Has anything changed really in the women’s business community regarding the success of women in the workplace and the level of reaching back and advocating for others? From my experiences and observation, I am just not seeing it. Will it ever change?
This is a question that has plagued many of us for years. I have heard so many stories about how women would rather work for men because they are easier to deal with. Or that women don’t help each other grow. And more recently, I see women entrepreneurs working to grow their businesses with very little support from women in corporate positions who could make a difference in helping them get access to key people who can open doors for them.
What is this? Why is it happening? What will it take to change this pattern?
The only answer I have to those questions is that I chalk it up to institutionalized patriarchy. We are so inured to living within the “rules of the game” that we don’t stop, look around and change what we do on a daily basis.
And let’s face it, we didn’t make the rules. Men did. They made them because, for centuries, men were the ones doing the majority of business. And FYI, this isn’t about blaming individual men, it is about understanding that when a way of life becomes institutionalized, we all tend to follow along without question.
Those who do question are regarded as outliers, disrupters, troublemakers. And if you’ve been in the business world as long as I have (since 1967) you’ve probably been called one or more of those names at one time or another.
If you watch movies or read books about the ways women were regarded historically when they stepped up, spoke up or ventured out to do what they believed in, what they really wanted to do, you will see more clearly what I mean by institutionalized. The few women who did succeed in the past usually had some family connections. Like Queens who were the sole heirs, or a Katherine Graham who inherited The Washington Post after her husband died. Those women have been tolerated because they came on the scene with a power position that could not be easily dismantled.
But the rest of us, those of us who had wonderful ideas and try to make them happen, we had a different road with many treacherous curves to maneuver. We had to make sure we talk in a way that doesn’t ruffle too many feathers. Never could we upset the owners of the businesses we were trying to work with. We had to be strong, smart and capable, but at the same time be pleasing and nice.
Not that there is anything wrong with being nice! But as I came up in the business world, men could be rude, difficult, even tyrannical but they were tolerated. And men had much more leeway to not do great work and still keep their positions. We women didn’t have those luxuries.
Fast forward to 2020. The rules are slowly changing, but are we doing enough to push through the barriers that for so many years we have taken for granted? Are we willing to stop, look around and figure out how we can truly help each other for the betterment of all?
All this requires asking yourself the most important question: What am I afraid of?
Fear is what drives us to be so self-protective that we don’t open our hearts and minds to new ways to make a difference in the world. We stick to a status quo in fear that changing may cause us to lose out somehow. That attitude keeps women in jobs they don’t love, behaving in ways that are detrimental to them and to other women around them. So here’s my answer to the original question: It will only change when we change.