When we become true allies, women will finally make strides toward equality in business.
I admit, leaving my corporate job and the 25-year financial services career I worked so hard to architect was a serious gut check. It’s always scary to move away from what you know—we are creatures of habit. But as I looked at the landscape—the resurgence of the Women’s Movement—I couldn’t help but think that now is the time to launch my brand, which aims to inspire people, especially women, to go after their dreams and be their best selves.
However, in the early going, I’ve discovered a theme among many of the women I’m consulting with to help navigate their personal and career transitions.
I regularly hear that they aren’t getting the support from the women in their network that they expected, and there seems to be a competitive edge instead of a rallying sisterhood that feels counterintuitive and a little frustrating at times. I’ve heard dozens of testimonials where women in transition are grappling with why their own female networks won’t go out on a limb to facilitate opportunities on their behalf.
During my career, I’ve seen this plenty of times in dozens of scenarios, where women are reluctant to advocate for each other, but I always chalked it up to the narrowing at the top. Women make up such a small percentage of high-level and C-suite positions. And it’s getting worse. According to Fortune, the number of female chief executives at Fortune 500 companies dropped by 25 percent in a single year in 2018 and now make up just under 5 percent of all CEOs. Yikes!
But despite the fact that we still make $.75 to $.80 to the dollar that men make, women are often the first to tear each other down. Now’s the time to change our behavior—if we’re not supporting each other, we need to start. If we don’t become allies and bridge builders for each other, it’s impossible to imagine ever approaching the equal status that we deserve. One of the corporate leaders I most admire, Indra Nooyi, former CEO of Pepcico, said it pretty succinctly: “The glass ceiling will go away when women help other women break through that ceiling.”
Look, I get it. With so few women at the top, we can tend to feel the need to compete with each other. When you look around the conference room and see only one or two other female faces, it can get in your head. It can feel counterproductive to try to promote one other. But in my experience, it works the opposite way. When we propel each other, we create opportunities and bridges for ourselves. All ships rise.
There are plenty of people I respect who say the idea that women don’t support each other is just a stereotype that needs to be vanquished, but that’s not been my experience in totality. Either way, whether or not this Female Complex is pervasive, we can still do more for each other.
Mentoring is a great place to start. Offer a hand to that recent college grad or the new person on the floor who recently returned from a stint home raising kids or even serving our country. Show them the ropes. Introduce them to people who can inspire and support their growth. Sharing your network is immeasurably helpful. Do the things that would have helped you when you were climbing the ranks, now that you have the benefit of hindsight.
Another way to support others is through sponsorship. It may sound the same, but it’s different than mentorship in that you deliberately invest time and resources to promote someone’s career success by broadening their network, introducing them to potential job opportunities, and backing them in projects. You become their champion and you are supporting their advancement and goals.
Let’s be honest. Without allies who are truly willing to advocate for us, we will never get where we are trying to go. I love how Shelley Zalis, CEO of the Female Quotient phrased it in a recent Forbes Women article: “Raising each other up and channeling the power of collaboration is truly how we’ll change the equation.”
While I think all women are superheroes, we are not superhuman and we need each other’s support. We need to give each other grace when we fall short—and when society sets unrealistic expectations or our workplaces have antiquated rules.Serena Williams