Are you finding it hard to create an impact? And, every way you turn there is an obstacle: a common feeling on a solo journey! There is always a better way on the journey to success and there are people who can support you, especially other women. Channelling the power of collaboration is truly how we’ll change the equation: “I always say a woman alone has power; collectively we have impact”- Shelly Zalis. As a leader, when we take small steps in solidarity, watch out. We’ll make a difference. Because we’re together, and that makes all the difference!
“I think every band should have a girl in it” – Stevie Nicks
The “Queen Bee” phenomenon
A HBR article by Anne Welsh McNulty emphasises, “Don’t underestimate the power of women supporting each other.” My experiences from being a rookie accountant to a managing director at an investment bank have taught me that conversations between women have massive benefits for the individual and the organization. When I graduated college in the 1970s, I believed that women would quickly achieve parity at all levels of professional life now that we had “arrived” — I viewed the lack of women at the top as more of a “pipeline” problem, not a cultural one. But the support I expected to find from female colleagues — the feeling of sisterhood in this mission — rarely survived first contact within the workplace.
When I was a first-year accountant at a Big Eight firm, I kept asking the only woman senior to me to go to lunch, until finally she told me, “Look, there’s only room for one female partner here. You and I are not going to be friends.” Unfortunately, she was acting rationally. Senior-level women who champion younger women even today are more likely to get negative performance reviews, according to a 2016 study in The Academy of Management Journal. My brusque colleague’s behaviour has a (misogynistic) academic name: the “Queen Bee” phenomenon. Some senior-level women distance themselves from junior women, perhaps to be more accepted by their male peers. As a study published in The Leadership Quarterly concludes, this is a response to inequality at the top, not the cause. By contrast, men are 46% more likely to have a higher-ranking advocate in the office, according to economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett.
I resolved not to let either of those scenarios happen again; I wanted to be aware of what was going on with the women I worked with. As I advanced in my career, I hosted women-only lunches and created open channels of communication. I made it a point to reach out to each woman who joined the firm with an open door policy, sharing advice and my personal experiences, including how to say no to doing traditionally gendered (and uncompensated) tasks like getting coffee or taking care of the office environment. To personal assistants, who might find some of those tasks unavoidable, I emphasized that they could talk to me about any issues in the workplace, that their roles were critical, and that they should be treated with respect. The lunches were essential, providing a dedicated space to share challenges and successes. Coming together as a group made people realize that their problems weren’t just specific to them, but in fact were collective obstacles. All of this vastly improved the flow of information, and relieved tension and anxiety. It reassured us that though our jobs were challenging, we were not alone. In doing so, I hope it lowered the attrition rate of women working at my company — rates that are, across all corporate jobs, stubbornly higher for women than men, especially women of colour.
So, what are women in the workplace to do, when research shows that we’re penalized for trying to lift each other up? The antidote to being penalized for sponsoring women may just be to do it more — and to do it vocally, loudly, and proudly — until we’re able to change perceptions. There are massive benefits for the individual and the organization when women support each other. Whether you are a first-year employee or a manager, just reach out and make those connections. I’m guessing you’ll find that the return on investment on the cost of a group lunch will be staggering.
Surround YOURSELF with CHEERLEADERS!
In my blog, “Women Need Support,” I highlight that when power feels like a scarce resource, people will compete with one another to grab what influence they can. Historically, women have perceived that a small amount of power and opportunity are available to us—and that these resources are controlled and granted to us by others. So when some small door of opportunity cracks open, we greedily shove one another out of our way in an effort to be the first—or better yet, only—woman through the gap. We often feel we must compete with one another to win a share of influence, and we resent one another for successes, believing other women’s achievement inherently erodes our own. The irony here is that in buying the idea of scarcity and bruising each other on our way through the door, we essentially guarantee that the real power stays in the hands of others.
When women decide to support one another rather than compete—when they feel abundance rather than their own scarcity, and they share out of that abundance—great things can happen. When we take small steps in solidarity, watch out. We’ll make a difference. Because we’re together, and that makes all the difference. Be a cheerleader! Surround yourself with cheerleaders!
Power of the Pack
Shelley Zalis in her 2019 Forbes article highlights, “Power of the Pack: Women Who Support Women Are More Successful.” I always say a woman alone has power; collectively we have impact. Traditionally we have been taught to be competitive with one another, because there was such a scarcity of jobs at the top. It’s so clear that strategy doesn’t work. The truth is that raising each other up and channelling the power of collaboration is truly how we’ll change the equation—and have a lot more fun along the way. There is a boys’ club where women never felt comfortable, so we decided to create a Girls’ Lounge more than six years ago where everyone feels like they belong. We discovered two things:
- There is power in the pack
- You realize your strengths make the table better
We need to reverse the stereotype that women don’t support other women. There is research that shows women in particular benefit from collaboration over competition. Study after study shows women who support women are more successful in business. New research in the Harvard Business Review finds that while both men and women benefit from having a network of well-connected peers across different groups, women who also have an inner circle of close female contacts are more likely to land executive positions with greater authority and higher pay, while there was no link found for the success of men in terms of the gender composition of their inner circles.
The reason? Women trying to rise up into leadership face cultural and systemic hurdles that make it harder for them to advance, such as unconscious bias. The study suggests that a way to overcome some of these hurdles is to form close connections with other women, who can share experiences from women who have been there, done that—from how to ask for what you’re worth to bringing your unique talents to leadership. Here is advice from women leaders on how to find and cultivate a close network of female professionals:
- Take the word “work” out of networking
- Prioritize relationship building
- Know that connection building isn’t one and done
- Amplify other women
- Find your squad—and tap into them
It is amazing to be part of a group of women who want you to be your very best and actively help you to succeed.
Let’s start sharing and celebrating the leadership and achievements of women. If you have a story you want to share or want to celebrate another women’s successes and achievements – email the team at [email protected] and tweet/tag #WomenSupportingWomen at McDonald Inc. and twitter https://twitter.com/mcdonald_inc01
INCREASE YOUR IMPACT through new LEADERSHIP
McDonald Inc. has a vision to: “Lead 1 million women to have Courage, Step in, Step up and Start up.” Through a compelling need, McDonald Inc. has the solutions and is now taking women’s leadership to the next level. This will help women across the globe become courageous in their lives, careers and through leadership especially in sectors where women are under-represented. Choose one of our programmes to take your leadership to the next level:
- Courage to Step In – getting into and back into workforce – career transitions and helping women back into workforce after a career break or those who don’t have resources
- Courage to Step Up – getting a seat at the table
- Courage to Start up – entrepreneurial program
- Courage to Lead – leadership for future of work
- Leadership and Executive Coaching
- And, remember, Leadership starts from within, so grab my latest book FIRST COMES COURAGE!
Get in touch today to learn more about building leadership skills and set yourself up for success!
Stay Kind. Stay Courageous.
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