A recent article in T&D Magazine, published by the American Society of Training & Development, outlined four key barriers to women rising through the ranks in the workplace: 1) age, 2) lack of role models, 3) motherhood and 4) qualifications and experience. The report, based on a UK survey of 1,000 women didn’t reveal surprising news, but made me ponder even more deeply the role that women play in the careers of other women. It seems in some respects we women could do more to help each other win in the workplace.
I personally can recall a time when I entered a meeting room of several managers to ask for an opportunity. It was a woman manager who immediately shot me down and the man in the room who came to my rescue to reason with the female leader on my behalf. That was not the first time I noticed that women leaders can sometimes be unreasonably cold and standoffish to other women, rather than being supportive.
Have you also noticed that it’s sometimes another woman, one already shining in her career, who is trying to hold back an up-and-coming female star in the workplace? I hear various excuses as to why this may be. The most common one: a woman who had to work hard to get her position of esteem and respect feels that other woman should work as hard or harder than she did to prove herself. But in many cases, the new star isn’t necessarily defective; she’s just differently “effective.” And with a little polish and grooming, she can be guided toward getting the right skills and experience she may be lacking.
And it’s ok for a newbie star-in-training to be imperfect at first. That’s an even better opportunity for established career women to sharpen their skills even more as they teach other women what they know, rather than excluding them from opportunities for what they don’t know.
Upholding standards of excellence across the board is great – no matter what the gender of the potential successor. But there is cause for concern when women in power criticize rather than mentor fellow women. Women already have tons of institutionalized discrimination against us because we are believed to be weak and highly emotional. When woman try to block each others’ efforts and men see the game playing, it only reinforces this stereotype.
I believe every woman at each phase in her life should be mentoring other women in some way. It’s great to mentor close friends and family, but who are you mentoring that you haven’t already cultivated a close relationship for other reasons? Is there a sharp young lady in your environment whom you don’t owe anything to who is willing to learn from you? Can you find someone who is not kissing up to you in some way, but still is a diamond in the rough that could use your polish? That’s an authentic mentor-mentee relationship.
Granted it may be a challenge to find the time to give back to others when you’re so busy pressing forward for yourself. But remember, part of living the dream is having an audience cheering for you. How many women will cheer for you out of gratitude for all you’ve done to help them succeed? How many women will “boo” you for all the ways you’ve placed stumbling blocks in their paths?
We shouldn’t have to fear our own kind. Women can all win in the workplace when we bring more respect, honor, grace and support for each other in our business endeavors.
If you’d like more information on women mentoring women or for AJ to give a presentation on Women and their Words in the Workplace, call 832-243-4083,