Madeleine Albright, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, famously said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” And she may have a point.
Several companies today are being managed and run by women. From this position of leadership, they are best placed to help other women down the ranks rise to the top. Yet many women leaders fail to recognize the important role they can play to reduce gender inequality at a senior level in organizations. Often, though committed to the advancement of other women, they don’t necessarily know how that can be done.
Similarly, women co-workers don’t realize the importance of showing solidarity. By treating a women colleague as an ally rather than opponent, you can only ensure your own growth and success in the organization.
Here are five suggestions about how women can help other women get ahead and, in the process, pave the way for their own success:
- Try to mentor, not compete
In organizations where women are a minority, it is likely they will compete with one another. But it’s important to remember that one person’s success does not mean another person’s failure. If you regard a woman colleague as an opponent, she is probably doing the same and that benefits neither of you. What you need to recognize is that your female colleague plays as important a role in your success as your male colleague.
So instead of competing, forge a bond through mentoring. If you’re a team leader, take a junior woman colleague under your wing. If you’re junior, ask to shadow a senior woman manager. A good mentor can provide counsel in stressful times, share career advice and offer support when required. Look for a mentor who has varied work experience so she can provide you with perspective on your career.
- Pay attention to women peers
While it may appear easier to be a mentor or mentee for women below or above you, you may find it more challenging to have a relationship with another woman who has the same role. Here too, try and build trust and respect instead of fretting over whether your colleague is doing a better job than you. See if the two of you can divide the work in such a way that productivity goes up. Have an open and honest conversation regarding the work you have been assigned. You may realize your individual strengths combine to result in higher output.
- Stand up for second-generation bias
Second-generation gender bias is making its way into the dictionary of women’s workplace issues as a subtle, and perhaps unintentional, fact that affects her potential. These unseen barriers are often difficult to spot as they are revealed at varied points, from the wording of a job description to rules about maternity leave. But it’s a big threat to women, as it can leave them out of top job positions.
In order to combat this bias, it is important for women to educate themselves and also spread awareness about these biases among female colleagues. You can do so by coming together, talking about experiences in the workplace and speaking up as a group if company policies and practices need to be changed.
- Sponsor and promote women
While mentorship can be very helpful, the key to helping another woman is through sponsoring her in the workplace. Sponsoring means you suggest a deserving female colleague’s name for a new project or cast your vote for her if a promotion is being considered. So how does one find a sponsor? A woman in a senior position should keep an eye out for a younger female employee who shows promise and may make a good protégé. Younger female employees can network with women in senior positions by asking for career advice or regular lunch outings. Neither should hesitate in actively seeking out a relationship with the other.