In the winter of 2017, as the #metoo movement was gathering steam, I had the privilege of interviewing the late Canadian business journalist, Anne Kingston, for a national women's magazine. The topic: would our newfound sense of sisterhood survive the 9-to-5? Amid decades of studies concluding that females prefer male bosses and successful women are quick to pull the ladder up behind them, was #metoo about to change everything? Having spent two decades reporting on women and the workplace - during which time women's advancement was considered 'the white man's burden' and the needle hadn't really moved on issues like career pipelines, hiring quotas, maternal walls, glass ceilings and gender stereotypes - Anne was cautiously optimistic. Of all her thought-provoking insights, one in particular stayed with me: if you’re not actively trying to change the status quo, you’re enabling it.
At the time, I assumed the comment referred to women in positions of leadership. Upon reflection, I realize it applies to all women. No matter your age, your career stage, your level of influence, or how much room there is at the top at your particular organization, supporting one another in success is a game every woman can and should play - together. A few ground rules:
1. Don't fall prey to Queen Bee Syndrome. Make the conscious, proactive decision not to engage in damaging competitive behaviour at work.
2. Don't assume that because you and your female colleague are both of a certain age, race, or socio-economic situation, your life is the same. Your worlds may look similar on paper, but she may be dealing with challenges or complications you don’t see. Identifying with someone is no substitute for empathizing with them.
3. If you’re a junior report, don’t assume that your female superior has sacrificed everything to get where she is, and the reason you aren’t getting a promotion or more attention is because she’s bitter, jealous or threatened.
4. If you’re a woman in a position of authority, practice ‘generous sharing’. Take the time to be open with junior team members about your experiences, including the barriers and compromises you grappled with on the way up.
5. Stop thinking about female advancement as a zero sum game. One woman’s success is not another’s failure.