Women helping women
Concerns of Project Managers
Gail Town Statham, Coors Brewing Company, Golden, Colorado
How many times have you heard, “Women just can't work together?” How many times have you felt that women can't work together? Many of us have experienced “cat fights” and the “queen bee syndrome” in our careers. But is it really true? Is it impossible for women to work together?
Not at all. Women can work together, but outside influences-some of which we're not even aware—affect our day-today relationships with others.
One major problem is the status of women. For the most part, women in America (along with people of difference) are second-class citizens. The statistics prove one specific aspect of second-class status: women are paid less than men-even when they have more education and experience. Women hold fewer positions of power and are more prone to poverty.
To look at women's second-class status issue from another perspective, consider day-to-day interactions. For example, take the typical business meeting with five or six males and one female. Everyone is sharing their ideas on solving a certain problem. The woman makes a suggestion, and the conversation continues as if nothing happened. Ten minutes later, a man makes exactly the same suggestion. Now, the suggestion has merit. Happens every day-day in and day out. Listen to a couple of business women share their daily experiences, and it doesn't take long for their frustration to emerge.
Whether they're conscious of it or not, second-class status causes women to behave in different ways as they attempt to cope with their frustration and anger. Women become super-competent or ultra-feminine or seductive. They become overweight or chemically dependent or depressed. The statistics on depression are staggering; women account for 80–90 percent of all depression cases. But one of the most devastating coping techniques is for one woman to turn upon another. The fact is, if I, as a woman, can't trust myself because I'm second class, how can I trust another woman?
Sabotaging another woman is safer than trying to change “the system” or taking on a man. Sabotage is further intensified by pressure to be competent at work and at home, the current dog-eat-dog business environment, and stereotypes of women.
But enough of the bad news. Women can and do work together in a cooperative, supportive and caring environment. Here are ten tips to make that happen.
- As a woman, improve your own self-esteem and self-confidence. How much do you know about women's history or women's contributions to civilization? Did you know that Catal Huyuk (Turkey, 10,000-7,000 BC) was not only a matriarchy, but also a utopian society? The Goddess was the supreme deity and society was radically different from our own. No wars for a thousand years, no human or animal sacrifices. Pets were kept and cherished, and vegetarianism was the norm. How about the influence of women on America? Through women's efforts, we now have public schools and sewer systems.
Michael Korda, editor-in-chief for Simon and Schuster, said, “The feminist revolution has merely placed the stronger and more adaptable sex in a winning position, where she always belonged, and from which she was only briefly dethroned by the Industrial Revolution.” Wow! Study, read, and learn about your own heritage. You'll be amazed and proud of your foremothers.
- Avoid confusing friendliness with friendship. Women can work together without being “best friends.”
- Be discerning with your trust. Women have a tendency to “tell all” in an attempt to be a friend (see No. 2).
- If you feel you've been sabotaged, confront the saboteur directly. Tough for most women. If you need, take a class on conflict resolution or assertiveness.
- Let go rather than acting out. Because women are taught to be “nice girls,” we have difficultly expressing our anger. So we do other things. One great “acting out” story concerns a husband and wife. She'd act out her anger in his lunch box. When she was mad at him, she'd only cut the top piece of bread in his sandwich. When he pulled it out to eat, half would drop into his lap or go fifing.
- Communicate the “unwritten” rules of business to other women. Each organization has its own version of these rules. In some companies, you're never sick on Monday or Friday. Let other women know what you've learned.
- Learn to be overt rather than covert. Again, women are taught to bow to other's needs. Learn to let others know where you stand.
- Learn team rules. Men have been exposed to these for years and often use the same rules in business. For example, when one member scores, the whole team benefits.
- Give credit when credit is due and to whom it's due.
- Be generous with your praise.
Throughout history, women have supported each other. Consider, for example, childbirth. Gynecologists and the AMA are relatively new concepts. Who birthed all those children? Women helping women. Today, we're birthing a brand new world—in business, in the environment, in our relationships. And we can do it with women helping women.
PMNETwork • March 1994