THE BLOG
09/14/2015 01:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Are Women Their Own Worst Enemies?

By: Falon Fatemi

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(Image Source: ThinkStock)

Women have been grappling with sexism, bias, and pay gaps since they busted into the tech industry. Almost every woman has a story about gender discrimination in the workplace -- especially in Silicon Valley, where men make up the majority of the tech workforce. When I asked a female friend -- a leader in the tech industry -- to describe her experiences with gender discrimination, she compared it to "death by a thousand paper cuts."

"It's when male colleagues automatically assume you'll take notes or organize the event," she said (upon request of anonymity). "It's more an unconscious lack of consideration than anything truly malicious or intended, but it's sad that men still don't get it."

For many women in male-dominated industries, being male seems to be a downright competitive advantage.

"My boss was a big-time producer who made a habit of only having attractive female assistants," my friend said. "While his assistants were busy working their asses off, he would shoot the shit with a young male executive. They would talk about the hot women they'd want to 'get with.' It was pretty appalling, and the young male executive took advantage of that male bonding time to be seen in a certain light and get promoted."

Moreover, women's actions are judged differently than similar actions coming from men.

"I've been expected to outperform all of my male colleagues to get equal amounts of equity," said another female Silicon Valley leader I interviewed. "And even when I busted my butt to take a failing business unit to success in less than six months, I was criticized for being 'too aggressive' and 'too bossy and condescending' to the people who were supposed to be supporting me but who often didn't perform or follow through unless my male colleagues asked them to."

While these instances of workplace sexism are, no doubt, inexcusable, men aren't the only offenders. Women are also to blame for discrimination. Sadly, I've found that these forms of sexism are almost benign compared to what women will do to other women in the workplace.

Who's Worse About Sexism: Men Or Women?

Oftentimes, jealousy among females results in an environment that includes inequalities in promotions, outcomes, and performance. I've personally been in situations in which I've done "too good" a job, triggering my manager to do everything she could to sabotage me because she felt I was outshining her.

My friend Olivia June, founder of VINA, said, "Sadly, the most explicit gender discrimination and poor treatment in the workplace I've experienced has been from other women." June has had female bosses criticize her makeup, jewelry, and even her weight.

Similar poor treatment of women, carried out by women grappling with competitive jealousy, happens every day. This internalized sexism has far-reaching consequences. Women discriminating against other women damages relationships between men and women in the workplace, too. Suspicious, competitive behavior toward other females validates the stereotypes some men hold and makes them even more likely to be discriminatory.

Women must be encouraging and supportive of one another. We need to learn we can't approach business relationships the way we do social relationships. We need to take a more focused approach that compartmentalizes our professional and personal lives but still extends appropriate levels of warmth and trust.

One way we can make room for other females in our industries is to put a magnifying glass on subjective perceptions and ratings of women's behavior. Rather than give in to feelings of jealousy and intimidation around women, we need to consciously support one another -- one woman's success doesn't prevent another woman from succeeding, and it doesn't "fill a quota" within the industry.

The only way we can prevent other women in Silicon Valley from having a discriminatory experience is for men and women to strive for equality and inclusivity in the workplace together -- to the point of acknowledging and ceasing our own gender sabotage.

As my friend said, we need to "create work environments where both men and women can be whatever versions of themselves they are, and still be respected equally."

Falon Fatemi is the Founder & CEO of a stealth startup of exGooglers backed by NEA, Felicis, Mark Cuban, Dave McClure, the creator of Zappos, and more. She spent 6 years at Google, and as one of the youngest employees in the company, worked on sales strategy and operations focusing on global expansion, Google.org, and worked in business development at YouTube.