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How Women Can Support Women In Business And Stop Being Mean Girls

   

In one of my last roles before becoming self-employed, I had to deal with a woman who was the very stereotype that perpetuates women not supporting one another. Any fellow female worker she perceived either as outshining her or undermining her in any way was subject to her wrath. She talked behind people's backs. She threw other women under the bus, and in general, any female who reported to her had a choice to make: do mental and physical acrobatics to make certain they gave her center stage or be pushed out.

As I share this experience, frankly, I feel guilty. In explaining what has prompted my mission to support other women at all costs, I'm shining a light on another woman's negative behavior. I don't enjoy this now, and I didn't enjoy it then. Making your female co-workers the enemy isn't what I'd call a healthy competition. It is perhaps a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Yes, you may feel victorious for a few minutes or maybe even climb the corporate ladder, but how is this cut-throat, "there's only room for one woman at the top" philosophy going to help more women secure leadership roles? And really, what do you want your legacy to be? A woman who created a bigger table for more women or the queen bee who isn't respected. I'm not even talking being liked or not, but genuinely respected.

Perhaps I can't blame her as the workplace isn't always a level playing field. Still, it created such a toxic environment, and even though it will not be easy, we need to do better. After some time privately analyzing that experience, I can honestly say I have to thank her. She brought home how much we need to work together for equal pay, for equal opportunity, and if nothing else, to show future generations that we do not have to fall victim to the female rivalry narrative.

I spoke to three women who share this commitment.

Turning a Negative Into A Positive

We can take these experiences and learn from them to enact real change. Reimagining how women can promote one another is what Kathleen Griffith, Catie Luzio, and Kristy Wallace are aiming to do both professionally and personally.

Catie Luzio discusses women supporting women in the workplace.

Cate Luzio, Founder and CEO of Luminary

Ms. Luzio, at one time, was an Executive Vice President and Global Head of Multinational Corporate Banking for HSBC before becoming the Founder and CEO of Luminary, a global collaboration hub for women who are passionate about professional development and expanding their networks. She said the finance world, in general, is a competitive field regardless of gender. "I believe competition is a good thing - but having a competitive spirit shouldn't hold women back from supporting other women," she explains. "It's my experience that when there are so few women at the table, it can create a breeding ground for unhealthy competition. When I saw that behavior, I didn't let it slide. I called them on it even as a more junior year employee, not just with women but with men too and especially if I saw it among peers. I made it my mission to support other women and invest in mentoring and developing talent.”

Kathleen Griffith, entrepreneur, talks female-owned businesses, and more.

Kathleen Griffith, Owner of female-focused marketing consultancy, Grayce & Co.

"In starting my own business, I experienced how difficult it was to get things off the ground," Kathleen Griffith is the owner of female-focused marketing consultancy, Grayce & Co, which works with Fortune 500 brands, as well as media companies. She is also the Founder of Build Like A Woman, a global platform providing inspiration, tools, and community for women to rise and thrive in all aspects of their businesses and lives. "It was lonely, required sacrifices I underestimated, and often left me feeling like I was playing full out on a tilted court. But what I also know for sure is that in having your own business and betting on yourself, you will find strength, resiliency, financial freedom and independence. And so, knowing what's on the other side, my passion is to help women start companies and, in doing so, architect the life of their dreams. It is not easy, but it is every bit worth it."

Kristy Wallace on women building each other up in business

Kristy Wallace, CEO at Ellevate Network

Ms. Wallace also mentions the feeling of loneliness. She is CEO of Ellevate Network, host of the Ellevate Podcast: Conversations with Women Changing the Face of Business, and is responsible for executing its mission of changing the culture of a business. “The professional landscape can often be lonely and confusing, and nobody should feel like they need to figure everything out on their own,” she said. “Even when you finally get the perfect job, there are always obstacles to overcome. Ellevate is a group of people who you can trust, who understand what you’re going through, and who genuinely want to help you succeed.”

There Are Benefits to Supporting Other Women

Historically, there has been this unspoken message that if you help another woman, she’ll take the seemingly one seat at the table open for a female. In speaking to these three women, we discussed a communal effort to create more opportunities and how it can be in our favor to serve as a mentor.

“It's only natural that a woman's first thought when she sees another woman succeed might be outright competitive and not supportive,” Ms. Griffith reasoned. “That washes over pretty quickly, though, as women want to back each other. At work, this often takes shape in the form of a whisper network. It might entail sharing salary information, revealing bad actors to avoid and rooting for each other's professional wins.

Echoing this sentiment, Ms. Wallace said, “I do believe that most women want to support others in the workplace, but to be an ally, we all need to put in the work to understand our varied experiences and how we can best show up for others.” She suggests that collective action and support will ensure that we move the dial and change the culture of a business. She explains, “At our core, Ellevate believes everyone — no matter their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic backgrounds — deserves to have full and equal access to power. As the largest community of women at work, our coalition is ready to advocate not just for themselves but for each other.”

Ms. Luzio agrees. “It’s a win-win all around when women support each other. There’s no better feeling than helping another woman’s business, career, and ideas, trials, and triumphs. We need more women to support each other if we want to continue to advance and make real progress toward equity in the workplace and economic empowerment. Whether it’s gender equality, pay parity, parental leave or workplace flexibility, we can no longer afford to be in it for ourselves. We have a common goal here.”

When asked if being a female entrepreneur has advantages in terms of redefining how women work together, Ms. Griffith answers definitively, “Absolutely. In one word. Purpose. For those of us who have started a business, we know we represent a collective of women. That purpose roots us, pulls us, fuels us, and sustains us.”

“I believe deeply in public demonstration,” she continues. “Just by being the fullest expression of yourself as a leader — knowing other women are watching what you say, what you stand up for, and how you move through the world —- can illuminate the path up the mountain. Your life, in real life, can be THE example.” 

What Women Can Do Now

“Be intentional,” Ms. Wallace recommends. “With every new interaction, think, "How can I best support this person?" and then act upon that. I'm always looking for ways that I can help others by sharing advice and making connections. But these actions need to be ongoing. Real systemic change doesn't happen in a day, and it takes time and work.”

Ms. Luzio suggests, “Advocate for them when not in the room, bring up their names and their work in meetings, create visibility for them. We need to promote each other so that we have more women in the pipeline and at the top. And we need more than a pipeline - we need to invest in and develop that pipeline so when those jobs come or the question ‘is she ready?’ The answer is yes. No excuses.” 

She also pointed out that when it comes to advocating for women, it isn’t just up to senior female members. “We need to remember that peer mentoring is equally as important - and you need more than women as mentors and sponsors. You need men too. They are still the majority of leaders and decision-makers.”

Providing both a final overview and call to action for all of us, Ms. Griffith stated, “The 21st century needs new kinds of businesses, entrepreneurs, and leaders. Women have had to create different work and home versions of themselves. For women to feel fulfilled, they need to be fully integrated – and owning a business is a vehicle to make that possible. And it just so happens that bringing your 'whole' self to your business is not only kind, it is the single most significant X factor to success. Women are ready to lead –- and now is the time.”

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