NOT MY SISTERS’ KEEPER
They say we should be our sisters’ keeper. They say we should look out for each other and that we should put each other on. But….. we all know that some sisters don’t play by those rules. The only person they are looking out for is themselves. Female rivalry is still wreaking havoc in professional and social settings. This is not a flattering topic but it needs to be addressed.
Time and time again I hear women sharing stories about the lack of support they are receiving from other women. I have been a part of discussions where the “crabs in a bucket” mentality is described when discussing how some women treat each other in the workplace. Instead of embracing collaboration, some women are focused on competing. There is nothing wrong with healthy and respectful competition between women who know each other and women who don’t know each other. This type of competition keeps you sharp and on your toes. But spiteful and hateful competition is a big problem.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
We can take it back to the days of slavery when the field slave woman was made to feel inferior to the house slave woman. Then, the wife slave owner was superior over both the house slave woman and the field slave woman. The field slave woman felt “less than” the house slave woman. Women have been pit against each other for centuries. As time passed, the Civil Rights Movement and Affirmative Action were historical acts to begin to create some form of equality for black men and women. Along with Affirmative Action came tokenism. Employers would only hire or promote just enough staff to meet their diversity quota. Most of the time there was only one. If there happened to be more than one black female working for a company many times there would not be more than one in a leadership position, if any at all. It was rare to witness more than one black woman being promoted to upper-level positions within a company during the Affirmative Action days. There lies one of the strongest influences on the mentality that has shaped the relationship between women in the workplace. The “there’s only room for one of us” mentality has created a history of women competing against each other rather than supporting each other.
Insecurities increase the perception that other women are a threat. To pacify that insecurity competition and rivalries are formed. Unfair judgment also begins. When someone is seen by many as a top performer, an expert, or just good at what they do, insecure people will attempt to find fault in them and disparage their reputation. Some women work overtime trying to discredit another woman’s accomplishments or abilities. They hate the way others love her. It’s sad but true.
Women’s rivalry has been infiltrated into our minds since we were introduced to the fairytales of Snow White and Cinderella. And today, we see it played out on several reality shows. It’s like it’s a norm and everyone knows it and has accepted it. But it’s draining, stressful, and hurtful to the one on the receiving end of the mean-girl behavior.
The scarcity mindset hinders all women whether you are the women struggling to be supportive of other women, or you are the woman this behavior is directed to. Really, this hinders all women because this behavior perpetuates harmful stereotypes that create some of the gender biases that cause obstacles for women’s advancement. Women have unconscious biases against women too, which reinforces some women’s distrust of other women, stifles strong relationships among women, and causes some women to see other women as a threat. One of the main reasons women rival against each other is because they believe alienating other women increase their visibility and opportunities to advance or achieve a goal. The attitude of “if she’s not a part of the equation they only see me” has done so much emotional, psychological, and, financial harm to women. It’s time for this to end.
- Do you emphasize and focus on mistakes other women may make?
- Do you remain silent when men are speaking negatively about another woman in your presence?
- Do you intentionally avoid developing relationships with other women in the workplace?
- Do you withhold praise and compliments to women who have made an achievement, been promoted?
- Do you feel “some type of way”(insecure, jealous, angry) every time you encounter a woman who is doing well for herself?
- Do you have a problem with mentoring or sharing information and resources with other women?
If you truthfully answered “yes” to either question, reflect and try to get to the root of your “why” and then make a conscious effort to get past whatever it is.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Recognizing that women’s rivalry is a real issue and how much damage it causes is extremely important. Since it affects all women, directly or indirectly, it’s every woman’s problem. No, we are not responsible for the behavior of others. But, we are responsible for our own. If every woman committed to refusing to do anything to intentionally sabotage or hinder another woman’s progress, we could shift women-specific social norms, break down some harmful stereotypes, and build stronger relationships with women we should be learning from, not competing with. We are much stronger when we collaborate.
Other ways to avoid being “the other woman” are:
- Build an alliance with the women you work with
- Mentor or sponsor a well-deserving, high-potential professional woman
- Seek motivational speaking opportunities at high schools and colleges when the target audience is female/girls
- Understand your own biases against women and make a conscious effort to change your views
- If you are in a position to do so, share your platform with other women, where it makes sense
- Share information and resources that could help another woman
- Use your influence to connect her with who she needs to be connected with
- Use your voice to speak up and out about practices, behavior, and biases that negatively affect the livelihood of women.
Women’s rivalry is nothing new but it needs to stop. If you believe another woman is holding you back, try to find out what the issue is, if it can be done without intensifying the situation. If you don’t feel comfortable with that approach, you have to self-advocate and do some strategic damage control. You can’t just sit back and let someone else control your circumstances, however, whatever you do, do it professionally, assertively, and with confidence and poise. Don’t do anything that will feed into the stereotypes. Stand up for yourself but be smart about it.
Women are a force to be reckoned with. Let’s use our power to uplift and not tear each other down.
Jackie Robinson is founder of SheBoss Unlimited, a leadership and professional development company for career-driven, high-achieving and high-potential women professionals and women entrepreneurs. She also offers her consulting services to small to mid-sized companies who are interested in developing women-focused programs or seeking coaching for their female employees. Jackie is a certified professional development coach and diversity trainer with over 20 years of experience as a success strategist and is passionate about empowering women to position themselves for advancement opportunities by continuing to sharpen their professional skills, understanding how to navigate the obstacles that women face in corporate America and business, being on point with their executive presence, and developing a mindset that will prepare them to go for what they deserve in their careers or entrepreneurial pursuits.