As a big believer in women supporting each other I frequently get asked how to deal with judgments and criticism from other women in the office. Clients share that other women perceive them as bossy, that they’re viewed with envy and jealousy, or that they have bumped into a Queen Bee.
Mean Girls At Work
Unfortunately their experiences are indeed still the reality at some work places but the good news is it does not have to be this way.
As humans we are naturally wired to connect, support and find security and belonging with each other. Just like other mammals we thrive on close relationships and community. And having worked with 100s of different women, from different backgrounds, and with different values and perspectives, I know that when the environment allows for it, women can connect to each other at such a depth and profound level that very little else can even come close.
You simply will have to think of your best girlfriends, your favourite aunt or teacher to know what I’m taking about. And you might have even had one of those amazing experiences at a women’s conference or training where you got sucked up into an atmosphere of true community and spirit.
But if that’s the basic truth, then what triggers women to be mean to each other?
The Myth Of Scarcity
Like it or not many of us have been raised on a steady diet of fairy tales and stories of mean women. The evil stepmother controlling us, followed by evil stepsisters chasing after the same man – the only man – we are destined to marry.
Add to that that until only about 100 years ago (depending on where you live) women had no – or very limited – access to power, money and/or status. Our well-being, safety and ultimately survival was dependent on a benevolent third party, either our family or our husband.
So it’s no surprise that by the time we started entering the workplace, and many times right until now, we still believe that power, status and love are scarce. And we have to compete for the only seat at the board table and the one good man out there. Which in turn, makes all other women feel like competition.
The Myth Of The Catty Woman
In her article with the same title Sheryl Sandberg shares that statistically this is not true. And she goes on to explain that studies revealed that ”the person blocking the second woman’s path wasn’t usually a queen bee; it was a male chief executive. When a woman was made chief executive, the opposite was true. In those companies, a woman had a better chance of joining senior management than when the chief executive was a man.”
And in her book Wolfpack Abby Wambach writes:
”The Wolfpack’s belief is that scarcity is a lie.
That power and success and joy are not pies. A bigger slice for one woman doesn’t mean a smaller slice for another. We believe that love, justice, success, and power are infinite and meant to be accessible to all.
Revolutions are won with collective action.
We will take action on behalf of all of us.
We will help each other. We will rush towards each other. We will point to each other. We will claim infinite joy, success, and power – together. We will celebrate the success of one woman as a collective success for all women.”
…if there’s only one chair – we’ll bring up a few more!
It’s long overdue for us to drop these outdated myths and step into a new paradigm. And to do so it is important to remember what structure these believes served to stay in power. They served the old structures of the patriarchy and kept us women in check under the motto of ”divide and conquer”. Patriarchy did not have to worry that one day the other 50% of the population would want to reclaim their place and demand equal rights, if they could keep pitching us against each other. But we’ve got a choice now.
YOU can choose to show up as the non-judgemental and inclusive woman you wish your female colleagues to be. YOU can choose to invite their contribution and collaboration. YOU can choose to show up with curiosity, not judgement.
And by doing so, by taking time to meet and get to know them better, you will find that many times the perceived ”enemy” will turn into a friend or ally for life.
If you’d like us to dig a bit deeper into your specific situation and for us to give you a bit more personal advice book a complimentary coaching session with us. We’d be delighted to help you with this.
We can choose to make a make a difference. Together.
Visionary Collective Leader at Azkua