By Dr. Liz Stincelli, Founder of Stincelli Advisors, Certified Training Partner at StephenK Leadership
"What works for men does not always work for women, because success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. That’s what the research shows. As a man gets more successful, everyone is rooting for him. As a woman gets more successful, both men and women like her less.” —Sheryl Sandberg
What are the Myths?
In the U.S., according to the United States Department of Labor, women make up 47% of the workforce. According to data from World Bank, women made up 38% of the world’s workforce in 2013. So, with these kinds of numbers, why do so many ambitious, motivated women feel like the workplace is a battlefield? Who is it that we think we are fighting? Here are five myths that cause women to compete with each other when we should be encouraging and supporting the progress of all women.
Myth #1: There’s not room for all of us to succeed
One of the biggest myths that we are afraid of is that there is not enough room for all of us to succeed. If this were true, why wouldn’t it apply to men just as much as women? We seem to think that there is ample opportunity for men to succeed, but that the opportunity for women is limited. This couldn’t be further from the truth; there is room and opportunity for all of us to succeed. As Daniel Webster said, “There is always room at the top.”While we can’t all hold the same position in the same organization, there are an abundance of leadership and entrepreneurial opportunities as well as opportunities to make a valuable contribution or meaningful impact in other capacities if we keep our eyes and minds open.
To overcome this myth, we must learn that EVERY woman can make a difference. We must work together to overcome the challenges we face in the workplace, our communities, and society as a whole. We need to change our perception that there are only a few seats at the table for powerful women. It’s up to us to bring about positive change. As women, we all need to play an active role in supporting other women; no one should feel like they have to go it alone.
Myth #2: We must compete at a man’s game
Another myth is that we, as women, must compete at a man’s game and on their terms. As was mentioned earlier, we now make up 47% of the workforce in the U.S. and 36% worldwide, why do we feel like we are playing on the competition’s home turf on a daily basis? Why is it that most people still seem to feel more comfortable when a man is in charge? As women, we face criticism when we are assertive or take initiative as a leader. When we take charge, we are often seen as aggressive. The cards are already stacked against women in general; so, it’s up to us to change the game.
Herbie Hancock wisely said, “Forget about trying to compete with someone else. Create your own pathway. Create your own new vision.” When we compete with one another, we play right into the man’s game. To overcome this myth, we should be supporting each other in our quest to fill high-power positions. Women are every bit as capable as men to take on responsibility and fill leadership roles; we need to stop undermining each other by harshly judging; spreading rumors; and acting like catty, high school teenagers.
Myth #3: It’s survival of the fittest
It is a myth that, in business, only the fittest survive. This myth promotes an ‘every woman for herself’ mentality. It encourages an attitude of exclusion rather than inclusion and constant competition. We all have value to bring to the table and, the truth is, when we help each other, we all succeed.
Steven Pinker pointed out that, “There’s a misconception that survival of the fittest means survival of the most aggressive.” To overcome this myth we must learn to value each other’s knowledge, experiences, passion and contributions. We must create an environment of trust where all women can feel safe to share ideas and know they will be taken seriously. Instead of hoarding our wisdom and experience for our own benefit, we need to provide mentorship for other women and create great role models for others to follow. We are stronger when we work together.
Myth #4: If we bring others down it brings us up
One of the most dangerous myths that affect both our personal and professional lives is that if we put others down we will look and feel better about ourselves. This only works in the short-term, over time this behavior actually destroys our own self-esteem and sabotages our chances for success. Putting others down not only negatively affects how you feel about yourself, but also how other people perceive you. Lao Tzu advised us that, “The sage does not hoard. The more he helps others, the more he benefits himself. The more he gives to others, the more he gets himself.”
If we are going to overcome this myth we must learn to work together instead of against each other. We all have strengths and weaknesses; every one of us has the ability to make a positive impact and contribute something of value. We need to help bring out the best in each other rather than tear each other down. Your actions speak to your character and your values; consciously focus your behavior on the message you are sending about yourself by lifting, encouraging, and inspiring other women instead of dragging them down.
Myth #5: Our emotions are a weakness
One of the major myths we believe, as women, is that we must compensate for our emotions by showing that we can be tough and ruthless. But, emotional intelligence and empathy have been proven to be leadership strengths, not weaknesses. Great leaders are passionate and that passion often translates into emotion. The trouble is, women are more likely to be labeled as emotional while men are viewed as passionate.
So, how do we overcome this myth? First, stop apologizing for showing your emotions. Allowing yourself to be feminine or emotional is never an excuse for others to treat you as weak, do not permit it. Being courageous enough to be in touch with, and acknowledge, your own emotions. They allow you to understand and empathize with the emotions of others; this is one of your greatest strengths; it is not a weakness! John Mackey shared his belief, “I think for leadership positions, emotional intelligence is more important than cognitive intelligence. People with emotional intelligence usually have a lot of cognitive intelligence, but that’s not always true the other way around.” Stop viewing the emotions of yourself and others as a weakness. Learn to use your emotions to your advantage as well as the advantage of others.
Change the Game
There is plenty of room at the top for all of us to succeed. Where we don’t see opportunities for women, we need to band together and create them. We must develop our own vision and start playing on our home turf. We have to come to understand that aggression towards each other does not prove that we are the fittest and will not ensure our survival. We must learn to be encouraging and supportive to each other. Every time we take a step up we should be reaching down to give someone else a hand. And, we need to see our emotions and the emotions of others as strengths; emotions allow us to have empathy towards others, to read the emotions of others, and to handle situations with the emotional intelligence that successful leadership requires.
As women, we need to take an active role in overcoming the myths that cause us to compete with each other. When we compete against one another we are missing a huge opportunity to move all women forward and to change the norms that hold us back. We need to start supporting and lifting the women around us. When we refuse to let these myths govern our behavior we begin to operate outside of, what have become, cultural norms; this can cause discomfort. Well, get comfortable being uncomfortable. Just know we are all in this together.
We need to capitalize on the collaborative intelligence and strength we have as women. We have to start building the bridges that advance all women. And, we must start creating and sharing opportunities with each other.
Our femininity is powerful; it allows us to be compassionate, inclusive, generous, supportive, inspiring, and strong. We are each responsible for how we choose to behave; choose the behaviors that are encouraging and supportive of other women. Let’s change the game!