Women in Business Top Myth #4: Women do not help other Women

We’ve discussed how having female African leaders is not a strange concept, how men need to step in to help, and also shared the idea that women are strong enough to lead.

I think we should tackle another myth about women in positions of leadership.

Top Myth #4: Women do not help other women

For centuries, from early childhood to adulthood, African women have always drawn support, assistance, and cherished friendships from their peers and female family members. We can all say that the bond we have shared with other women in our lives is one of the life lines to any African woman’s success story. In most African countries and communities, it is expected that women always come together to help each other, so why does it feel like women do not do the same when it comes to their growth in leadership in the business sector?

In reality the myth is far from true. In many industries, there are formal and informal mentoring and sponsorship programs that allow women leaders in many sectors assist new comers. These programs have always existed. It is part of our culture and this is more evident at the grassroots level where women associations ( e.g market women associations, hair dressers associations and so on) share information and solutions to challenges hampering the growth of their businesses.

The real problem in my opinion is the silent unhealthy competition that exists between some women in business.

Competition vs Self-worth

This unhealthy competition among some women may have generated from our childhood where healthy open competition is encouraged among boys but ignored and not promoted among girls. Boys rarely feel guilty after winning, and their relationship with their friends is not diminished by healthy rivalry. Girls on the other hand learn that competition is an undesirable trait. According to Lynn Margolies, Ph.D. in her Competition Among Women: Myth and Reality article,

when aggression cannot be channeled into a healthy, positive edge, it becomes inhibited and goes underground. What could have been healthy competition becomes a secret feeling of envy and desire for the other to fail – laced with guilt and shame.

Covert Competition

Most women in the corporate and political world may have encountered at one time or the other, another woman’s attempt at using words to batter her self confidence, public perception or throwing verbal sticks at her progress wheel. As Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster put it in their ‘Caution: Women competing at work‘ article,

…Covert competition involves “winning” by indirectly putting the other person down… It is a form of indirect aggression, which many women are prone to practice when they feel competitive with other women at work.

Men do not experience this, and therefore do not understand it. This in turn leads to a lack of implementation of avoidance strategies by male managers. As more and more women enter the workforce, it may become an important aspect to highlight and deal with in African organizations.

How to handle Covert Competition

Stay focused on your goals and ignore

What I have noticed that works is to simply ignore the aggressive competitor. Actually, what should be strongly ignored is the urge to counterattack. We are all human, and as women, the first instinct is to react, but the experts say while this is logical, it is not productive.

I totally agree with Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster who advise that a different interaction model should be encouraged among women in the work place replacing what exists now. Counterattacking just begins a vicious cycle that does not build us up or help the business in any positive way.

Women must unlearn the impulse to react to negative behavior, and instead, learn to view and approach the situation from a non-personal, professional perspective. We must always remember not to take the status quo to heart and have in mind that every workplace should be a healthy competitive environment where other women [and men] contend for positions, promotions and recognition. If our colleagues behave badly, then their actions is a reflection of their characters not ours. Most importantly, be friendly without making friends – let others earn that choice spot in your inner circle.

Are you part of any mentorship programs? How have they benefited your business and your life? How do you deal with covert competition?

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