This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
Is it a "myth" that women don't support each other in the workplace? Do we play backroom games to sabotage each other's careers or professional rise? Do we have "frenemies" that hold us back from our goals?
It took the combined efforts of multiple high-profile celebrities, united by Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg's recent Lean In campaign, to draw attention to this issue and the need for women to empower each other. Because this campaign brought to light one discerning fact: based on the rate of women obtaining leadership roles over the past three years, it will take more than 100 years for the upper reaches of (U.S.) corporations to achieve gender parity. And Sandberg contends, "We can't wait that long." I agree.
From my own trials and tribulations in corporate and private business over the last 15 years, I have witnessed first-hand how, both inadvertently and intentionally, women can sabotage workplace relationships with each other. I remember one distinctive moment in my corporate days when a director-level manager kyboshed an idea by a junior member in a meeting, presenting that same idea only days later to senior management as her own.
While bringing awareness to this issue is a necessary stepping-stone to driving change, paying lip service is not enough. It's time to start putting our energy into how we can support one another and the practical avenues to do so. Because, frankly, just saying it matters isn't going to cut it.
Be each other's biggest champions
Women, but especially those in executive positions, have the opportunity and privilege to set a culture that fosters women to learn, grow and be empowered. Those who have succeeded in climbing the male-dominated corporate ladder should offer their great knowledge and insights to those who are still making the climb, rather than stepping on their fingers and making them fall. Take the example I gave earlier; had the director-level manager stood beside her junior and supported her idea, both women could have benefited from its success. The junior would have had the opportunity to show her initiative and the manager her leadership skills. At my workplace, we have created an environment that encourages each individual to set their own career paths. During our weekly team meetings, one team member is chosen to express their "aspirations Mondays" (video, short story, photos) to inspire other team members to apply those aspirations to their personal and professional development. Ultimately, empowering each other to set programs where innovative ideas, regardless of gender, are cultured and encouraged is where executive-level women can really show their value.
Dare to share and own it
Create momentum in your own career. Take the initiative and share your ideas for new programs or projects. After all, if you want other women to cheer you on, you first have to put forward proposals they can support. So, dare to share and own it. Set examples of leadership and excellence, and give them a reason to be your champion. If the idea flops, have the strength to acknowledge its downfall, present new ideas and be fearless (but not careless) with your innovative thinking. Keep in mind, if your idea doesn't pan out, don't take it personally. Men will have an argument in the office and still go out for beers after work. Women often form cliques and take arguments or criticism to heart. Instead, feed off the criticism and use it constructively to improve the next idea you present.
Get smart together
Foster an environment where learning is encouraged and shared. There is nothing more powerful or empowering than knowledge that can be used to fuel creativity and leadership. How cool would it be to get educated and learn with your peers? Go take classes, attend conferences, form learning groups to share ideas, together. Women have the most unique way of managing, leading and administrating – use it to its advantage and consolidate the energy and smarts to propel each other to the next level.
Ultimately, how cool would it be if women set their own agenda for their future and had other smart, talented women to support them along the way. Women in leadership positions have the power to lean in and pave the way for future female leaders to come, and that won't happen by knocking each other down.
Phoebe Yong is the president of Magnolia Communications, Vancouver.