Supporting Women: Sisterhood in the Workplace

With discrimination against women in the workplace still very real and prevalent, it is natural that women should stick up for other women and encourage them. But even having more women in charge of hiring and in positions of leadership, the reality is that a woman is often another woman’s worst critic.

Whether fighting over the word ‘feminist’ and its interpretations, or controversies over comments made by women in leadership positions, we see that it is often women who raise the debates, and try to bring down other women.

A Few Examples

There are plenty of things that Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has said for women empowerment – on challenging oneself, being confident, negotiating well, asking for and accepting help at home. But it was her comments on women holding themselves back and declining additional responsibilities that got the most attention.

Similarly Natalie Barr, Sunrise presenter, was the subject of criticisms and disparaging comments for her opinion piece where she suggested that women should stop blaming men for professional setbacks.

Whether these comments deserve criticism or not is debatable, but the greater cause for concern is the way women tear down other women.

Why Women Don’t Support Other Women?

Several reasons have been attributed to why women refrain from giving someone else a leg up:

  • Competitive Threat: The woman who ‘made it’ might have experienced difficulties in the past, and this makes them regard other women as threats to their position. They do not want to compete against other qualified women, or face the inevitable comparisons.
  • Collective Threat: This is the fear that the new person might fall short, and cast a shadow on their positions in the organisation. They fear that being associated with a less competent person might show themselves in a bad light.
  • Favouritism: If they are too friendly with other women, will they be regarded as playing favourites? This prevents many women from sticking up for other women, and in fact, going out of their way to support male candidates to show that they are fair.

Some of these fears are not without basis. But the truth is that people who want to discriminate will do it anyway – and nothing we do can change that. What we can do is to work with other women, regard them as allies, and together try to change mindsets.

Change will be slow, but with support and encouragement from women across the workforce – in all positions from top to bottom – it is definitely possible.

Over to you… What are your comments and stories about women supporting women? Where can we do better?

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