Are women harder on each other in the workplace than they are their male counterparts?
I’ve heard this question posed dozens of times, and I often hear the same response from other women: Absolutely.
Several female leaders I’ve talked to have admitted they were harder on the females they led. An anonymous source told me that she feared if she weren’t tough on women who exhibited stereotypical female behavior (e.g. crying, not speaking up, etc.) then the male leaders would view her as just another weak female. Therefore, she cracked down on the women rather than coaching them.
Let me say the best consulting relationship I’ve ever had was with a female, but she was in the minority. In at least 80% of my consulting experiences, if I’ve been blocked from a job by an internal leader, it’s been a woman.
I think many of us have examples of situations where women battled women rather than supporting them. Here are a couple of mine.
A male division leader had worked with me in the past and witnessed my success with coaching and sales strategies at another institution. He asked me to work with one of his leaders who had requested a leadership coach. He also said that the company needed a series of sales strategies, and he wanted me to work with her on development of those strategies.
On the day of our first meeting, I walked into the female leader’s office, excited by the new opportunity.
As I entered her office, she stay seated. The room was eerily quiet, so I tried to break the ice. Often leaders are skeptical of consultants (and sometimes for good reason), so I tried to start with a question about her needs.
Before I could complete my first sentence, she squinted her eyes, leaned forward, and uttered these words I will never forget:
My job is to ensure that in three months time nobody at this company hears your name. If I don’t succeed in doing this, then I have failed. My job is to make sure that you’re no longer here.
I was actually speechless, which is a rarity for me. I had every intention of helping this woman from behind the scenes. As a consultant, my need was not internal visibility. It was to help her and the company succeed.
I walked out of her office dumb-founded. I later discovered that she went to her leader and convinced him to hire people internally with the money he was going to use for me. He told me that he didn’t agree with her decision, but she was new in the role and he had to trust her judgment.
I was brought in by a man who wanted me to develop sales training for his team. He had a female who worked for him, and she was extremely bright and talented. After our initial meeting she invited me to lunch. She was charming, and asked me to send her a detailed description of my materials and suggestions so that we could work together effectively.
Being the naive consultant that I was at the time, I sent her a series of workshop suggestions, as well as a recommended strategy which could be tailored to her particular organization. I thought we would make a dynamic duo.
Several days passed, and I had heard nothing from her. After a week of attempting to reach out, I called the male leader and scheduled a meeting.
During our conversation I found out that this woman had recommended a consultant friend of hers and they had pitched their own solution that looked a lot like mine. In fact, it looked almost identical to mine. As I left the building, she smiled and said, Better luck next time.
So, What’s the Deal?
These examples of women blocking women match with the stories I’ve heard from dozens of women who have had similar experiences, or men who have witnessed the same.
Here some questions to build our discussion:
I’d love to hear from both men and women on these questions, because it is a topic worth pursuing.