I really like the idea of helping other women in business, but I keep feeling undermined by the women I work with! Why can’t we get together and support each other? How can I get confident at work?

In an ideal world, we would work in companies that foster supportive relationships, however, this is not the norm! The question is really about being competitive or not. Do we want to be? Do we need to be?

I keep talking about Institutionalized Patriarchy and might sound like a broken record, but that is the source of competition in all walks of life, especially in the workplace. A patriarchal system requires a rigid hierarchy be established, with everyone vying to outdo those around them in order to get to the top—which is perceived to be the level all should aspire to reach.

Why aren’t I confident at work?

This behavior pattern doesn’t take into account that not everyone is interested in being at the top, for one thing. And this pitting one person against another concept really harks back to the old survival of the fittest notion. And guess who usually turned out to be the fittest? The biggest, most powerful males in the tribe. Once their position was established, they would align themselves with a group that needed their protection thus creating factions and strategic alliances that would ensure the longevity of the tribe. None of that helps you feel confident at work!

Confident businesswoman at office


If you can think about your workplace in this sort of basic way, look around, and recognize the survival behavior among your peers, it will help you understand what is really going on there. And if you stop feeling discouraged long enough to analyze why you have placed yourself in this situation, you could find a way to navigate the system so that you feel confident and able to handle it.

I think women take on this competitive behavior partly because we are so adaptable, and accustomed to “making do” with whatever circumstance we encounter. It makes us great mothers. It doesn’t help us so much in feeling confident at work.

Take an objective look

That isn’t to say adaptability isn’t a needed skill. We just have to be careful to use it strategically, in a way that serves us as well as those around us. This requires being very objective, taking a while to truly observe the behavior, the patterns, the systems in place that were probably there long before you. Then you can decide some things:

  • Which people in the company do you feel a natural connection to?
  • Which people spend time talking more about other people than the actual work to be done?
  • Which people seem to consistently jockey for position?
  • Which people seem to be interested in growing as individuals as well as growing in the organization?
  • Which people are blame throwers?
  • Which ones take responsibility for their actions?
  • Which ones have tried to get to know you?
  • Which ones seem to treat you as “less than” or somehow less important than they are?

Those are just a few things to look for when you create your personal strategy for success in that environment.

So often we walk into a situation with a basic assumption that others are motivated and inspired in a similar way as we are, and then we feel taken aback when we discover that is clearly not the case. I’m suggesting that you walk in with a slight bit of skepticism, not overly critical of what you see, but take time to analyze what you see before you make up your mind about anyone.

Even if you have been at your current job for a while, you can still do this. Call it a re-boot of yourself and your relationship to your coworkers.

From a more objective perspective:

  • Decide what alliances will work for you and which ones won’t
  • Pick out certain people and cultivate them as mentors or colleagues, whichever category they fit in
  • You can map out a plan:
    • decide where you really want to go in this job over the next few years
    • then backtrack to where you are now
    • in order to get to that aspirational place, what would you have to do, step by step to get there?
    • set some goals for the next month, the next 6 months, the next year and put them on a private timeline
  • Find a mentor either within or outside the company that you can talk this out with, get feedback from, in order to make sure you have a workable plan.

If you find yourself in the situation described, it means you have not been strategic. You are feeling somewhat defensive toward those who are apparently undermining you. It would be fantastic if you had an HR department dedicated to the betterment of all employees that could help you work through this.

The reality is that HR departments are so knee-deep in compliance issues they devote very little time to the personal development issues facing employees. So it is up to you to be proactive and forward-thinking instead of reactive and defensive.

Be proactive!

Focused young interns making notes listening to old female manager

Take this as an opportunity and try it! You may end up deciding to look for a more hospitable work environment, but I guarantee you that developing those assessment skills and putting them into practice will serve you whether you stay or move on. As Peter Drucker pointed out in Management Challenges for the 21st Century we are all responsible for creating our own career paths.

In addition, if you have any desire to become an entrepreneur and build a business of your own, these skills will greatly enhance your ability to use the same objectivity when hiring employees or creating strategic alliances that will help you grow your company.

Common sense/reality-based thinking is vital to success in business. So many people unconsciously allow their emotions to get in the way of their own success. Don’t be one of them!

Figure out how to proactively create your relationship with your work and go for it!


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