One evening in a reserved room of a pub, perched on a barstool next to a screen that captured the projected image of my PowerPoint slide, I presented to an executive women’s group on the topic of women helping or not helping each other advance in the workplace. I talked about Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s observation that women who reach executive status simply feel obligated to distance themselves from other women. And then I asked the group of 45 women to discuss their own experiences.
They shifted in their chairs, reached for their glasses of wine and tried their best to not make eye contact. One woman finally spoke up, saying, “I don’t agree. My greatest mentor was a woman.” Another woman countered with, “I think women don’t want to look like they are a feminist, so they are careful about advocating for other women.” Quickly, the conversation turned to the importance of men advocating for women, with an unspoken but clear implication that it was less important to have a woman advocate. The room psychologically avoided the notion that women distance themselves from other women by denying it, excusing it and eventually dismissing it as not that important.
So is hell what women deserve for not helping other women? Not so fast… the blame also lies with men; particularly when it comes to reaching down and pulling up those looking to advance to the c-suite.
So why do women not help other women?