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Are you really supporting other women?

Sunday, July 27, 2014  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Michele Hanson

I owe much of my success in business to the efforts of one woman.

I began my career in consumer products as an administrative assistant, and the first female employee I met on my first day of work insisted on introducing me to everyone in the company. With her guidance, I took advantage of networking opportunities. My career developed quickly, and in 2001, I — and a handful of other retail and consumer goods industry executives — founded the Network of Executive Women to provide more opportunities for women to work together and support each other's careers.

But we don’t always do that, do we? It’s clear that women still have gains to make in the workplace, especially considering we still make 81 percent of what men make in similar professions. Catalyst’s 2014 report reveals that women hold just 18.6 percent of executive officer roles in the U.S. retail trade.

Related: "How to break into 'closed' networks" 

And yet, women don’t work together as well as we could. An Oxygen Media poll reveals that 65 percent of women resent powerful women. Perhaps you’ve felt it yourself. After a promotion, you hear coworkers gossiping about how you made your way up the corporate ladder. Or maybe you’re guilty of it, too: finding ways to put down your colleague when she gets assigned a project that you wanted or talking about a female executive in your company and claiming she’s, in fact, prejudiced against other women.

Women can be prone to this sort of behavior. We interact with our coworkers differently than men, and we can blame biology for our emphasis on feelings and relationships. As young girls, we play relationships games (like dolls, house and school) and we play them nicely. The unofficial "Rule of Female Equality,” an expectation of flatness that is prevalent in female culture, insists that we all remain equal. When one woman has more power than another woman, she violates that unspoken rule.

But, as women, we also are able to rise above this sort of behavior. Instead of tearing each other down, imagine how much stronger we would be if we consistently built each other up? History is rife with examples of the power of women working together. From Women Together advancing peace in unstable Northern Ireland to the Coalition of Women for Peace working for a more just society in the Middle East, unified groups of women are impacting communities.

Today, you can start creating stronger connections between women beginning in your own workplace with a few small changes:

  • Be aware of the female tendency to put down women with power.
  • Avoid harmful conversation that tears down others.
  • Pay attention to how your own communication and leadership styles might cause other woman to resent you, and work to create spaces for healthy conversations.
  • Figure out how you can build relationships with women based on trust and then use those relationships to make your organization better.

As Gail Evans states in her book She Wins, You Win, the number-one rule is this: "Every woman must always play on the women’s team. Because every time any woman succeeds in business, your chances of succeeding in business increase. And every time a woman fails in business, your chances of failure increase.”

If the coworker I met on my first day of work felt threatened by my presence in the office, she never let on. She pushed me forward, always encouraging, and the gift she gave me helped me succeed in ways beyond what I had imagined for myself.

When we move from women/women conflict to women/women collaboration, we make both ourselves and our communities infinitely stronger.

Michele Hanson, the first president of the Network of Executive Women, is CEO of ExecuInsight LLC. She provides targeted training opportunities to companies in areas such as women’s advocacy, organizational effectiveness, executive coaching and more. She is a certified Birkman consultant.

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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