It’s not your imagination. Women in the workplace can oftentimes turn Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory into scenes prime for made-for-TV movies. We don’t necessarily go into this competitive, backbiting mode consciously, but the modern culture and work environment don’t exactly mesh with our genetic make-up.
Nature vs. Nurture
Scientifically speaking, women are physically and emotionally designed to be nurturers while men are the aggressors and protectors. Prior to the Industrial Revolution when they started working in factories, women worked together to raise their children. Wet nurses fed other women’s infants and generations of women lived in the same homes. Later, in the mid-1900s, American neighborhoods were filled with women who stayed home and kept their eyes out for each other’s children.
When the Women’s Liberation Movement allowed women to enter career fields previously dominated by men, it seems we took on typically male characteristics and walked away from the sisterhood we enjoyed for thousands of years. Fighting for equality and respect became a one-woman show more often than not. To climb the corporate ladder, some felt the need to throw others under the bus. And if we did come together in the workplace, it unfortunately could be in a gossipy, “gang-up” type of way against another woman or group of them.
Please don’t get me wrong: the achievements women have made in the workplace over the past few decades have been absolutely extraordinary and I am proud of them. In addition to fighting sexism, harassment, equal pay, and family leave battles, we have become C-suite executives, entrepreneurs, and world-renowned leaders – not to mention raising children and caring for families at the same time.
All of this battling, however, resulted in a lack of attention, support, and nurturing of one another. When is the last time you heard a female co-worker say, “I can’t wait to work with the new hire, Ashley. She seems talented.”? More likely you heard, “Did you see that new chick Mr. Jones hired? She is right out of college so she’ll be completely useless. He just hired her because he likes how she looks.”
The negativity starts instantly because we are striving for success in an environment that isn’t genetically natural for us. We need to be ok with our DNA and harness the encouraging and protective qualities we all have to promote each other’s experiences and careers to truly liberate women in the workplace.
Let’s transform the 21st century work experience
So besides taking a breath and centering ourselves – instead of participating in female-bashing gossip –how do we advance this cause? A great way to start is to volunteer as a new hire’s mentor. Or if you’re an entrepreneur, get involved with a local women’s business group and learn how you can mentor a budding entrepreneur or college student with an interest in your industry.
Take opportunities to talk and really connect with your female peers – whether they be students asking for an informational interview to help with a school project, potential interns or new hires, co-workers, employees, or vendors. A listening ear and an encouraging word can have a deep impact on a woman’s sense of self-worth.
Consider joining or starting a local Lean In Circle, which meets monthly. Women support each other as they advance their careers and businesses, and access resources from the Lean In organization, which is a result of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book of the same title.
If you have children in your life, learn more about the Ban Bossy campaign to promote leadership among young girls. Working in partnership with Lean In and the Girl Scouts, the campaign provides some great strategies for adults to foster confidence and empowerment in girls during their adolescence, when girls’ self-esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys’.
Check out Sophia Nelson’s bestselling self-help book, “The Woman Code” to find out how you can improve your own life and assist other women. She encourages having courageous conversations (speaking truth while building others up) and focusing on collaboration.
“If you are in a meeting and you have a great idea, don’t feel like you have to hoard it to yourself. Collaborate, share, collaborate…so you lift other women as you climb by collaborating verses competing,” she explains. In addition, Nelson says, “You’ve got to love you. You’ve got to like you, and so many of us in the 21st century do not as women like and value ourselves.”
Think back to the women that mentored you along your life and career path: mothers, sisters, friends, teachers, co-workers, and managers. What did they say and do to bolster your confidence and resolve to succeed? How can you pay those experiences forward? You’ll be surprised as to how rewarding it will be – for all of us.