The subject of diversity in the workplace has been in the spotlight for a while. In this post, I propose to look at it from a perspective that is not talked about as much.
Throughout my career, I have worked with many professionals in executive roles. I feel fortunate because most of them have supported me and helped me push through. However, I found that a few of my past women leaders didn’t want me to succeed. Keep in mind, I work in the technology field, a space where women are still greatly underrepresented.
Although research on the subject is relatively limited, according to a 2017 Workplace Bullying Institute survey, women-to-women bullying levels are almost double that of men-to-men (35% versus 67%). And according to HuffPost, “Women in male-dominated industries often adopt what they consider to be ‘masculine’ behaviors in order to get ahead.” From my perspective, this means that some women have a hard time welcoming female potential, especially into male-dominated environments.
A recent article by the Harvard Business Review argues that challenging relationships among women are a product of the workplace. Affinity and gender bias can put pressure on women to adopt masculine management styles “in order to identify with the male in-group and distance or differentiate themselves from their female peers.” As a result of these workplace circumstances, tension can grow among women.
That said, I believe it’s also important to note that there are women who support other women at work, but some are criticized for doing so and might not pursue fundamental changes that would make the work culture more welcoming and supportive. As a result, many organizations struggle with recruiting more women into their companies and retaining those they’ve already hired.
So what can we do? How can we change the status quo?
Throughout my time as a leader, I’ve learned a few powerful steps we can all take right now to start supporting other women at work, no matter your industry:
Start thinking differently.
I believe the change starts with women themselves. Instead of trying to blend in, we should embrace the fact that women are able to bring a different perspective to the table. Women are able to introduce a different management style. Women are able to make a contribution to a better work culture.
One of the ways to start is to not only make sure women have a seat at the table but also to ensure they have a voice on par with their male counterparts. The first step here could be as simple as making sure everyone is given equal “air time” during meetings. Depending on the size of the audience, it could be as easy as just going around the room and calling out each person by name for input. We need to support one another’s different approaches, opinions and perspectives. This benefits everybody, not just the select few.
Start putting things in perspective.
The most common “justification” for women-to-women bullying that I hear from women is, “We had to make a sacrifice, make a choice, act in a certain way, etc., so you must, too.” However, I’ve observed that this approach can create a negative impact across the board, including poor hire and retention rates, unhealthy work environments, poor employee performance and even stagnating socio-economic development.
Instead, encourage other women to join the workforce by creating better conditions for them than those we had. There are many ways to go about it. Here are just a couple of examples to get you thinking in the right direction:
• In the training material on bullying and other forms of abuse at work, make sure to include cross-gender as well as same-gender forms of abuse. That will provide support and confidence for women (and men for that matter) who are bullied to report such cases.
• Transform your organization to be more parent-friendly. Nowadays, the majority of childcare and elderly care responsibilities are still delegated to women. Therefore, I believe allowing more flexible hours and/or remote work opportunities will allow your company to tap into the talent pool of many skilled professionals, especially women.
Strive for positive change by making sure the next woman in line has better chances of success than we had in our time. Only then we will see the real change.
Putting It All Together
To all the women and men who, despite all doubt and peer pressure, gave women like me a chance: Thank you. I am hopeful that we can all set an example for others to drive diversity and bring more women into organizations who have a fair chance to grow their professional careers with your guidance and protection.
So let’s work alongside one another, not against. Only through collaboration and mutual support will we strive and succeed — together.