These days, we spend a lot of time talking about how men can become allies to women in the workplace. But what about other women? What’s our role in the fight?
There’s beginning to be a stereotype that women don’t support each other; that we have to compete with one another in order to truly rise in our careers.
But it’s time to debunk that myth. Women are stronger in numbers, and with close-knit networks and better communication, we can succeed together.
As Shelley Zalis, entrepreneur and founder/CEO of the Female Quotient, wrote in Forbes: “I always say a woman alone has power; collectively we have impact.”
Here are the top five ways women can support other women in the workforce.
Read more: What Is Intersectional Feminism?
One way we can start boosting other women right now is by becoming a mentor. Even if you’re not a manager or CEO yet, the experience and insight you have thus far could be a game changer to those just starting out.
Many companies across industries now have internal mentorship programs, and if yours doesn’t, try starting one. Talk to HR or your training department. If you work at a smaller company, discuss your interest with executives. There are a ton of other ways to become a mentor in your community or your industry, so the mentorship program you start or join doesn’t have to be solely connected with your organization.
For example, with Million Women Mentors, you can join as a volunteer or search mentorship opportunities for women in the STEM fields, or join Women in Payments as a mentor. Those looking for a mentor can also use these resources to find you.
Recognize your gifts and talents, and figure out how you can share them with other women who could use some guidance or inspiration.
Read more: How to Find a Mentor & How to Ask
2. Looking inward
Most of the time, we’re unaware of our own biases. Even though we support other women in theory, it’s not always easy in practice—especially since certain behaviors and stereotypes have been ingrained in us through television, movies, books, people close to us, and life experiences.
Check in with your biases at work. What personality traits do you think of as more masculine or feminine? Do you judge a woman when she’s not able to speak up for herself? Feel sorry for her? Do you think women need to be more aggressive? Why?
Supporting women means coming to terms with our own biases about “acceptable” behavior for women and what makes one behavior more positive than others.
Once you seek out these issues internally, you can then start to notice them in others and effect change in subtle but impactful ways.
3. Honesty and communication
We need to talk to one another more about our own successes and failures.
Sometimes when I hear impressive, successful women speak, I have a sense that it could never be me. You’ve been there, right? We convince ourselves that just one factor alone got them where they are. She’s just really outgoing. She’s super smart. Her skin is flawless.
But the reality is, I’m only seeing the finished product, and the road to success was probably pretty messy.
Think of this scenario like you would the “idyllic Instagram lifestyle” and FOMO. Girls as young as 14 have shown higher rates of depression linked to social media usage than boys, research shows. And social media usage has also been linked to poor body image, especially in young girls.
This could be largely due to the comparisons made to other females who are seemingly living more perfect, successful lives. Social media allows us to show only snippets of our lives that we decide to share, so it’s easy to fool others into thinking life is great, even when it isn’t.
This kind of thinking leads us to feel that we also need to portray ourselves in a certain super-positive way when we do get some kind of win. It’s easy to want our own Instagram stories to portray perfection.
Beyond social media, this is why it’s important for us to also talk to one another about the hard parts of our experiences. One big way to support each other is to talk about successes and setbacks. Successful women need to be honest about those hard times. About our struggles. About the times when we wanted to quit.
Being more open will make us all feel more comfortable dealing with hard subjects and, well, the truth. These kinds of stories truly inspire and motivate, since they bring the Instragram thinking back down to earth.
Read more: 8 Ways Women Are Helping Women at Work
4. Relationships, not just networks
Research published in the Harvard Business Review this year showed that men who just got their MBAs benefit most when they’re central to their student network, meaning they’re connected to many different groups of students.
Women with MBAs have to work a little bit harder. Not only do they need the same central position in their student networks, but they also have to have an “inner circle of close female contacts” in order to get to the top. In contrast, men’s inner circles typically don’t have any impact on their careers.
This research alone shows how important it is for women to connect personally with individuals, not just create a network of professionals who share their interests.
Zalis wrote in a separate article for Forbes, called “Forget Networking: Relationship Building Is the Best Career Shortcut,” that relationships have been the biggest secret to her business success. And she recommends building these relationships in person as well as online.
“Don’t just rely on social media to grow your relationships. Call me old school, but I still love to connect by phone and spend time in person.”
5. Remember: One woman’s win is a win for all women
There’s a difference between business-minded competitiveness and self-defeating competitiveness, and it’s time to know the difference. Namely, it’s time to stop comparing our careers to those of others or thinking there isn’t enough room for many people to succeed. We should feel inspired by the women that have succeeded ahead of us, and we should be encouraging those who can learn from our own successes.
As Lizzo says, “If I’m shinin’, everybody gonna shine.”
When one woman succeeds, she breaks another gender barrier, and that’s a win for all of us.