I work well with men; I always have. They are straightforward and easy to talk to. I don’t have to guess what they are thinking, they will tell me. And I don’t have to wonder if they mean it. They are straight forward in their dealings. There is no guesswork about motives, I find them to be brutally honest with me. While sometimes it is hard to hear, I have learned to take it and then learn from it. So, give me a room full of men any day.
With women, I find myself questioning their authenticity and genuineness. That has to do with a lifetime of experiences that I have had. I am tall, intelligent and successful. I have been judged harshly by women over the years. And when I have allowed someone close, I have been betrayed and therefore severely hurt. And I’m not alone in this experience. I have had many women say to me that they have had the same or similar experiences.
This makes me sad. As a female leader, I want to support other women. As a woman, I want to stand in solidarity with other women. However, with a history like this, it has been difficult to trust. When there is no trust, it is difficult to open-up to women; difficult to want to help them. This HAS to change if we want to sit at the leadership table. And I believe it is…slowly. So how can we shift this more quickly?
As a young business woman, I wanted a female mentor; I even actively looked for one. However, I found that women were very territorial and unwilling to help. Perhaps they thought that I wanted their job, when all I really wanted was to be better at mine. Perhaps it is because historically women have been forced to compete to get that one place at the table and were afraid of losing their spot. Maybe they really did not know how to mentor or perhaps they believed that they didn’t have anything that they could teach me.
Whatever the reason, as women we must find a way to overcome these challenges and support each other. To do that, we must first face the reality of our own shortcomings. We must look in the collective mirror and acknowledge ways that we sabotage ourselves and each other.
So let’s look at ways that we sabotage ourselves and each other.
Too often I hear women say, “I can’t do that.” Doesn’t matter what it is, they believe they can’t. It’s too overwhelming. We have been conditioned to not take risks. There is a ton of research out there about this, so I won’t bore you with the details, but we have to start believing in ourselves. How? Think on this a bit. We have borne children, nurtured them, run households while also holding down jobs. Ladies, this is management and leadership at it’s best! So, don’t shortchange yourself. Congratulate yourself on your accomplishments.
Another favorite. “She’s better than me, I’ll never be able to …” Fill in the blank. When we start comparing ourselves to someone else, we are setting ourselves up to fail. And ironically, SHE IS PROBABLY THINKING THE SAME THING! This is a competitive mindset and does not serve us well. If we shift that thinking to “She is really good at…, I can learn from her” we are no longer competing. Also, by shifting, we are recognizing someone’s strengths and can then celebrate it. This is a much healthier state of mind. It also allows us to move into a more collaborative state, which is a more natural state for women.
An extension of “she’s better than me” is “she thinks she’s so great...” Again, this is a competitive mindset, but rather than putting ourselves down, this is a way to put the other person down. And again, it is an unhealthy, competitive mindset. If we shift this to, “Wow! She really knows what she wants!” or “She has a lot of confidence. That’s awesome.” This again, allows us to recognize and celebrate another woman’s strength.
My personal favorite, “She’s a bossy bitch.” Have you EVER called a man bossy? I mean really? This is again, another way to put down another woman. Tina Fey has a fabulous book out there called Bossypants. It is hilarious! It is also very true. Calling a woman “Bossy” diminishes her authority. It is also something that causes a woman to shrink down, rather than appear Bossy, because it is seen as “bad”. However, men that behave the same way are considered “take charge” kind of guys. Why do we do this? Why is the same behavior viewed so differently in a man than a woman? Competition.
So, now what?
Understanding how we sabotage ourselves and each other is only half the battle. Now we must shift our behavior. If we are honest with ourselves, we can then start to make changes. At first the changes may be scary…even difficult. However, if we really want to see a change in female leadership, we must be willing to do exactly that; walk through that scary, rocky place and get to the other side. In other words, we must become vulnerable. Vulnerability is a super scary thing. I know this. I have lived it and continue to live it. However, if we learn how to be vulnerable, and yet strong, the rewards are amazing. We can’t be both, you say. Yes, we can. Next week I’ll talk more about ways that vulnerability and strength can support each other, creating an environment of trust which then leads to a more collaborative environment. Until next week…