Gender Equality: Women Must Advocate for Each Other

This blog is the second in a three-part series based on the TEDx Mission Viejo talk, “Advocate Change: Gender Balance For a Sustainable Workforce” by Executives Unlimited Founder and President, Tomilee Tilley Gill.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

A perplexing reality in today’s workplace is the disregard—and even attacks—of women by other women. According to advocacy group the Workplace Bullying Institute, “nearly 40 percent of corporate abusers are female, and most of the time, they pick on other women.” Although typically subtle, these tactics to discredit other women chip away at our collective ability to reach gender equality in the workplace.

We Choose How to Slice the Pie

There is no right way to divide up the pie of life we are all given. How we decide to divvy up the finite amount of time, focus and resources we each have defines what our priorities and values are. Too often, women judge other women’s choices. Isn’t it time we respect that each choice can be the right choice for another even if it’s not the right choice for us? You can be CEO at work or the CEO at home. In addition to honoring each woman’s choices as the right decisions for her, wouldn’t it be powerful to reach out across the battlefield? Lend a hand. Share information. Step in to advocate or support someone who might not be able to advocate for herself.

Why Women Struggle to Support Other Women in the C-suite

While there may not be a singular reason women struggle to support other women in the C-suite, Harvard Business School professor, Rosabeth Moss Kanter posits that women who reach executive status feel obligated to distance themselves from other women. First, women “aren’t part of the club”—although inching upward, women still make up less than 20% of directors on corporate boards and a newly minted female executive might hesitate to act in a way that could make it appear that she doesn’t “fit in” the boardroom. Although their presence as a minority in the room helps to ultimately change the perspective and voices shared, most women don’t want to be seen as having a “feminist agenda.”

Pioneering female executives may also be afflicted with a Queen Bee mentality. Since there continue to be limited seats at the executive table for women, the Queen Bee may not reach out to advocate for her fellow female professionals over concerns that they are the competition for a coveted seat at the table. Research also shows that people tend to be more empathetic and supportive of people going through difficulties they haven’t experienced, while exhibiting a more “buck it up” attitude with those who share similar challenges. Finally, women (and men) may get judged for advocating for other women or at least not get recognized in performance ratings for diversity-valuing behaviors based on research published in the Academy of Management Journal.

Acknowledgement is the First Step to Advocacy

Former CEO of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and Smith Barney, and current CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, Sallie Krawcheck, believes acknowledging gender inequity and the beliefs that may hold women back from advocating more aggressively for each other in conversation is a powerful step to begin change. A sample conversation might start like this: “I’d like to tell you why Susan is the right person for this job,” or, “I believe Sally has an important perspective. I’d like us to listen to what she has to say.”

Zero Tolerance for Destructive Talking

A commitment to “do no harm” is in its own way a form of advocacy. If you embrace a zero tolerance policy for trash talking and judging other women, and you commit to applauding another women’s achievements—even if not publicly—you will build your colleague up and contribute to her having courage to advocate for herself. When you focus energy on building your own skills and allowing time for your own self-care, you will be better equipped to take the high road and support a fellow female’s accomplishments and path to gender equality.

It’s time for women to lend a helping hand to fellow female professionals and advocate for each other in the workplace. As a national provider of retained executive recruiting and placement services, our team at Executives Unlimited helps companies identify their next leaders—men and women. Please call us at (866) 957-4466 or contact us online today.

We encourage you to like and share Tomilee’s TEDx Talk with your network.