LeadingWoman: Do we really hold each other back?

LeadingWoman: Do we really hold each other back?

Do women hold each other back? I ask myself again through gritted teeth. Yes, according to some research by the Olin Business School at Washington University, and no, according to a study by Catalyst, a body that advocates increasing the numbers of women in management, the well-balanced HC Online reports.

Olin is a reputable and important school (they even have a Wikipedia entry) so we can’t just write them off, unfortunately.

This subject does get under my skin so I am forcing myself to the keyboard to take a considered look at the idea.

Here is the thing: the idea of the catfight – two women clawing at each other – is an old, old stereotype. It is meant to work on the divide and rule principle: when women are too busy fighting each other for the (impossible) goal of success in a man’s world, they will forget to just sock it to the guy lording it over them.

Then again, why shouldn’t women compete with each other – men do. Who said that women have to uphold standards that men themselves don’t uphold?

But, even though I think in principal that we women should all be able to fight each other for the top job, the reality is that we are likely to have more success if we work together – at this stage, anyway.

In my view, whatever the hurdles that women might place in each other’s way, they pale into insignificance against the full force of the patriarchies around the world.

I’ve written before that I think women’s competitiveness is unlikely to be holding many of us back, but just in case you notice yourself fighting the wrong person, here are some tips to help build your skills as a supportive colleague or leader to other working women.

1. Beware of unconscious bias. If you are not sure whether you have unconscious bias, try this really cool online test, called the Implicit Association Test and be prepared to be amazed. Developed by American university researchers, it works by measuring the ease with which subjects associate good or bad words with particular groups of people.

2. Join a women’s business network, and watch how other women help each other by sharing information, contacts, and ideas and by encouraging each other through difficulties and celebrating successes. Take the initiative and deepen a professional relationship with one or more women in your office. Organise a lunch for all the women on your floor or in your team, or ask someone who you think is talented and interesting to share a coffee. It is really hard to diss someone you actually like.

3. Find yourself a mentor, male or female. It is easier to be a mentor to others if you have been mentored effectively yourself, either by a woman or a man.

4. Be ready and willing to stand up for yourself, and to support and encourage other women to stand up for themselves, against unfair treatment on the basis of gender. Perceived unfair treatment is just as important as perceived injustice: it needs to be redressed.

5. Keep abreast of all the research about gender issues. Reading the latest research about the discrimination that women face from the moment they take their first job – even today – might spur you into action.

6. Recognise that the more women there are at the top, the less this will be an issue. It’ll be a great day when we have to fight lots of other women off to get a promotion, in my view.

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