“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.
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!
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?