always wanted to have. And in return, my team strive to be the best at what they do.

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