Lately I’ve been asking myself the question, “What does it mean to support women?” I think about it focused on these areas: How men can support women, how women can support women, and how women-focused organizations can support women. There are other areas, such as how can society, companies, schools, and so on, support women, however, I want to focus on the first three areas as these are what we have as immediate opportunities to influence.
Men Supporting Women
Most of the time when we think about men supporting women, it’s focused on what’s not happening in the workplace. There is no doubt that part of the support we need from men needs to happen in the workplace. Those areas of support include mentorship, collaboration, and providing flextime, among others.
We’ve done a good job with regards to collaboration, because many teams in companies are diverse and collaboration happens quite naturally.
As for mentorship, we still have a long way to go. The reason is that women are still getting stuck in middle management positions. They are not receiving the necessary training or opportunities for growth in order to get promoted and move up the ranks.
As for flextime, we are also struggling in this area too. Regardless that we’ve made advances in software and technology, people are still expected to physically work in an office from 9-5.
However, the other areas where we need support are at home and with childcare.
The Huffington Post recently did a piece on this very topic. It mentions that one of the reasons there are few women in leadership positions is because we still do the majority of housework and childcare. What does this mean? It means that we can’t devote the time and work needed to move up the ranks, because we have to run home to cook, clean and take care of children.
What was also mentioned in the article is, because we have to devote much of our time outside of work to take care of the home and children, it’s also affecting our health.
So, it’s vital that we receive support from the men in our lives. Equality is not just about equal pay and equal rights. Equality is also about equal opportunities at work for leadership positions and equal time at home devoted to housework and raising children.
Women Supporting Women
In contemplating how women can support women, I’m reminded of an article published in The New York Times by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant on this topic. The title is, Sheryl Sandberg on the Myth of the Catty Woman. In it she discusses that contrary to what we believe, women are actually quite supportive to one another.
“One survey of high-potential leaders involved in mentoring showed that women were mentored by 73 percent of the [qualified] women, but only 30 percent of the [qualified] men. And 65 percent of high-potential women who received support paid it forward by mentoring others, compared with only 56 percent of men,” according to Sandberg.
If this is true, I haven’t ever seen it, nor experienced it. I have found over the years that no matter the workplace setting, women are not supporting women. And it doesn’t matter if a company is run by men or women.
However, even if we’re supporting each other in the workplace, outside of it we’re not.
In an article on Goop, Why Women Criticize Each Other—Plus Ways to Play Bigger, Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message, discusses this topic.
In it she says, “To the extent that women are not fully empowered ourselves—that we are still denying our own dreams or treating ourselves harshly—we will criticize, attack, and try to sabotage other women, because it rattles us to see in them what we have not permitted in ourselves.”
This may be true in some areas of life, however, the sheer level of non-stop criticism and attacks between women is embarrassing. It mainly happens in response to the media and particularly on social media.
One example is, in late 2014 Renee Zellweger decided to have some aesthetic enhancements done, better known as plastic surgery. The barrage of insults and attacks by women was upsetting. I thought to myself, what does anyone care what Renee Zellweger does to her looks? Apparently women care a whole lot, but why?
I was quite shocked by the reaction. It’s moments like this when I don’t understand how we can cry on one hand about equality and then in an instant, attack each other. It goes against everything we’re trying to accomplish and it must stop.
Women-Focused Organizations Supporting Women
There are several women-focused organizations that have popped up over the years. Many have been very beneficial in providing information, resources and a gathering place for women. Most have been able to bring several of the issues facing women to light to try and make the necessary changes needed in the workplace and in society.
However, years ago I witnessed first-hand, with one organization in particular, the blatant disregard for supporting women. So much so that when the leader of this organization felt even slightly threatened by someone, she would replace them with someone new.
Everything that this organization is trying to achieve, is led by someone who at the end of the day, is really running the organization for her own benefit. And the only people that can be a part of it are those that stay quiet and do what she says. What kind of support is that?
The other thing regarding women-focused organizations is many, if not most, do not encourage men to participate.
When I was running the Los Angeles chapter for a women-focused organization, men were not only encouraged to attend every event, they even received discounts or were able to attend for free. And every panel discussion always included one man. Why? Because it is impossible to effectively discuss the issues that face us if men are not part of the discussion.
So, what does it mean to support women? It means all of us, men and women, coming together to support women. We’ve heard time and again that investing in women, in all facets of society, personally and professionally, benefits everyone.
Taking care of children and the home is not just a woman’s job.
Mentoring women is not just for their benefit; it’s for the benefit of the entire company.
Women being critical of other women is disrespectful for all of us and lessens the importance of the goals we’re trying to achieve.
Let’s make sure we are all supporting women in a way that helps society and the world evolve to a better place.