Work environments can sometimes be competitive, and even more so for women hoping to attain leadership positions. As a result, many women can find it difficult to support one another during their climb up the corporate ladder. Unintentional slights, also called microaggressions, can make situations more difficult.
According to the self-help book The Woman Code, women are taught from a young age to compete with one another. This competitiveness can be amplified in the corporate world, where men still vastly outnumber women in positions of leadership.
With so few leadership positions occupied by women, it can feel like there are only so many spots available to women. It can be tempting to go after them aggressively and not look back to extend a hand.
On the way up the corporate ladder, women can experience frequent microaggressions from peers and supervisors, which can frustrate and even stifle progress. According to Dr. Dana Grossman Leeman, a clinical social worker, microaggressions are “subtle, often nuanced, verbal or behavioral slights, snubs, or insults that can be intentional, but are often unintentional.”
For example, a strong female leader may be labeled a “bossy,” while a man in an equivalent position is labeled “assertive.” When these occur, it is important to challenge the perpetrators — this will help to not only educate them, but also begin to change the workplace environment.
Here are three easy ways to help encourage a supportive work environment for all:
- Be a mentor to a select few. Rather than solve all of the problems across the company, or even the department, it may be best to choose two to three promising women and keep an eye on them, make sure they advance when they have the opportunity, and aren’t restricted simply for being women.
- Be active in leadership networks. Active participation in groups can go a long way toward helping women improve their understanding of corporate dynamics, navigate common issues like re-entering the workforce after giving birth and taking time off to care for the children, engage in open dialogue with men in positions of leadership, and generally identify opportunities for growth. Many companies have internal networks, but there are also many national and international ones.
- Recognize and respond to microagressions. It’s important to remember that perpetrators of microagressions are likely not aware that they have done or said anything offensive, but this does not excuse the behavior. A leader will use microagressions as opportunities to educate everyone, focusing on what happened and not necessarily the individual involved. Rooting out these subtle behaviors is just one of the reasons why it is important for female leaders in the workplace to mentor the next generation.
Together, women can pull each other up as they climb the corporate ladder together.
About the author: Megan Dottermusch is a community relations coordinator for 2U, Inc. supporting mental health and advocacy programs for the Masters in Social Work program at Simmons College online. She is passionate about promoting proper nutrition and fitness, combating mental health stigmas, and practicing everyday mindfulness.
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