Recently I was giving a presentation to more than 800 highly successful women at a women’s leadership conference. The topic was the future of developing women leaders. I had noticed the camaraderie, networking and exchanges that were taking place all day during the conference, and I was ecstatic -- As a leadership consultant and executive coach, I know that this kind of interplay among women doesn't happen as frequently as it needs to. It was so energizing and so productive.
As I headed for the podium, I decided to scratch the original speech I was going to give and talk about the current realities of women supporting women.
Reality 1: Women operate from a standpoint of scarcity versus a mindset of abundance. Women struggle to claim the few leadership positions that exist and then establish protective barriers to ward off competition. They're not thinking about establishing collaborative relationships that can be mutually beneficial; instead, there is greater emphasis put on exclusion than inclusion. Cliques are formed and fences erected.
The consequences of this behavior are so detrimental. Women need to be opening doors for one another and creating networking circles that converge with other circles.
So often I hear women say, “I don’t think of myself as a woman in my position. I'm like the men and don’t see my behavior as different.” But that perception isn't reality. Men compete with other men but do not exclude one another. They are socialized to see competition as acceptable; in team sports, men compete but come together for the good of the team, even if they don’t like one another. They see the value of a team member in terms of the person’s contribution, they make make a lot of effort to do business with the other men in their social networks, and they continually build on their networks and become members of more than one networking circle.
Reality 2: There is a lack of women mentors in our society. Yes, women have a lot on their plates. Even though we work and have successful careers, for the most part, we are still primary caretakers (whether for our children or our aging parents). We have to manage work responsibilities while simultaneously managing households -- with or without help. But this cannot be our excuse for not mentoring other women. We need to make ourselves more visible as role models and take on the responsibility of grooming the younger generation, as well as mentoring their peers. Think this is not important? Let's take a look at what men often do.
Young men are taken under the wing of senior men a lot! They are introduced to the right contacts and accompanied to networking events. The mentoring is visible within organizations. Doors are opened and the younger man gets positioned into growth opportunities.