By Christie Garton
Women helping women. It sounds good, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, in many offices, it’s just not happening.
In fact, not only are some career-minded women declining to empower their fellow females, but some even go so far as to tear them down. A shocking one-fifth of millennial women have been victims of workplace bullying — and most of the perpetrators were other women.
That disturbing stat is drawn from a survey conducted my organization, 1000 Dreams Fund. One of our biggest goals is to foster positive relationships between ultra-driven young women by way of mentorship and collaboration.
Whether you’re in the early stages of your career or counting the days until retirement, you can — and should! — be a workplace ally for other women. Here are five ways to start.
- Invite a coworker of similar age and job level out to lunch. It’s easy to feel competitive, jealous or distrusting of women whose goals closely align with yours. And, yes, there may be times in the office when you are competing, like if a promotion opportunity appears. So for many women, the instinct is to remain cordial but distant.
Ignore that instinct.
There’s no reason why corporate competition should color potential friendships. You already know you have one big thing in common with this person: She has comparable career interests. That’s already a pretty strong place to start a relationship. By eliminating animosity, you can learn from each other, inspire each other to become better, and create a more positive day-to-day environment.
- When a female co-worker is struggling during a presentation or meeting, be her saving grace. We all have “off” days. They happen to the best of us. And if it were you up there, stumbling to explain a case study, getting wildly off track — wouldn’t you desperately want someone to throw you a life jacket?
Be that person.
Raise your hand and ask a question to get her back on track. “How do you think this research will impact our Q4?” “What about these insights really surprised you?” Sometimes all a person needs is a little bit of guidance to regain confidence and power forward.
Alternatively, if it’s not a scenario where you can really speak, just show that you’re engaged. Instead of shifting your eyes and jittering your leg — which clearly says, “This is awkward and I’m embarrassed for you” — maintain focus and even nod in encouragement. Again, wouldn’t you want someone to do that for you?
- Get to know the new intern — beyond just knowing her name. During the course of an internship, many students only work closely with their direct supervisors — or even just the internship coordinator from HR. They would love to chat with people who are actually succeeding in the field they hope to enter. So why not give them that chance?
Introduce yourself and offer up time to talk one-on-one. These girls are bright, creative and excited, and workplaces need more of them. Even if you’re only a few years older, or if you don’t have the exact job she’s interested in, you can provide immeasurable insights.
Becoming a mentor is a truly rewarding experience. You’ve learned so much — probably even more than you realize — and sharing that wisdom with budding young women is an awesome way to pay it forward and be an ally.
- Defend against sexism, even if it’s “not a big deal.” While we typically think of men slinging sexist remarks, the truth is that women can be just as guilty of gender-related judgment. A casual conversation can easily be peppered with loaded comments, and by standing up to them, you’re standing up for all women.
Sexist comments by men are usually more instantly identifiable. They can range from subtle to blatant, but even the most offhanded statements can be damaging. With women, sexism may be disguised under comments about a coworker’s outfits, personality, or relationship status. For example: “I mean, yeah, she’s executive-level, but she also never married, so…”
Don’t just let it slide. Speak up. “Well, being married or single probably isn’t relevant to how she got her position.” Be appropriately polite, but if you hear something particularly offensive, don’t be afraid to become more assertive in your response.
- Let go of residual irritation you have toward certain other women in the office. If you’ve been working alongside the same people for years, it’s understandable that you may have had negative experiences with some of them. Maybe some of them have made career decisions you think are shady. And maybe when you really needed a workplace ally, they didn’t step up.
Forgive them. Start fresh.
We’re all — men included — just trying to do our best. Sometimes, especially in a competitive environment, we don’t behave as our best selves. But just because in the past a woman didn’t treat you as you deserved to be treated doesn’t mean she can’t redeem herself. Give second chances, and continue to be an ally, even if you aren’t 100 percent sure that others will do the same for you. Have some faith in your fellow women, and you’ll be happy to see where it goes.
Christie is a millennial expert, author and award-winning social entrepreneur who has long supported the professional dreams of young women. In addition to creating the 1,000 Dreams Fund, which helps young women obtain scholarship funding, Christie also founded UChic.com, the first-ever online magazine for college-bound and college-aged women. The popular site became the best-selling college guidebook for girls: UChic: College Girls’ Real Advance for Your First Year (& Beyond!) (Sourcebooks 2015).