I have to admit Julie Demsey’s recent post on More Compassionate Workplaces really struck nerve, and I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite quotes: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
In just 15 words, former US Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, reminds us of the struggle most women face – both personally and professionally – and our responsibility to support one another as sisters.
Most of us find it easy to be good to each other when it’s personal. We take care of each other when we’re sick, when we’re sad and on those rare occasions when we celebrate the joyous moments in our lives.
It’s the professional world that often brings out the ugly side of women. Instead of being a mentor and supporter to the women we stand beside in the workplace, we start to snarl at each other and imagine how one of the new fledglings might climb over us on her way to the top.
You know how this usually works. Imagine, for example, that you’ve prepared a fantastic presentation. The Excel spreadsheets are complete, the PowerPoint is absolutely awesome and all participants have a well-designed packet at their place. You step up to the head of the boardroom feeling confident and well prepared. Everything is going great, your attendees are engaged and everyone is nodding their head at just the right time.
Your presentation ends, so you ask for questions. The first few inquiries are direct and your answers come easy. The next question comes from a woman who’s actually been on your committee prepping this presentation for the last week, and her question isn’t really a question. It’s a review of your presentation – and not a positive one.
Did I mention this same woman was on the committee that prepared the very presentation she’s lambasting? Couldn’t she have shared her negative comments during those prep meetings last week when it would have done some good?
This is the type of personal sabotage that makes some men start meowing and shout out “Cat Fight!” as if it’s actually amusing.
But I, for one, am not amused. So, what can we as women do to support each other? Plenty. Here are three personal suggestions (just for starters):
- Take time to really get to know the women you work with, both personally and professionally. Set up a lunch or coffee time that has no work agenda.
- Ask one of your female colleagues for help. On anything. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for input on a special assignment. This simple request will create a chance to bond without competition.
- When one of your female counterparts makes the mistake of verbally abusing you in a board meeting (or any other public forum), don’t take the bait. Instead, take a deep breath and take this opportunity to teach all the other women in the room how to be a mentor and woman of substance.
“A woman is like a tea bag. You can’t tell how strong she really is until you put her in hot water.” – Eleanor Roosevelt