"There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." -Madeleine Albright
We hear so often about the injustices that women face in the workplace as a result of gender inequality or the stereotyped, "white middle-aged male" -- but what we don't hear enough about are the injustices we are met with that originate from the hands of other women.
I recently had the fortune to sit down and "talk business" with Leslie Freytag. Leslie is a retail veteran with more than 35 years experience in multi-channel specialty retail. Most recently, she held the title of CEO and President at my favorite nail polish company, Butter London. During our coffee date, Leslie and I discovered a common goal we both share: supporting and encouraging other women.
I'm sure that many of you reading this have found yourself in a situation where a female coworker or manager has put you down, a rumor has been spread about you, or you've been challenged in an aggressive or threatening way. Or perhaps, in a moment of weakness, you yourself have acted as the aggressor. Regardless of the situation, the sad reality is, a huge deficit exists in the number of women that make it their personal goal to elevate other women instead of tear them down.
Leslie and I chatted about where this competitive and aggressive behavior stems from. Is it deeply engrained in our biology as a means to attract the fittest mate? Or is it a learned behavior that has been so socially entrenched in our minds that it has simply become second nature to us? After spending numerous hours thinking and talking about this subject, I have come to a very simple conclusion: It doesn't matter whether this behavior is learned or inherent to our biology because, regardless, we have a choice. We can choose to take the easy route and fall into old patterns of behavior, or we can challenge ourselves to rise up and to set an example of what being a strong and supportive woman really looks like.
I asked Leslie to curate a list of ways women can both support and encourage other women. Her suggestions below highlight her kindness and generosity - traits that all women should cultivate and exercise.
As women, it is our responsibility to help and support other women. As I think about it, my leadership strengths come from integrity, tenacity, adventure, curiosity, creativity, and community - all attributes that I try to share with others.
- Integrity: Be a good mentor by being open, honest, fair, and consistent. Providing constructive feedback allows women to grow and improve, but it is also important to complement feedback with compliments. Most importantly, be willing to go out of your way to help your peers - "paying it forward" will pay great dividends to both parties involved.
- Tenacity: Never give up on your dreams. By following your passions and bulldozing through the roadblocks and obstacles along the way, you act as a powerful example for all the women that surround you.
- Adventure: Be a risk taker and encourage and support your peers as they embark on their own risky adventures. As they say, "Fail fast and fail often." If you are fortunate enough to benefit from the unexpected experiences and opportunities that arise from these risks, be sure to share the success and lessons learned with your peers.
- Curiosity: Be a lifelong learner. Be curious. Ask questions and listen. As you begin to accumulate information along your career journey, be willing to share your knowledge with others - both the successes and the failures.
- Creativity: Create a fun and collaborative work environment, where sharing ideas is encouraged and met with a safe and nurturing response. Remember, not one person has all the ideas and success can and should be shared.
- Community: Lastly, keep a strong community of women in your life, including family, friends, and peers. As women, we flourish with the support and love from the women in our lives.
It takes dedication and mindfulness to make meaningful changes, so the next time you're treated disrespectfully at work, be the bigger person and set the example. Rather than venting to another coworker, make the conscious choice to always take the high road. If every single woman reading this takes it upon herself to end a single cycle of gossip and implements at least one of the six leadership strengths Leslie suggests, we can ultimately make strides to end the unpleasant environments that unfortunately plague many workplaces.