1. We Caretake Men
In our society, women are trained from a young age to take care of boys and men in a host of ways. As Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant wrote in a New York Times opinion piece, “This is the sad reality in workplaces around the world: women help more but benefit less from it.” While at its best this tendency makes us empathetic nurturers who hold the emotional keys to the kingdom at work and home, it also robs men of the skill-building work of becoming fluent in emotion and talented at forming healthy relationships. We often make the coffee, take the notes, apologize, and soften our messages to help men feel secure and supported. These may all be fine, but support must be balanced by challenge. Women often back away too soon from conflict with men, and rescue them from their own discomfort far too often. Men do not need our caretaking, even as they need our care at work and home. Men in our society today are in trouble, experiencing elevated rates of depression, addiction, suicide, and gun violence. They need our help as partners and allies and as mothers and daughters to work with each other to redefine what it means to be a man today. When we over-care and caretake, we rob men of doing their work with one another.
2. We Act Like Men
Assimilation means that most women can “do (white) guy” at work with ease. We learn from a young age to bring data to the conversation, not use too many words, act strong, and be decisive and direct. The problem is, when we act as we see successful men acting at work, it doesn’t play as well for us. Where they are seen as commanding, we are seen as domineering. When men are seen as decisive, women risk being seen as rash. And where men are seen as directing and leading, women are often labeled “a bitch.” Women will benefit from exploring their own natural and authentic tendencies and practicing these qualities for powerful impact, rather than emulating the dominant culture of men.
3. We Compare Ourselves
The culture of comparative shaming for women is intense. Most women I have talked to about this swiftly say “yes!” when I ask if they are comparing themselves to the other women in the room in that moment. We compare body size, hairstyle, pay, job title, parenting skills, makeup fluency, clothing sophistication, and more, and almost inevitably find ourselves wanting. We do it quietly and often indirectly. We do it in the privacy of our own minds in ways that rob us of self-compassion and courage. And when we compare ourselves to others and find ourselves lacking or inadequate or imperfect, we silently hustle to do better, do more, and win. The amount of energy these comparisons take in the culture of women is very high and erodes our capacity to see possibility and abundance. What would happen if women stopped comparing ourselves to other women and instead tried to see the beauty of one another, even in our differences?
4. Some Of Us Forget Our White Privilege
White women have made more gains in equity at work than any other non-dominant identity group in the past 50 years. We make more money and have more economic parity than women of color. And yet, our sisters deal not only with the gender dynamics of systemic advantage but also with those of race. Too often, white women fail to see themselves as a group whose privilege can be used to help right wrongs and change the world. We must courageously align with women and men of color to use our privilege with grace. This includes standing up to racism and bias at work and naming it to other white men and women.
The Bottom Line
I confess that as a lifelong white woman, I sometimes unconsciously contribute to these four forms of sabotage. I call them out here in hopes that we can work together to create more inclusive and diverse workplaces.