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Building connections of sisterhood in the workforce

With Jenna Cocullo:

Women can treat other women at work badly; I’ve seen it happen. I have worked many jobs in my life and in each one, I have seen two common themes among my female co-workers. There was always the hard working women and there was always the women putting them down.

I’ve seen women gossip and talk poorly behind their female co-workers’ backs. I’ve seen women call other women derogatory terms for their boldness and firm beliefs. Of course, none of my male counterparts received this treatment from the other women. Men are often praised for their work, lifted up by their male and female peers, and no one ever questions the source of their success.

When a woman becomes successful, other women feel threatened and feel the need to minimise that success by bringing their peers down. They size her up and compare their beauty to hers. They compare and analyse all the ways they are better than or worse than their female counterpart in the hope that somewhere in the mess of judgments they’ll find some worth.

Women have not yet learnt how to support each other in the workforce and in other aspects of their lives and that is partially to blame on the way the media depicts the relationship between women.

When two women are portrayed together in the media they are often fighting over men, talking poorly about other women, or discussing mundane things like shopping. When two males are depicted together, they are seen talking about business, politics, and solving complex socio-political problems together. The media has not depicted a workforce run by women, often when there is a strong woman; she is alone in a sea of men.

This relays the message to women out there that there is only room for one successful woman in a workplace, like she is the exception to the rule, so when another woman makes her way up we feel threatened, like the one spot which was reserved for us is being challenged. And so we deny their success. Rather than forming connections of sisterhood, we tear each other down, start rumours that they slept with a boss to achieve success or attribute their accomplishments to some other explanation other than their genuine intellect.

Women do want to support each other instead of cut each other down but sometimes that can be hard in a workplace where we feel like there is only so much room for the women. We need to build a strong network of female peers, business partners. We need a strong female community that ground one another and supports each other.

I have seen female co-workers refusing to take ideas from other women and yet jump at the chance to take on ideas from male counterparts. I have seen women accusing each other of sleeping with their managers to get ahead, calling each other nasty names, and yet they say nothing about the man in the same situation.

We need to stop participating in workplace gossip and find the courage to speak up when we hear our male and female counterparts speak in derogatory terms about another woman, instead of just laughing it off. We need to stop operating out of fear that there is not enough room for women in the workforce and instead encourage other women to join the high ranking positions to lead alongside us. We need to seek advice, encouragement and mentorship among other women instead of the men. Ask a woman first. We don’t need the validation of the patriarchy.

If you help light someone’s candle, yours will not go out, it will shine just as bright. If we want equal pay, respect, and status as men in the workplace then we need to come together in sisterhood to achieve these goals. Individually we are a drop in the water, together we are an ocean.

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