Why supporting other women at work can be great for your career

Image: Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

Many believe that competitiveness among women is the reason we don’t support each other, which is why as women, we are so quick to put each other down.

Psychometrist Eljo de Villiers says this is true and it stems from childhood insecurities. “If you had it rough when you were younger, don’t think other women should also walk the same path. We think we need to compete to be the best, but it may be our insecurities that result in us wanting to compete.

“From a young age, we’ve been subconsciously competing over who’s the prettiest, smartest or most athletic girl. Now the competition has shifted from childhood to a corporate setting in terms of who’s the most competent, qualified or recognised. So, naturally, our first instinct is to view other women as threats.”

Karina Olivier, a psychometrist at NO:ME Psychometrics and Consulting, explains that change starts with you. “If you as a woman seek more empowerment, start with what you can control: your own perceptions, feelings and actions,” she says.

Here are suggestions on how you can create a sisterhood in the workplace and why it can benefit you and the business.

Be a mentor, not a competitor

Civil rights activist Mary Church Terrell, who was the first African American woman to obtain a university degree, said: “And so, lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go, struggling and striving, and hoping that the buds and blossoms of our desires will burst into glorious fruition.”

Mentorship is a great way to guide others and close the gender gap. De Villers credits her mentor for her success as a psychometrist, and advises: “Be a mentor instead of a competitor. Collaborate with female co-workers and share knowledge, regardless of your age or experience. I was privileged to have a wonderful mentor to guide me in becoming a successful psychometrist,” she says.

Share information and opportunities

You can create an opportunity for someone else by tagging them in a job offer that you’ve seen on social media, or by sharing a post for a job that was offered to you but that you know would be more suited to someone else. Or better yet, if your company is recruiting, and you know a woman who has the skills and qualifications for the job, recommend them for the position.

Master the art of collaboration

In her book, From Me to We, Janine Garner writes that collaborating and building networks is a source of widening your own horizons and advancing society. “When women come together to support one another, it creates a powerful space for collaboration, innovation and the collective advancement of our society. Collaboration is about being honest and saying: ‘This is what I’m good at, this is what I’m passionate about’, but equally saying: ‘This is what I’m not good at and this is how you can help me.’ In that vulnerability and in being able to exchange value is where the power lies.”

Being open to others allows you to learn too, says De Villiers. “We learn a lot from one another. It’s not about who gets to the top first, but rather about lifting each other up. It’s a give and take – we all have different valuable qualities to offer. If we take such an approach, female colleagues may feel more at ease about helping where it’s most needed,” says De Villers.

Self-affirmation in giving back

Garner says, “Teamwork and collaborations fall apart when you get into conversations, already thinking what it is you’re going to get but not what you’re willing give.”

Thuli, 45, a quantity surveyor, prides herself in giving opportunities to new graduates. “In our company, Lakhanya Quantity Surveyors, I’ve always strived to ensure that we have a 50/50 split of male and female workers. When I take on a female candidate, I support and help her in the construction space because I know how hard it can be. I get such a warm feeling when I see women leave my company and flourish, knowing I had a hand in their success.”

Celebrate each other

In 2006 DJ and mentor Beverly Bond started an initiative to empower young women, called Black Girls Rock. It’s a sisterhood that has become a global phenomenon and is embraced by women around the world.

In 2010 Bond teamed up with BET to create awards of the same name, where Black women are celebrated for their activism and social work. Asked about this initiative, Bond told Roots Magazine that it’s to “give young women and girls direction and let them know how special they are.” She also explained that only 5,3% of all management professionals are African American women. “We need to give our kids the tools to make measurable progress in reasonable time so that they become more valuable citizens and future leaders,” she added.

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