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Why can’t we be friends ?

Why is it that so many women still find it very hard to work for or even with other women ? At a time when being a female in the workplace is still met with a lot of challenges, it seems that sorority or at least “benevolent neutrality” is still a long way to go.

A number of friends and clients have come up lately with a common theme while discussing work issues :

“My boss has said this and that, but you know…she is a woman, I am a woman, it can’t work”

“My colleague and I had an argument, it was really bad…but you know…”

“I am looking to fill up a position in my team but I can’t hire a woman, it is difficult enough to manage the ones I already on the team”

“I had an interview and I smashed it except with the woman partner…I’ll never get this job”

Even my favorite French Elle Magazine thought the matter was important enough to feature an article recently.

It sounds like a recurring noise but not a nice one, more like the sound of screeching tyres actually. Of course, this is not a new issue but it does seem to me that it has been revived lately and it is probably worth bringing forward again the potential causes for this unfortunate theme.

The Queen Bee syndrom

This is not a joke…This phenomenon, which has been documented by several psychological studies from 1973, describes a woman in a position of authority who views or treats subordinates more critically if they are female. Scientists speculate that the queen bee syndrome may be the reason that women find it more stressful to work for female managers.

An alternate definition describes a queen bee as one who has succeeded in her career, but refuses to help other women do the same. 

This is what women are expected to do…

These stories also bear a part of gender determinism, as pay gap does. Since childhood, females have been said to be “a wolf for one another”, so bringing such behaviours to the workplace is seen by many as a simple continuation of something “genetic”. But this is so wrong. Of course, we can sometimes be harsh towards one another but when made generic, it becomes a pattern,something everyone accept as reality and no one consciously considers behaving differently, because “this is what you are expected to do”.

It is sometimes easier to blame another woman that to face one’s truth

I have seen numerous successful career women in my life and I have to say that over time I have heard a number of them make negative comments regarding women who made different career choices, such as not running for a promotion in order to have a better work-life balance, or choosing to go part-time. In some cases, it might be that those career women did not want to face the consequences of their own choicesand being put in front of colleagues or subordinates making the choice of a “low-key” career was somewhat unbearable.

But time has come to do things differently. Here are a couple of suggestions :

Stop judging: school time is over and the fight for the cutest boy of the prom’ has ended. Cut yourself out of criticizing, judging, gossiping on other women at work. 

Support a colleague or a subordinate through a professional issue: think of someone at work who seems to be struggling and spontaneously propose to help. 

Think of your colleagues or subordinates as you would of someone close to you, daughter, sister or friend, not as a potential competitor.

And finally…think about practicing a team sport with your colleagues…as males would know, soccer, handball, volleyball and so on are great to create a sense of cohesion and unity.

Over my career, I have been fortunate enough to spend half a decade in a 100% female team, from manager to graduates. We were seen as – and actually were –a very impactful team. We supported each other through good and bad and have forged lasting bonds. It is sad however to realise that this was possibly more of an exception than a rule and I do have strong hopes that younger generations of women will have made a stronger array in the workplace and will realise that in order to enlarge the way through the glass ceiling, the more the merrier.

I realise this is somewhat of a controversial contribution but for the benefits of all of us in the workplace, it is a matter to consider. I would love to hear from readers on their experience and views.

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