“It’s a dirty little secret among women that we don’t support one another,” says Susan Shapiro Barash, author of Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth About Women and Rivalry and professor of gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College.
The sweeping generality of Ms. Barash's comment perturbed me (because the majority of my experiences with women have been positive), yet there's a core of truth in her statement that unfortunately resonated based on stories many women have shared with me and with research I’ve done.
Research shows these sad statistics about women failing to support one another:
— Over 90% of women admit to envy and jealousy toward other women coloring their lives
— 90% of women have observed competition in the workplace occurring primarily between women, rather than between women and men
— 25% of women say they’ve stolen a female friend's husband, boyfriend, or job (OMG)
— Women promoted into positions of authority aren’t likely to hire other women to join them, especially if it’s into the upper management ranks
— Of those who mistreat coworkers, women were more likely to target other women (71%), compared to men who bully other men (54%)
Cue the big sigh. Bullying, not helping, competing, undercutting, back-stabbing: Disagree with me if you will, but, to me, these are behaviors of the chronically low-powered. Women who choose to make their mark, stake out their turf, and/or secure their standing by steam-rolling and/or belittling other women.
Why is this so? Chalk it up to three C’s.
1. Women see other women as a competitive threat, focusing on survival of the fittest in the mostly male-dominated business world.
2. Stereotypes, social condition, and unconscious bias prompt a collective threat. In the absence of role models, women emulate male behaviors in the workplace—aggressively competing for turf, territory, and the boss’s favor.
3. And lastly, there’s the confidence threat. Women either suffer from excess hubris or its opposite: I’m not worthy.
Fortunately, the tide is turning with more and more women connecting with and investing in other women. A June 2012 Catalyst report revealed that more women than men are helping others move up the ladder. Women who were mentored, coached, or sponsored themselves are more likely to “pay it forward” by developing the next generation of leaders.
Whether as mentors, advisors, philanthropists, or investors, women are increasingly supporting each other in their careers, goals, and lives. These women are stepping up into their personal power to take control of the impacts of those threats and put the queen bee stereotype to rest.
5 Not-So-Secret Ways to Support Other Women:
Secret #1—Tell it straight-up: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Kathryn was a participant in a workshop I conducted late last year. Her post-session feedback was invaluable, both what I did well and where I could improve. Women supporting women want to see all women do well, so there’s no skipping over the constructive criticism to cover up an “I-secretly-want-to-see-you-fail” mindset.
Secret #2—Open doors and make introductions. Be quick to facilitate connections or share a recommendation for where to go, what to see, who to meet. Relationships, alliances, and coalitions are the new currency of the workplace… start building and investing in your relationships.
Secret #3—Replace the cat suit with collaboration and recognition. Be known for your supportive remarks, notes and get-together suggestions. Cease with the catty comments which only fuel the image of Ms. Barash’s dirty little secret claim. Instead, learn the background stories of your female colleagues; be a safe harbor or a sounding board for them. We’re only as strong as our weakest link.
Secret #4—Share freely what you know. Share articles, access, and/or information. Protecting your turf by hoarding knowledge or aggregating power doesn’t expand your sphere of influence… it limits it, with both the guys and the gals. Power with is the new starting point.
Secret #5—Like yourself so you can like others. For most of us, the inner critic is alive and well and oh-so-quick with the negative “you aren’t good enough, smart enough, thin enough, whatever enough” script. Embrace your own goodness… you’ve got lots of it. Be confident… look at all you’ve accomplished. Revel in your own uniqueness instead of wishing you were more like someone else.
What other “secrets” will you add to the list?
Inside photo from US Women Connect