Stop believing this lie about women’s relationships
Business is about relationships.
Because of what the media puts in front of us and the experiences we witness firsthand, we spend a lot of time looking at the problems of how men relate to women in business and personal contexts. Men have been socialized to treat women as less-than. As weak. As incapable of managing risk. These are lies.
But there’s another lie that is very destructive for women in business.
It’s the false idea that women’s relationships with each other — in both personal and business contexts — are catty and combative by default and only supportive in rare exceptions.
To generalize all women’s relationships is to make a bogus generalization about all women. Women are diverse. Therefore, women’s relationships with each other will all look different.
If you believe this lie, you’re doing the work of the patriarchy, and you’re doing yourself no favors.
This lie can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because you will bring that expectation into your relationships.
I have been that woman — the one who assumes that relationships with women are difficult by default.
Sometimes it’s as small as the way we size each other up when another woman walks into the room. We judge each other on how we look, how we take care of ourselves, how we speak.
Sometimes it’s judging a woman for ‘acting like a bro,’ as if she’s violated some unspoken code of feminine conduct.
Or sometimes, we let miscommunications escalate into a fight. Like last week, when I was at a restaurant, and the hostess was short with me, I returned in kind.
But I caught myself. I owned up to it after I had re-examined what all had happened in that 30 second exchange, and I apologized to her for my behavior, without expecting anything from her in return.
I’ve been on the receiving end of this behavior too. When we first started Doyenne, we were seen as a competitor and a way to steal women from other organizations, both by organizations for men and women and those specifically for women. But that was never our intention. We saw a need for a group that told women they weren’t broken, that the ecosystem is what needed fixing. An organization that provided networking and strategic business training, not just tactical.
We knew many women had found a good fit with the existing resources, but many other women had not. We have always said that part of our mission is to collaborate with existing and new resources to cross-promote and support, and to fill the gaps of what’s missing.
We don’t have to keep believing this lie about women’s relationships, and missing out on the support and powerful collaboration women’s relationships can bring.
Here’s how to do better:
RECOGNIZE THAT WE ALL ACT OR PARTICIPATE IN BULLYING BEHAVIOR AT SOME POINT.
- By definition, bullying means “behaving as a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker”, or “using superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.” Even if you’re on the lowest rung of the corporate ladder, there are people you have power over, and it’s easy to abuse that power, even in subtle ways.
CATCH YOURSELF IN MOMENTS WHERE YOU ARE PARTICIPATING IN BULLYING BEHAVIOR.
- Nine times out of ten, if you’re lashing out at another human-being, it’s because someone lashed out at you, so you’re going to pass it onto the next weakest person nearby.
RECOGNIZE WHEN YOUR ACTIONS STEM FROM INSECURITY.
- If you find yourself bullying others, there’s a good chance that you’re acting out of a lack of confidence in who you are as a person. You manifest your insecurities about yourself by judging others for their appearance, their voice, their professionalism. If you fix yourself first, you’ll fix how you treat other women.
RECOGNIZE THE IMPACT OF YOUR ENVIRONMENT.
- If you’re in an environment that doesn’t allow you to be yourself, it will impact your behavior (not to mention your mental health). It’s tough, when we are so often recruited to serve as the token female in offices that profess to care about diversity and women’s issues. But once we get into those offices, we realize that the culture doesn’t allow us to be ourselves. The culture is hard on women, and in order to survive in that culture, we have to blend in and become hard on women in turn.
FIND ROLE MODELS AND FRIENDS TO HELP YOU WORK THROUGH THE TOUGH PARTS OF RELATIONSHIPS.
- Especially if you find yourself in a toxic office environment, it’s very important to have role models and personal friends who can help you work through the tough parts of relationships. You need someone to serve as a third party who is rooting for your relationship, and can help you see the other person’s side. They don’t need to be a licensed therapist, but they definitely play a therapeutic role.
I love following Sophia Bush and Shonda Rhimes and look at them as role models. Whether it’s their social media presence, their work, or their books, they are both class acts who demonstrate what it looks like to elevate women in everything they do.Personally, I have to give a shout-out to my friend Michelle Somes-Booher. She’s that third party who wants my relationships with women to succeed. She helps me work through personality differences and miscommunications for when I can’t see outside of my perspective as to where they’re coming from.
Change your attitude to change your relationships
The women in your life can be your biggest fans and your hardest working allies. Or they can be obstacles standing in your way, eating up your slice of the success pie.
The difference is you, and the attitude you bring. As we celebrate women’s history and International Women’s Day this month, let’s remember to choose collaboration, not competition.