women supporting other women at work

Why Aren’t More Women Supporting Women at Work?

This blog was originally posted on HuffingtonPost.com on May 16, 2016.

How do you engage other women at work? Do you support them? Do you see them as competition for jobs you want? Do you see them as competition for male approval? Are you a change agent for programs your company might adopt to make it easier for women to navigate their careers and caregiving responsibilities?

Ten years ago, I had the wake-up call that my children weren’t always going to need me and that I was missing out on so much. When I was in the office, I had a high travel job, my commute was two-hours+ each way, and when I needed accommodation in my schedule, it was often done as a personal favor.

But most times, I didn’t even ask.

I didn’t want to stand out as a person who needed special accommodations. If I worked in a company with a higher percentage of women in leadership positions, I might have a better chance of finding programs that supported women’s lives and giving and receiving support from other women.

So the only way I could figure out how to solve this issue after struggling with it for 20 years was to make a radical change. I left my Wall Street career, and we moved our family to Delaware. I remember telling my husband that I wanted to live far enough away from New York that I couldn’t easily run back to my comfort zone and close enough if this new strategy was unsuccessful.

In making this change, I began consulting and working with several companies. I was able to have more control over my travel, I was often less than an hour from home, and the balance in my life greatly improved. I was also working in companies where there were a lot of women. I was so happy with my decision.

But working in companies where there were many women wasn’t what I thought it would be. 

  • I found that women were not as supportive of one another as I had expected. There was a lot of competition between women for jobs that other women held.
  • Many women would compete for male attention by being flirtatious and circuitous.
  • I met women who outright blocked other women not because of capability but out of revenge.
  • There seemed to be a whole “queen bee” thing going on, which I never saw on Wall Street.
  • Women would ask for male coaches and mentors. Or worse, HR Departments were assigning women male coaches so they could be more like men.
  • The conversations that might seek support for our shared struggle to be present to our families and our careers were discounted as “being uncommitted” rather than being held up as issues for change.

As women, we are the caregivers of our homes – for our families, children, and aging parents. Even when our spouses are awesomely supportive, there is much that falls to the woman.

I consulted in two companies and worked with two different women in 2011 when my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

I expected that these women would understand all the implications that came with a terminal diagnosis of a parent. I was the only daughter, my mother’s caregiver and voice, and I was a daughter who was experiencing the tremendous loss of the person who knew and loved me my entire life and whom I deeply loved.

One of these women was supportive, flexible, and reasonable. We created a game plan knowing that the months ahead for me would be filled with emergencies and responsibilities that could not be ignored or predicted. We talked about how to stay in communication. We talked about a backup plan, and she engaged project teammates to step in when and where it was needed when a crisis occurred.

During our weekly touch-bases, she shared with me her own stories of losing her dad a year earlier, and we walked together on this path of grieving and loss, supporting one another. I will always be deeply grateful to her.

The other woman was not supportive. In fact, she was horrible.  She kept pushing for me to do more, and when I explained that I couldn’t, she would go into a berating rage.

As women, we know the tremendous responsibility this caregiving role has in our lives.

We know how it rips out our hearts to leave our new babies to go back to work at the end of maternity leave. We know how difficult it is to balance all the children’s activities and stay in the talent cue at work. We know the personal sacrifices that we make to have what they need – at home and work.

Through this and many more experiences in the past 10 years, I have learned that we need to change the conversations we have with each other as women. We are the ones who need to support one another. We are the ones who need to be leading initiatives in the workplace to create programs for new mothers returning from maternity leave and programs to support women staying on a career track when high travel is no longer possible. 

Sometimes we need to be grounded for a while.

We are the only ones who can change the conversation about how we women support women at work.

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