Hold up. We’re always going on about Women and Men.
Let’s put this conversation on pause and swivel. What’s up with Women and Women?
The common consensus is clear-cut: put bluntly, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” (Elsesser, 2022).
That’s how things go. The underdogs hold together in the face of the storm.
But, as with most things in this intricate world of ours, reality is a far cry from the socially prescribed narrative.
We aren’t always besties or each other’s queens.
It can get messy when we’re on all fours, wrestling for that diamond-encrusted tiara that screams of success, acceptance and – I hate to say it - male recognition. Internalised patriarchy is a real thing and it’s contagious.
Even the strongest, most independent, feminist baddie out there may be subconsciously tweaking her behavior to please 50% of the population – guess which 50% - in the midst of her flawless sass and IDGAF attitude.
This is evolution at its finest. Men can flick a switch in our brains but here’s the catch – vice f*cking versa.
Women have a power, and while hugely enabling, this power can also cause us to elbow each other at the start line.
Yes, women often help women – but for what reasons? And how does this affect the greater perception of female success? And when we don’t give each other a leg-up in life – does that make us evil?
Let’s talk about it.
Women helping Women: a Blessing?
Feminism has long held the hope that women will have each other’s back as they enter the workforce in increasing numbers. They will nurture and support each other and eventually bring about more equal gender representation at all levels in the workplace (Hurst et al., 2018).
This is the dream.
In many ways, the data supports the dream. It’s fact that VC funds with women sitting on its board, do indeed invest more heavily in women-led businesses (Aernoudt & de San Jose, 2020).
In general, women are encouraged to support each other in the workplace through, for example, mentoring and networking.
This isn’t just some feel-good bullshit – positive relationships have been empirically found to be “mutually empowering, empathetic and promote outcomes of zest, empowered action, an increased sense of worth, new knowledge and the desire for more connection” (Fletcher, 2007).
In corporate settings, women often come to each other because they generally place greater emphasis on personal relationships, in contrast to men, who tend to be more task oriented (Sias, 2009).
Women’s knack for forming positive relationships in the workplace is barely lauded or even recognized. The workplace relational skills of women are either not valued or are ‘disappeared’: rendered invisible as something women simply do (Fletcher, 1999).
Women helping Women: a Curse?
I wish I could say the story ended there: that women have a knack for seeing each other, hearing each other and loyally sticking together from the boardroom to the post-work rooftop bar.
The truth is, women can see each other as a threat.
Think Mean Girls, think queen bee dynamic.
Cringe, I know, but the body of research delving into the not-so-rosy aspects of women-on-women professional relationships has been coined “Queen Bee Research”, I kid you not.
This refers to a phenomenon where senior women who have achieved success in male-dominated organizations actively work against the interests of other women attempting to progress and work their way up.
Women have even been found to engage in subtle aggression towards other women in business. This includes insults, putdowns, denigrating messages and sabotage (Mavin et al., 2014). Familiar?
So why do women put other women down?
Jealousy, anger and limiting beliefs.
Women are raised to believe there is only one pie and they only get one slice.
Or, for women in senior positions, they believe the struggle that they went through is a rite of passage – why should other women have it easier than they did?
Let’s imagine women did want to help their fellow women and catapult them to success – because many do.
Take female-led VC firms, for instance: they are more than twice as likely to invest in women-led businesses than their male counterparts (Hurst, 2018).
When women band together, it’s powerful. What’s not to like?
Male-led VC firms don’t like it. Early investment from female-led VC firms can be a double-edged sword, according to new research. The perception is that the female founder who has obtained the funding, only did so on account of her gender (Elsesser, 2022).
She and her business are now taken less seriously and finding future funding has been shown to be more difficult.
Oh, and when male-founded firms receive investment from female-led VC, there is no such effect.
Women holding Women accountable
On the one hand, women blindly following women and getting comfy in the plush, downy seats of an echo chamber isn’t helpful.
On the other hand, women seeing each other as die-hard competition and exerting frenzied watering-hole type behavior also ain’t it.
What we need is a middle ground: respectful accountability.
Unpopular opinion 57: women holding women accountable is really empowering.
If we want to make a dent in the workplace and investment gender gap, we have to quit only holding men to account. More often than not, we set up crazy sky-high standards for men, only to quietly fall short of them ourselves.
For example, when we ask male-founded firms to employ more women, but we fail to step up to the bar, when it comes to applying.
It is also the responsibility of women to initiate discourse and empower themselves, calling out peers for behavior that is incongruent with the standards that they claim to live by.
When you silence this discourse and reject the idea of your own agency, you reinforce the systems that you are screaming to change – the systems that dictate that power lies exclusively in the hands of men.
Let’s get practical
Here are three actionable ways that Women can hold each other to the same standards we expect of Men:
Speak up when others display incongruent actions
Ask for help when you feel jealousy or anger as a result of exclusion
Introspection – dig deep and try to identify your triggers and understand your limiting beliefs and patterns
When we hold ourselves accountable, we show others how we want to be treated.
This is one DIY way to dismantle the current system that remains frayed with gender inequity. And that’s what we are all about at The Global Collective.
Our mission is to close the gender gap in business by empowering women-led businesses through strategically connecting them with male-led VC firms to secure funding and grant them the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
Shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.