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Stop the war: why your female colleague is your best asset

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Catfight. Women at war. Bitchy. Gossipy. Cliquey.

All of the above are likely to be familiar terms if you have any experience with reading about women in the workplace. It’s along a similar line to the idea that women can’t be assertive; instead, they are dismissed as being “bossy”. Women can’t have a disagreement with their colleagues — instead, it’s a catfight, an example of how women attack one another at any given opportunity.

This attitude, peddled and then encouraged by the media, is one of the most damaging ways that working women are dismissed. It suggests that concerns between colleagues are the result of petty jealousies rather than realistic worries. What’s more, it makes all of us feel nervous. When we have heard such horror stories about what our colleagues are going to be like, we’re all set to expect the worst.

Rather than allow this negative attitude to continue, it’s time to challenge the idea head on. Women are not destined to fight in a workplace environment any more than men are – and they don’t do it any more regularly than men either.

So pushing the stereotype to one side, the simple truth is: women have to support one another at work.

The power against prejudice

While you may occasionally have differences with the women you work with, you have to be able to find some way to work together. Knowing that your behaviour is going to be watched and scrutinized by male members of staff for any sign of claws, it’s all the more important to be careful.

Is this fair, by the way? That you may have to alter and tamper your reactions to avoid a stereotype? Of course not! But sometimes, all you can do with prejudice is confront it and deny it a chance to continue. Eventually, your office environment – through lack of exposure to any instances of “catty” behaviour – can change. Concerns will become more valid; disagreements between female colleagues will remain on a surface level. Be the change you wish to see in the world, remember.

See your colleagues as a strength

The above might sound bizarre, especially given our working environments in the first world. We are constantly pitted against other people. We are expected to be willing to push ourselves forward even at the expenses of others; to be ruthless; to see anyone in our way as a waste of time. The entire way we work is based around convincing colleagues to compete – for promotions, for pay, even just for your place in the office hierarchy.

And it’s damaging. The more you allow yourself to be tricked into competing, the more you and your work will suffer.

For example, if you are a lawyer puzzling over a difficult point of law, you have two options.

1) Continue to stress about it by yourself, making a task take longer than it actually should. Even if you do get to the point of completing it, it might not be as good as it could have been, your argument not so consistent.

Alternatively…

2) Consult with a colleague who knows this area of law better than you.

For many of us, point two sounds impossible. To do so would be to cede control, even to in this case flag ourselves up to senior partners as needing help.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to do a job well, however. This should be your driving motivation; that people banding together is far more efficient than setting them against one another. It might not come as a top-down directive of how everyone should behave, but that doesn’t make it any less legitimate.

Your colleagues are an asset to you – but you have to let them be. You have to be willing to step back when they know better than you do; you have to be ready to ask for help and dismiss the idea it makes you look weak. You can even flip the idea and say that not asking for help is actually the weakness; that you have the confidence to step forward and acknowledge what you don’t know.

Male-dominated industries

The above is particularly crucial in male-dominated industries where there may only be two or three other women in the office. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of trying to be “one of the guys”, to the point where you will alienate other female staff. You’re too busy fitting in to be concerned about how women should help one another.

Stop the war: why your female colleague is your best assetWikipedia Image

If you’re wondering why I say this, the mere concept that all women should help one another, the answer is simple: because no one else will. When one of us wins a victory, it’s for our entire gender. Being supportive of one another is a big part of that.

The best way of dealing with life in a male-dominated industry is not to try and fit in. The truth is, even if you do attempt it, it’s likely not going to work. There is always going to be that dividing line, so rather than trying to push through a concrete wall (or glass ceiling, if we’re being cute) then just find another route through it.

Stop the war: why your female colleague is your best assetPexels Image

You may be reading this and thinking it’s easier said than done. That it’s difficult to be in a male industry and still retain your sense of sense; that other women in the company are directly pitted against you. The crux of the matter is that those are not things you can change – you can only deal with your reaction to them.

Why is it so important for women to support one another?

There are more things to be learned from your colleagues than there are to be dismissed.

Whether you are in a male-dominated industry such as aviation, or a traditionally “feminine” occupation such as nursing, you have more in common with your colleagues than you realize.

In fact, in some ways your lives are identical. You share the same problems; similar work gripes and you know firsthand how the job impacts on other people.

Therefore there is much to gain from a supportive network. There is a chance for honesty and support, but also for learning. You, too, will have information that’s invaluable to furthering someone else’s career – so why not bring them together?

There are already efforts in place to try and do this. It’s generally split down into career paths, but it’s easy enough to find a blog for nurses, for example, a Facebook group bringing together beauticians or a forum for women lawyers to band together.

These are online examples of events that can transpire offline. They create the space for women to share and discuss their careers, which can be translated into your own environment. I’m not talking about starting discussion groups or anything like that, but just following the sole principle. That being: there are other women in similar situations to me, and we can support one another if we make an effort to. It will benefit the career of both of us.

How to deal with problems if a colleague isn’t on the same page

Somewhat inevitably, you will encounter a colleague who does not agree with this approach. They may not yet be ready to step past the idea of competition; of seeing you as the enemy. It may even descend into acrimony, just like it can when men feel their competitive urges stirred.

If you find yourself in that situation, then the only solution is to try and be honest. Do not try to undermine her or go behind her back; just confront the issues as they happen. If she is always moaning about the state of your work, check with someone else (ideally a boss) to see if it’s really a problem – or if it’s something she is perceiving only.

The worst thing you can do is try to fight fire with fire. Keep your cool and acknowledge the situation without losing control. In truth, the overwhelming emotion you should feel is one of pity. Her behaviour is denying you both the opportunity to further your knowledge and careers. By ignoring the problem, you can at least control your reaction to it – and possibly gain positive recognition from superiors for doing so.

In conclusion…

It is often quoted that behind every powerful man there is a woman. This term is problematic in itself and ripe for a bit of 21st-century updating.

How about if behind every successful woman, there was another successful woman? By not competing, learning to control our reactions and pushing back against prejudice, everyone stands to benefit. It may be difficult to rearrange the way you view your colleagues after years of being told to see them as competition, but it is possible.

If you’re willing to make the effort, then you stand to gain an exponential amount of knowledge and confidence in knowing you are supportive. There might be the odd bump along the way, but generally, you have everything to gain.

About Business Woman Media

Our women don’t want to settle for anything but the best. They understand that success is a journey involving personal growth, savvy optimism and the tenacity to be the best.We believe in pragmatism, having fun, hard-work and sharing inspiration. LinkedIn

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