There is a persistent myth that women do not support each other in the workplace.
Yet it’s not a so-called myth. We’ve heard of “Queen Bee” syndrome, whereby successful women use their power not to help other women but to undermine them. We’ve also been told that women can’t be as successful as men because we’re too emotional or are simply less committed to our careers, putting family first.
But it’s especially harmful when these traits are viewed as weaknesses and as reasons they shouldn’t be supported by other women. Indeed, the late former Secretary of State Madeline Albright famously stated,
Let’s stop the dysfunction and focus on creating a safe and healthy environment so we all can thrive.
That’s the view of Samina Bari, a biotech executive and strategic advisor to a range of high-growth public and private businesses. Over the last decade, she has led efforts that maximized shareholder value for a range of companies, resulting in major acquisitions by Nestlé and Pfizer, among other Fortune 100 companies.
Over the course of 30 years at the highest levels of corporate strategy and operational excellence, she has learned to navigate a wide range of interpersonal challenges as the world has grown increasingly attuned to the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion—as the right thing to do not only from an ethical perspective, but also from a business perspective.
When asked about the importance of supporting women in the workplace, she makes it clear this is personal for her. “Over the course of my career, I have had several [women] managers yell, berate, and undermine me, some of those times in front of others,” she said. “As a young professional, it was very demoralizing and deflating.”
She notes that every person in a similar circumstance would have a different response to that kind of inappropriate behavior in the workplace.
“I’m not combative but, of course, it’s natural to feel some emotion. However, when you act from emotion, it just adds fuel to the fire. What has worked for me is to listen more and talk less when I’m angry or upset so I have time to reseat myself in a place of calm and remove my emotions from the moment.”
I asked her why she thought there was such a lack of women supporting women in the workplace compared with the traditional “old boys’ network.”
“Women do not think there’s enough room at the top for other women, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth,” she said. “There’s room for everyone at the top, especially more women. With all the issues we as women are facing today, we have to help one another. “
Indeed, the percentage of women in leadership roles is clearly nowhere near where it needs to be. The numbers only get worse as you climb the corporate ladder, where only 25% of C-suite positions are held by women and only slightly higher for women on boards at a still-grim 29%.
“This is an egregious blind spot when you consider the body of evidence illustrating clear benefits to the bottom line for organizations that open their doors to more inclusive leadership teams.” Samina notes.
As the Harvard Business Review recently noted, companies that appoint women to the C-suite adopted a 10% frequency of terms in company documents indicating openness to change and transformation. And other studies found that more diverse C-suites are directly correlated with larger profits, higher margins, and increased total returns to shareholders.
Samina speaks with passion about nurturing female colleagues. “I treat them how I wish I were treated as I progressed throughout my professional journey. I’m fortunate to be at a point in my career when I can help guide others and watch them flourish and succeed.”
Some additional takeaways from Samina:
- Know Your Self-Worth: Any woman who is not a supporter of other women is insecure in themselves, and any effort they make to undermine you is their problem, not yours. Stand tall and don’t underestimate yourself because of some else’s issues and behavior.
- Face Forward: Some women may be frustrated they didn’t have the opportunities young women today have, but we can’t let generational grievances prevent us from improving the state of corporate America for future leaders. We should celebrate how far we have come while still recognizing the hard work ahead.
- Stop Apologizing: As women, we are conditioned to apologize for everything, no matter how insignificant. “You’ll rarely hear a man apologize for being a few minutes late to a meeting,” she notes as an example. Stop it.
- Live The Golden Rule: As you make your way up the corporate ladder, don’t lose sight of how you’d like to be treated by others. Then, treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.
It’s long past time for change. Fortunately, there is at least this one clear path that we all as women can take that could have a significant impact on these numbers of women in leadership positions. We can win together at the game of business if we simply support each other.
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