Perhaps you heard it first in Beyoncé’s Flawless, or perhaps you watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx Talk and read her accompanying book, We Are All Feminists. But whichever media blessed your senses with her words, one sentence spoke very true of a problem that lays amongst us women, especially in the workplace: ‘We raise girls to see each other as competitors — not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing — but for the attention of men.’
Now, not taking this in the literal sense of competing for the attention of men for, say, romantic relationships, or finding the ‘perfect' husband as many chick-flicks will make you believe is the ultimate goal — even when the lead woman is working hard on her career aspirations (which seem to go to pot when she finds a man… a coincidence I guess, right?). However, if you think about the patriarchal world we live in, we have to get the attention of men, because in the bigger picture, most of our workplaces are lead by males, most of our line managers are males, and most of our fellow colleagues are males.
Unless you work in a female-dominated industry, where you're more likely to find women at the top of the work hierarchy, you will most likely have to influence the decision of the male employer to hire you, give you the promotion or even give you the ‘good’ work by being better than your female co-workers. This in turn creates a jungle of negative behaviours as the ladies fight it out to come out on top, queen of the office food chain.
But — a big but — what if we stopped seeing each other as competitors altogether, ignored the general ‘male gaze’, even within a work dynamic, and built each other up instead? Helping each other with work, giving advice and support when another needs help, and in general raising your fellow career women up to become the supervisors, managers, executives and directors that you want to see in the workplace. Fuck the work husbands and become each other’s work wives.
The big lesson to relearn is that you can appreciate one women’s value without negating from your own; you may be completely different people and personalities, and you may have things in common and things that only you enjoy or that you disagree on. That doesn’t mean that you see her as the enemy that must be destroyed (especially as spreading gossip is not the way to go), it means that you can learn from her what you don’t know yet to strengthen your own skillset. It helps to make you more well-rounded in personality, values and skills, while still appreciating other women for who they are and their great achievements.
It’s also about accepting them as the talented person that they are. Jealousy may get the better of you sometimes, but have you ever thought about it from your own developmental side? That perhaps you're not ready for what they've accomplished yet; it doesn’t mean you can't achieve your goals (whether they match the talented woman’s or not), it just means you need more time to polish your diamond before you can shine. And if you do find yourself with a little bit of green eye, that is your emotion to control. It doesn’t matter that you are not as talented as the other women if your ambitions are different and you recognise that you have your own talents and skills that can be celebrated. If you can recognise why you feel a certain negative emotion or dislike towards a woman, you can delve into why you feel like that. If it’s because you just don’t fit as friends, fair enough, but that doesn’t mean she's a competitor. You're both fighting the same battle in the workplace — to be heard as intelligent women with ideas.
Other women in the workplace are your allies, your work family, your teachers and (sometimes) your rally of shoulders to cry on when the boss is being a wanker. It may take some time to change a way of thinking or an attitude that you may have towards other women, but learning to trust each other as work colleagues not only benefits your emotional wellbeing, but the atmosphere of the workplace, a place where you hustle every day to make your work dreams come true.
If you only remember a line from this article, let it be this: ‘A flower does not think about competing with the flower next to it; it just blooms’. Be that flower waiting to bloom, whilst embracing when the other flowers around you begin to blossom too.