I’ve spoken at several women’s conferences over the last few months, and of the many stimulating conversations that naturally occur at these gatherings, one that always resonates with me is whether women help—or hinder—one another in the workplace.
Some of us see other women as our greatest allies. Others perceive themselves victims of the “Queen Bee” syndrome, in which women who have “arrived” undermine those trying to find their way. A young professional once asked me why established women leaders are so threatened by emerging ones. She explained that she’s received more support from men than from women, and therefore will continue to trust them more.
I realize this dynamic exists, but I strongly encourage women to resist adopting it as a universal truth. Countless women who are willing to help others along, and those who aren’t, should be seen as individuals who have other priorities, rather than as symbols of systemic nonsupport. The belief that women don’t want to help one another can be more harmful than the reality. It isolates us and prevents us from connecting with people who could nurture, guide, and stand up for us when the time is right.
Those of us who have achieved corporate success have an opportunity to change this conversation. As someone who is acutely aware of the unique complexities inherent in our climb, I feel strongly that it’s not only my responsibility to help women thrive but also my privilege. I’m increasingly conscious of the role I must play in raising my own “sister’s keeper” bar. How can I help women with an unusual spark of talent chart their course through what can seem like an unknowable maze of choices and opportunities? For bright, capable women, succeeding at work shouldn’t feel like struggling through a labyrinth. And if we want more balanced decision making at the top, those of us who can help open doors should be more than happy to hang traffic signs on the walls when we can.
If you’re a female executive in a company that could use more women in senior positions, I hope you’ll take this as a personal challenge. I’m confident there is a woman in your organization who is worth your time and hasn’t yet been identified by an advocate who can help maximize her potential. Why not be the first?
If you are looking for a candidate to sponsor, find someone who exhibits the following traits.
• Focuses on consistently strong performance and excellence in all things, at all times
• Takes advantage of “springboard” moments and recognizes when even the simplest assignment can help demonstrate leadership
• Represents herself well and is able to convey her vision, professional aspirations, and unique selling proposition in two minutes
• Raises her hand, knowing that the best way to reach the top is to lead the way there before being asked
We have precious gifts to offer one another. And because women make roughly 80 percent of all purchasing decisions, our unique gifts benefit our businesses as well. Our collective journey can only be enhanced by our individual generosity. Am I my sister’s keeper? Proudly. I hope you feel the same. DW
Tara Jaye Frank is vice president of multi-cultural strategy at Hallmark Cards, Inc. Twitter: @tarajfrank