Achieving equal rights starts with treating one another as equals.
It's common to hear women talk about how poorly they're being treated by men, but what about how women at work treat other women?
Women speak of wanting equal pay, equal treatment, and so on. Yet, if we really want to achieve equal status to our male counterparts as women, then it needs to begin with us; women need to support women.
Treat others the way you wish to be treated
Women can treat other women at work badly; I've seen it happen. I've had female clients call me seeking advice on how to deal with their female bosses and senior leaders who were harsh, demanding, mean, and borderline harassing.
I've seen women gossip and talk poorly behind their female co-workers' backs. I've seen women call other women derogatory terms for their bold requests and firm beliefs, but consider such actions normal for men.
I've had female colleagues refuse to be open to ideas from other women (even if they were great), and yet jump at the chance to take on ideas from male counterparts. I've even heard women accuse other women of sleeping with their senior management to get ahead, calling each other nasty names, and yet are silent when it comes to the men of the office.
In my second round of graduate school, I was taking a media studies course that really opened up my eyes to how poorly women are represented on TV and in the media. Not only are we represented poorly, but it's also often women who talk poorly about other women on the news and in the media.
I was also floored in class one day when a woman — without a second thought — called another woman a derogatory term after hearing a not-so-flattering story. She seemed to come to the conclusion about the woman without hearing the whole story, and did not comment on the guy's behavior at all.
It made me realize that much of what we say about other women has been ingrained in our subconscious because we've heard these types of comments growing up.
It's time to support each other
The heart of the women's movement is about supporting women to achieve positive results — and that support needs to come from both men and women alike.
According to the Ladders and research published in the journal Development and Learning in Organisations, 70 percent of female executives feel as though they've been bullied by other women in their workplaces and that these bullying incidents have stunted their professional growth. That's why supporting women professionals is important.
In fact, there is research that shows women professionals benefit more from collaboration with other woman than competition. New research in the Harvard Business Review finds that while both men and women benefit from having a network of well-connected peers across different groups, women who also have an inner circle of close female contacts are more likely to land executive positions with greater authority and higher pay.
While I've seen this poor behavior of women towards other women at work, I have also witnessed several amazing women leaders support other women in the workforce and life.
These women are often the most successful and represent the kinds of examples we need to set for other women. Below are some of the traits or approaches to successfully support women in work and in life.
They're compassionately honest
Being honest and dealing with issues in the workplace as they happen is important. However, that doesn't mean we need to attack each other when we make mistakes. I like to encourage people to be compassionately honest, which means telling the truth and being honest while also being kind about it.
They're supportive of other women
The more we encourage others, the more support and encouragement we receive in return.
They take the high road
Don't gossip or badmouth others, as it will only make you look bad. Take the high road during trying times, and you'll be glad you did in the long run.
They don't compare themselves to others
We are often critical of other women when we feel bad about ourselves. Experts say that in comparing ourselves to others, we are only creating a scenario that makes us feel inferior.
In choosing not to compare yourself to other women, you'll be supporting your own well-being and mindset, putting you in a better position to support others.
They have other women's backs
When you hear people talking negatively about other women at work, don't participate. If appropriate, you might even offer up some positive points about the individual being discussed.
They network with other women
Women supporting women is key — and part of that is networking with other women professionals. And the best place to do so is at women-only networking events or in these specific groups.
Women-centric networking events tend to be about supporting each other than having to play the role of “professional,” and fostering a safe space to allow women to vent, be vulnerable, and be themselves.
Some women's networking groups include Sallie Krawchek's Ellevate Network, a professional network of women supporting each other across companies to change the culture of business at large, Ellevest, an investment firm focused on women and companies that advance women, and Dee Poku-Spalding's WIE networks (Women Inspiration and Enterprise), a leadership network whose mission is to support women in their career ambitions by providing real world learning via access to established business leaders.
There is also Together Digital, a networking group for women who work in digital industries.
They know there's enough to go around
When we come from a place of scarcity — or a "there's not enough" type of behavior — we operate out of fear. There are lots of opportunities out there and plenty of money to go around. Successful women leaders know this, so remind yourself of this anytime you feel otherwise.
They refer other women
If you know of women looking for work or a better position, get their information so you can refer them if/when an opportunity arises.
They don't make assumptions
Everyone has a story and reason for doing whatever it is they're doing. Don't assume you know someone else's reasons, so don't spread rumors or gossip about it.
They encourage other women
To help increase opportunities and pay equality for women, it helps when women hire and support other women when they're in a position to do so. It also helps to highlight and encourage other women when the opportunities arise. What goes around, comes around.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the American Association of University Women (AAUW), and Payscale, white women are paid 81 cents for every dollar that men earn — with Black and Hispanic/Latino women earning 62 cents and 54 cents to the dollar, respectively. Over a lifetime, women stand to lose an average of $900,000 in lost wages.
We need to do better. Maybe we can help close that gap faster as women if we treat other women as our equals. Women need to be lifting, supporting, and celebrating other women instead of trying to bring them down. In doing so, we all benefit with a healthier workplace for all.
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This article was updated in September 2020 by Danielle Elmers.