Divine Secrets of the Supportive Sisterhood

“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, yet the core of truth in her assertion unfortunately resonated.

The statistics coming from her research troubled me even more:

  • Over 90% of the women Ms. Barash interviewed admitted to envy and jealousy toward other women coloring their lives.
  • 90% had observed competition in the workplace occurring primarily between women rather than between women and men.
  • And, get this, 25% said that they had stolen a female friend’s husband, boyfriend or job!

Distressing for sure,  but more to come…

Gail McGuire, chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Indiana University South Bend, authored an article “Intimate Work: A Typology of the Social Support That Workers Provide to Their Network Members.” This report contains the nasty little nugget: that once women are promoted, they aren’t likely to hire women to join them in the upper management ranks. This research puts quantitative data behind Ms. Barash’s claim about the dirty little secret. Yikes!

And more…

A 2007 Workplace Institute study found that of those who mistreat co-workers, women were more likely to target other women (71%), compared to men who bully other men (54%).

63% of 2,000 British women surveyed in 2009 reported that they preferred having a male boss.

Cue *the big sigh*

Bullying. Not helping. Competing. Under-cutting. 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.

Cue *Kathryn and the Divine Secrets of the Supportive Sisterhood*

Kathryn, a woman who honors me with her friendship, has nailed the divine secrets of the supportive sisterhood.  She gets what it takes to support her fellow 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 maintain “I-want-you-to-like-me” status or covering up an “I-secretly-want-to-see-you-fail” mindset.

Secret #2 – Open doors and make introductions.

Kathryn must have the longest speed dial and email lists around.  She’s 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. Building those bonds between and with other women can only help advance our general standing in business.

Secret #3 – Replace the cat suit with collaboration and recognition.

Having a little milk with your snarky cat chow comments serves no one well. Kathryn is known for her 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.

Kathryn is quick to 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.

Please do step into your positive power — and bring another woman along with you!

What other divine secrets will you add to the list?



13 Responses to Divine Secrets of the Supportive Sisterhood

  1. Great thought provoking material! I have women who have been my greatest champions. I think the difference often is loving yourself and seeing that there is enough success for everyone to win.

    Fantastic post!

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Divine Secrets of the Supportive Sisterhood « Get Your Leadership BIG On! -- Topsy.com

  3. Generalized statements of women not supporting women drive me nuts. I know there were some stats to back it up but:
    1. Not been my experience
    2. Can’t help being cynical and thinking that this is another way to keep women down and label them “bitches”.
    3. Since women are human there are going to be times they don’t support other women and times they are competitive with other women. It happens to men too but there aren’t all sorts of articles written about it.
    Now that I have that off my chest, I think your post was very good and I liked your 5 secrets. Go Jane!

    • Cherry -

      Throughout most of career, I’ve been fortunate to have avoided the she-cats of the business world. My females colleagues over the years have been extraordinary. Perhaps we’re in the silent majority.

      I attended an event a couple of months ago for women about women; and overly 3/4 of the attendees had horror stories about competitive women at their workplaces. I had no horror stories to share.

      There may be some credence to your thought about these stories being another mechanism that keeps women’s issues in a negative light.

      Delighted that you shared,


  4. Fortunately I have incredible dear sistergirlfriends who love and support me. I have worked in predominately male dominated areas, so my experiences with women sabotage is limited, yet I have heard the horror stories. It takes so much energy to get in the way of others’ successes. I also believe that to bring someone down, you have to get down with them and no one should want that.

    Thanks Jane, for putting the data behind what many think is a myth.

  5. Divine secret - Mentor somebody, it is not only a great way to develop talent and build a management pipeline, but also leads to self-discovery in both parties and potentially feeds a Community of Practice

  6. My horror story led me to another job that was worse which ultimately, and unfortunately changed my “meekness” into “weakness”. Which of course I did not realize until after I lost my job.

    Most of my “friends” are online, that I have never met. There are actually only 2 women I spend some time with and I have not idea where to “go” next.

    • Your work horror story sounds awful….I’m hoping that “meekness” and “weakness” are turning themselves around for you.

      Friends are friends regardless if you see them face-to-face or interact online. Sounds like you might have some things to talk to them about and get their opinions on where you might go next.

  7. I have met some of the women you described but I have been most fortunate and blessed to have met many more women who have mentored and supported me. Telling me the good and the bad helping me to grow even when I wasn’t aware I needed to. Your posting reminded me that both exist and I need to chose each day the style I will display. Today like most, I will mentor and network as we are all in this together.

  8. Anita - thanks for stopping by and sharing. It’s great to hear that the women reading this post have had very different experiences than what Ms. Barash found in doing her research. Your point about choosing how we want to present yourselves each day is excellent…if it’s to be, it’s all up to me!

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