Sunday, January 13, 2013

Pitting woman against woman: Why we are our worse enemies

I have held the view that women have served as the biggest obstacles to our own personal advancement for a long time. I was pleased to find, unfortunately, that many female friends and acquaintances alike shared this sentiment.

In two separate incidents, I witnessed first-hand women confront other women for what they deemed aggressive behavior. A demanding female manager was labeled pushy or insulting in one incident and a supervisor who made a reasonable request was accused of bullying. Oddly, these same defensive women did not react so negatively in similar confrontations with male leaders. In fact, the males' requests were never challenged or criticized.

There are three reasons I can think of as to why women can be their worse enemies:

  • We still perceive women as complacent souls who shouldn't make demands. Women have been traditionally expected to ask nicely (please and thank-you's). A request made by a female manager without the usual niceties - most likely because she has had to adjust her communication style to deal with male colleagues - is internalized as threatening.
  • Many women have difficulty viewing other women in leadership roles. Maybe it's jealousy or competitiveness, but perceiving women to have what we want but don't or can't have is an affront to our dignity. This is similar to those old school yard altercations that were provoked by the plain Janes who dared stroll into class on that rare day in the latest cute outfit. The type that attracts the recent crush's attention. Anyone who remembers, or is brave enough to confess, knows that plain Janes were not supposed to shine - not at our expense anyway.
  • We still expect men to be demanding. I've never had a female colleague complain about a male leader who neglects to make courteous requests. An order for a last minute meeting or copies of documents without the usual courtesy is shrugged off as typical male talk. See the first point about the reaction to a similar tone made by a woman.

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