At this very moment there are two women I care about who’ve been to hell and back over the past few weeks. So much so that I’m almost ashamed to be female. I’d like to disown my gender, my card-carrying identities of “mom”, “friend”, “partner”, “helper”. These examples of disheartening, mean spirited behavior, in pursuit of achievement, attention, accolades? All-time lows and I’ve lived a lot, seen a lot. I don’t get it.
If I have a core value in my blood, it’s something like: Better Together – Always. Sure, I’m a fan of recognizing unique gifts and contributions. Absolutely! What I can’t abide is blatant backstabbing and rumor mongering.
I know duplicitous behavior isn’t unique to women-on-women rivalry – it’s an unfortunate by product of competitiveness run amok between men and women, too, but what happened to the sisterhood? I benefited from it thanks to sage and patient mentors and peers who demonstrated inclusiveness – not just individual success.
At the end of every day, I have a meditative moment or two where I take stock of the day that was. Most days, my rewind reel is loaded with a-ha’s about missed opportunities, things I could’ve done better. But mixed in, every day, there are meaningful moments where I either received grace and kindness or had an opportunity to offer the same.
During my reflective time recently, I’ve been heavy-hearted – wishing I could mend the damage that I see women/sisters inflicting on each other. The pettiness and the recurrent waves of tactical pot-shots, reputation ruining malfeasance? Far too frequent for this woman who believes in goodness. Did the pandemic fracture workplaces that much? I feel like it’s masks off and gloves on. Be prepared to have your ‘dukes’ up and heaven help you if are TOO talented. I might need to take you down a notch or two, one way or another.
I’m not alone. There’s some comfort in that. Mikaela Kiner, Founder and CEO of Reverb Consulting offers this:
“We often talk about the importance of sisterhood, but there’s a dark side of women working together that we don’t talk about nearly enough, and that’s female rivalry. I heard stories of female bosses sabotaging their direct reports, peers gossiping about and excluding their coworkers, and women including those in HR dismissing other women’s complaints of harassment and discrimination.”
The worst of it, given the stories from the two wounded women I know, is the loss of trust. Both are caring souls, by nature, but the deluge of gossip, manipulation and double-speak they’ve endured was eye-opening, and damaging for both. They’re now learning how to build protective barriers, and will likely engage less with co-workers, at least for a while. Are you friend or foe? Enemy or ‘frenemy’? Some might say, ah…such is life. I don’t disagree, but still. These are hard lessons to learn. When boiled down, the message both women now carry is this: Be more closed than open and ‘side eye’ might save you.
And yet…just when I need it the most, I often find a morsel of light. I needed it this time because the cynic in me was rising and I hate that. Adam Grant – my favorite organizational psychologist came to my rescue. Grant’s recent TED podcast about rivalry and competition has THE most heart-warming reminder of the ‘better together’ philosophy – this time in the form of a fabulous story about two female marathon runners. The whole podcast is a delight – food for the soul – but if you only have a few minutes to check out the mood boosting tale of Amy and Shalane at the beginning, I promise it won’t disappoint.
Here’s to doing better…together.