No matter how much energy I devote to helping women in the workplace, the brick wall I hate facing is criticism of how women treat each other up and down the corporate ladder. I argue that since their confidence has grown, women don't feel the need to protect their turf as much as they used to. Most of the women I coach are generous with their advice and support. They seem to know the value of networking.
Then someone tells me a horror story of how one woman derailed another woman's career and I begin to question my own research. Women young and old still hurt each other by limiting access to important meetings and committees, withholding information, and blocking contact with mentors and higher-ups.
I question if only women do this. I have experienced men who do this as well. I believe this type of behavior, ranging from ignoring people to outright backstabbing, reflects the lack of trust in the corporate culture more than the habits of gender.
This lack of trust has grown as our economy has struggled. The knee-jerk reactions of our leaders have brought out the worst in their conduct. Then they justify their disrespectful behavior with numbers. Worse, they drive people by fear, pitting them against each other instead of inspiring them to work together to rise above the crisis.
I believe leaders are responsible for the favoritism, conflicts and passive-aggressive behavior at work. Eileen Habelow wrote an article for ForbesWomen.com that proves the value of workplace friendships. If executives would focus on building communities (not teams) based on trust and acknowledgment instead of wiping out deficiencies, they would be able to innovate faster and step into the future profitably much sooner than at the pace we are surviving at now.
Yet I've been teaching managers for nearly 30 years. I wouldn't count on this sweeping change of leadership behavior to happen anytime soon.
Therefore, I recommend to my coaching clients, most of them women, that they actively find friends and create communities of support, or what I call "positive conspiracies." I also coach them on how they can bring this behavior into the fabric of their corporate cultures. This covert operation benefits everyone.
Besides the increase in productivity at work, friends open doors and connect you with other people. They also can talk with you and sometimes just be silent with you when work is overwhelming or discouraging. Coaches, mentors, and colleagues can provide critical eyes to help you stay on track. Biologically, when you socially connect with others, you activate the brain regions that improve health and increase creativity.
If you work alone or you don't have a way of creating a community of support among women in your company, you can assemble a community from women in your external networks. Look for like-minded women in your professional associations, in classes at your local universities and colleges, and even at your gym.
One of my clients asked her hairdresser to recommend female executives from other professions who might want to join her positive conspiracy. As a result, she found six women who welcomed the chance to meet monthly to discuss their goals, obstacles, options, and next steps. She also found the women were quick to show up when one member had a family tragedy. She doesn't have a support group; she has a community of friends who are committed to helping one another thrive.
How do you start your conspiracy? When looking for other women to hang out with, choose women with positive outlooks who:
- Are willing to accept help as well as offer it,
- Will commit to showing up physically and mentally when you schedule time together,
- Are on their own personal development journeys, and
- Are willing to share their own concerns and dreams while having a sincere desire to hear yours.
Let's conspire to take the survival mentality and internal competition out of the workplace. It's time to shift to collaboration and trust. If you build work environments where trust grows and relationships are energized, productivity and profits will accelerate in spite of poor leadership. Start forming your positive conspiracies today.
Marcia Reynolds, PsyD teaches how to "outsmart your brain" to overcome challenges and find fulfillment on the road to success. Her new book, Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction will be out in June.