In my 6 years of work experience in the corporate space, I too have had my fair share of office politics, micro-aggressions and biasedness.
Women, however, are subject to an added layer of issues altogether. While media will focus on issues such as the ever-present gender pay-gap, the seemingly unbreakable glass ceiling, and the perennial threat of sexual harassment, what bothers me most is something totally different, and rarely talked about.
Sure, women might feel unsupported in advancing up the corporate ladder. What pains me is not so much this, as does the fact that it is mostly women who pull women down.
Strange as it might sound, but innumerable times, I have sensed that a woman is a woman’s worst rival. Instead of pulling each other up, women are constantly trying to one-up other women. The fact that there are fewer women at the top has at some point, made us so anxious and (for lack of a better word) insecure about ourselves, that in our own ways, we are trying to prevent others from rising to the top, albeit they ‘dethrone’ us. We do so in subtle ways that are barely visible, making it a topic that often goes unnoticed.
It is not much a conscious decision to be spiteful, but rather, a subconscious desire to preserve our own power and position that we do so. It stems from the fact that years of under-representation has led us to believe that “there can only be so many women at the top”. We are thus more competitive with our female colleagues and less inclined to extend our hand to pull up subordinates.
At the risk of generalising, I will go so far as to say female managers are often harsher towards their female subordinates. Ask any woman who has been subject to a particularly harsh interview by a female interviewer, and you will know what I mean. While I don’t ask for partial treatment towards any colleague, irrespective of gender, it is this subtle indisposition towards their own kind, that bothers me.
Don’t believe me? Put six women in a team and see the drama that ensues. Put them in a mixed team and they will suddenly be more likely to agree with their colleagues.
The worrisome part is, that this, in turn, leads to fewer women rising to the top. And the vicious circle only gets more vicious. And what do we do? We lament over the fact that there are fewer women in senior management roles.
And this brings me to my next concern. In our fight for equality, our fight is no longer against men. Rather, to a large extent, it is with our own kind. Unless we stand together and decide to support one another (or at least, be neutral), we are never going to get where we want to.
How can we ever present a united stand for a “concrete floor” (higher representation in governing bodies) and equal pay, when we ourselves are divided?
How can we ask men for equality, when refuse to treat our own kind as equals?
No matter where you are on your career path, we need to encourage and inspire our female subordinates. If we can’t do that, we at least need to stop treating them differently. The workplace is a place to nurture, support, and champion.
This isn’t a single winner race. It is a team win.
Have you ever experienced this yourself?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.