We’re all familiar with stereotypes about women not supporting other women in the workplace. Media displays some women colleagues as catty and competitive. They put each other down to score one of the few positions at the top of the career ladder. Unfortunately, these incidents happen in real life, too. According to one study, 70 percent of female executives feel as though they’ve been bullied by other female coworkers. They believe that these incidents have hurt their professional development.
It’s high time to change the narrative and embody the change we hope to see in the workplace. Uplifting other women is crucial to creating, developing and sustaining more diverse, equitable and inclusive organizations. By supporting each other, we can create a more positive environment and a healthy workplace for everyone. The following are a few ways you can better help the women in your organization.
Focus on Fostering Relationships
As you may know, business isn’t just about a company; it’s about the people. If this is something you recognize, think about how you’re spending your time. Do you prioritize meetings, conversations, or even lunches with your female coworkers? If so, why not? Many of us already have too-busy schedules. Consider ways to dial back on your responsibilities, or find ways to be intentional about finding time to build relationships. Creating a connection isn’t normally something you can do passively; you need to take the initiative and reach out to others.
Build a Genuine Network
Don’t just foster relationships for the sake of networking. People are far more than what they can offer you. Find women you admire, and ask them for advice. Don’t be afraid to follow up and continue to stay connected. Keeping professional relationships alive requires consistent effort, not just a business card or LinkedIn connection request. You shouldn’t just ask for advice, you should also participate in whatever way you can!
Build Other Women Up
Be a great workplace ally. If you have the opportunity to mentor or sponsor a deserving female colleague, make sure to take that opportunity. If you notice one of your colleagues doing a stellar job, don’t be afraid to let them know! Chances are, they’ll appreciate the compliment and model that same behavior with their own team. Let your manager or other coworkers know when she deserves credit. If you struggle with feeling like you’re directing attention away from yourself, remember that you’re acting as a member of a team: when one person succeeds, you all do! Steer away from gossip or talking about other women behind their backs. Ultimately, this reflects poorly on you as well.
Take the high road, and focus your attention more on sharing about success and positive traits than negative ones. Make sure to also lead by example to demonstrate how your other colleagues are valued by making it clear that bullying, discriminatory behavior and microaggressions – some of the most common negative experiences women face in the workplace – won’t be tolerated. Take real steps to make sure all women, including women from underrepresented groups (e.g., women of color, LGBTQ+ and non-binary coworkers) feel as supported as other employees.
Everyone succeeds when women support other women at work, especially women who may less likely to benefit from informal mentorship or formal sponsorship by executive leaders. Building each other up is a leadership habit that encourages others and helps to shift the culture of an organization. You can start by creating new relationships, building a network, and consistently crediting your female coworkers. It’s high time we had each other’s backs!
Be Compassionate and Flexible
This global pandemic has impacted all of us, especially mothers and caregivers. We need to recognize that the pandemic has exacerbated and laid bare the inequities or lack of support many women were already experiencing in the workplace. We should not simply aim towards an equilibrium or “new normal.” Instead, we should use this opportunity to rethink how our workplaces might better support all employees, especially those of us who are working “double shifts” at work or remotely while teaching children or caregiving for elderly or disabled loved ones. It is imperative that we be more compassionate about how this pandemic might be adversely or disproportionately impacting our colleagues.
Make sure to check in with them and let them know that it is not only okay, but important for them to focus on self-care and wellness. In order to truly embrace equity as a value, organizations must not only compensate women fairly for their work, but also implement family-friendly policies that improve flexibility, provide for robust parental and leave options, and forge alternative, non-traditional paths to promotions.