I have been forced into a period of self-reflection. I say that I’m forced because anyone who knows me knows that “reflecting” is not something that comes naturally to me. I’m the one that talks to the computer as she types, so the thought of sitting quietly, contemplating an issue or a situation, is not my traditional approach. In fact, if I sit alone too long without talking, I get twitchy and will invent things to discuss with myself, the wall, the computer, the cat, or whatever/whoever seems to be around. In short – quiet isn’t my thing.
This particular period of reflection was brought on by two separate instances that occurred recently. First – I had an experience two weeks ago in which I listened to one woman cut another woman down for something completely innocuous. The second woman had pointed out an error in a document during a meeting I attended, and the first woman (who had made the error) – instead of welcoming the feedback, responded in a condescending , angry and cruel way. I said something after the meeting to the woman who, shall we say, did not respond well to the feedback she was given. After our conversation, she admitted that she didn’t handle it well, that she had felt threatened and reacted poorly, and she apologized both to me and to the recipient of her wrath.
The second instance was a post entered in on the Women in Housing website that I saw earlier this week. A trend on #WiHsng (a Twitter hashtag which stands for Women In Housing, there’s a Twitter account you can follow, too – @WiHsng) is a project in which women in the college and university housing profession are asked to complete this phrase – “Being a Woman in Housing means…”. We have had a variety of different statements, from “Being a Woman in Housing means never giving up. Ever.”, to “Being a Woman in Housing means wearing all of my hats at once and looking strangely like Lady Gaga as a result.” It’s been an interesting project, and one that we hope to continue. However, this post in particular caught my eye:
“Being a woman in housing means thanking a female colleague who corrected a mistake I made, instead of cutting her down because I’m mad that I’m wrong.”
This related so directly back to the situation I encountered earlier, that it caused me pause. I started to reflect back on other experiences I had involving women attacking or passive-aggresively cutting other women down simply because of our own insecurities. For those fledgling feminist scholars out there, you may recall that I have referred to this in the past as being a “female misogynist”. The concept is that women feel the only way to get ahead is to put others down, oftentimes in an aggressive manner.
I have encountered situations in the past that underscore to me this phenomenon still occurs. To be truthful, I’ve also exhibited behaviors in my own work that were “less than” appropriate, supportive or encouraging. When I think about these times, it all comes back to me feeling insecure about myself, my own skill set, and quite frankly, my fears about not achieving all that I desire to achieve in life and in my career.
Sure, there are several female authors who write books about women’s success in leadership, and they discuss how women need to “act more aggressively” in the workplace. Assertiveness is fine, but in these books, many authors proceed to give examples about how, in their own experiences, they have snapped at, cut down, undercut or in some way made another woman feel “less than” in order to get ahead in their particular field. In these examples, you can feel the author’s sense of pride in this interaction. Quite frankly, it makes me sick.
Well, the good news is that research shows this type of approach doesn’t work. Yes, you may have the individual woman who “succeed” by getting a particular job, but I’m willing to bet if you have a discussion with that “succesful” woman about her quality of life, her quality of working relationships, and her own self-esteem, she won’t seem so successful. What research shows is that when women support each other through mentoring, networking and establishing intentional connections with other women, all of the women in these communities succeed. Pay scales increase, advancement opportunities increase, satisfaction increases, and attrition from their current positions and fields decreases. In fact, women benefit MORE from these types of interactions than their male counterparts do.
What I’m saying is this. Take a moment to reflect on your own past interactions with women in your profession, and fix your own behaviors. Then work to establish your networks. Reach out to other women and offer your assistance, guidance, support or even just a kind word. For these things will result in everyone’s success, including your own.