Competing with a Friend for a Promotion: Can This Relationship Survive?

Other scholars have describedthese expectationsas relational images that develop early in life and are carried from one relationship to another, sometimes changing with new experiences. We don’t show up in the workplace as a blank slate. We carry with us all of the things we have learned, including our friendship rules and expectations. Men have friendship rules too, but because of differences in our gender socialization, theirs are not the same as ours. Women I talk with often marvel at the way men can disagree or compete at work and then go out for a beer together as though nothing happened, while women do not get over similar experiences with other women for a long time—if ever. What friendship rules could be making it harder for women to compete with a woman friend for a new job or promotion? My research validated the work of other scholars who describe a core of very common friendship rules. Not everyone has the same rules, and there will be variations for cultural differences. Below are the most commonly reported friendship rules:

  • Maintain unswerving loyalty.
  • Demonstrate trustworthiness.
  • Keep confidences.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Share gossip and air problems.
  • Provide self-disclosure.
  • Practice equality and acceptance, and refrain from disapproval.
  • Avoid discussion of the friendship rules.
Could it be that it feels disloyal to compete with a woman friend for a job? Or could it be hard to face the possibility that you will no longer be equals after one of you gets the promotion? One thing is certain: if it is taboo to discuss friendship rules, our friendships will be at high risk for damage in competitive professional situations. Here are some tips for how you can both preserve relationships and compete with other women in the workplace. First, have a friendship-rules conversation. Include as many of these points as you can with your friend:
  1. Confirm that the friendship is important to you and you don’t want it to be damaged because you are both applying for the same job.
  2. Propose a friendship rule that you wish each other the best in pursuing the job.
  3. Suggest a friendship rule that whoever gets the job will have the full support of the other to be successful.
  4. Acknowledge to each other that applying for the position is not personal, it’s professional.
Men compete with each other for jobs all the time and usually don’t take it personally. We can do this, too, women, if we are intentional and supportive in our relationships with each other. Let us know what has worked for you in competitive situations with a friend.]]>

Practice Equality

New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/): The friendship rule of practicing equality can create confusion for women in the workplace in at least three different situations:

  • When we are reluctant to compete with each other for jobs
  • When we are reluctant to support each other because a colleague got promoted or has more education
  • When we are reluctant to do the self-promotion necessary to get ahead in most organizations
Pat Heim and Susan Murphy call this women’s relational expectation the Power Dead-Even Rule. That is, we value (and expect) staying at the same level and not getting ahead of each other. Lois explained why she does not mention that she has a master’s degree: I’m hesitant to say I have a master’s degree because it lowers the other person’s (woman’s) perception of you. She will think, “Who the hell do you think you are?” She will think you’re uppity, and she, and others, will be more reticent and not give you information and help. It’s important not to appear that you are tooting your own horn. My clients often talk about their reluctance to apply for a position in their companies when another woman also wants the position because they’re concerned about damaging an actual or potential relationship. My study also revealed a strong theme about discomfort with advancing ahead of friends or colleagues and fear or actual experiences of the relationships not surviving such advancements. Of course, part of the problem is that our expectations are unconscious and unspoken, making it impossible to put them on the table and negotiate them. But once again, the feminine workplace values of a flat structure and equality crash into the hierarchical workplace to set us up for disappointment or confusion about what to expect from other women at work. We cannot advance if we don’t toot our own horns and compete for promotions, yet this can create problems for our relationships with other women.]]>

Three Reasons Why Organizations Need More Women in Leadership

Sallie Krawcheck in Time magazine highlights three reasons why organizations need more women in leadership:

  1. Prevent Groupthink. Women can add much-needed diversity of perception. Sallie Krawcheck tells her story of being fired from her position of running Smith Barney at Citigroup during the financial crisis. She was fired for diverging from the groupthink of the financial industry by daring to suggest that clients should be partly reimbursed for losses caused by Smith Barney’s selling them high-risk products. Before she was fired, Sallie reports that she would not have said that her approach to decision making was related to her gender. After she was fired, however, Krawcheck’s research helped her understand that women tend to be more risk-averse and client-relationship focused—a value they can bring to the workplace and that she tried to bring to Smith Barney and the industry.
  2. Increase Stock Prices. Recent research shows that stock prices of businesses that have women in corporate leadership roles tend to be higher than those of their counterparts. These businesses perform considerably better and pay larger dividends to economic investors, even during economic downturns.
  3. Increase Pay Equity. Krawcheck, in an article in Forbes, also points out that companies with more diverse leadership teams have lower gender pay disparities throughout the workforce.
It’s not that women are better leaders than men; it’s that the diversity of perspectives women bring to a leadership team are complementary and can help prevent groupthink and challenge conventional wisdom. Women often bring greater focus on relationships and fairness to decision making. But it’s also very important that there be more than one token woman (or token anyone) on the team to have a chance of different perspectives being seriously considered. These are three of the reasons why organizations need more women in leadership, and I’m sure there are many more. What reasons come to mind for you? What examples do you have of times when diversity made a difference?]]>

Workplace Relationship Dynamics

New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/): One day, during a routine coaching session, a female client who is a sales rep complained bitterly about an experience she had just had with a woman customer. She was deeply hurt and upset and felt personally betrayed. She explained that her customer, someone she had worked with for a long time, had decided to change vendors and was no longer employing her company—or her. And the worst part of it was that my client found out about the change from someone else—not from her customer. When she told me the story and said, “Who does she think she is? I thought she was my friend,” she also said, “I would have expected this from a man but not from a woman!” I thought, “Really? She’s a customer. Doesn’t this happen in business all the time?” I wondered where this expectation of personal loyalty from women, but not from men, came from. Then I realized that this sense of disappointment and personal betrayal in the workplace context was familiar—that I had heard versions of this disappointment from my women clients many times before. I got curious about where these expectations were coming from and how the workplace context might contribute to the experience of disappointment—and the seeds of my research were sown. What my research has found is that women carry their egalitarian friendship rules, or relational expectations (also known as “relational images”), into the workplace, where they clash with the hierarchical norms that dominate most workplace cultures. This clash sets us up to be disappointed by each other in ways that can feel personal and can daman age our relationships. This finding gives us an angle on understanding the source and causes of women’s disappointment with each other. It provides a lens that opens up a new way of seeing women’s relational dynamics at work and sheds light on a new pathway to understanding and change.]]>

"New Rules for Women" Blog

Welcome to the launch of my new blog, “New Rules for Women.”  I hope this blog will stimulate conversations about the issues and challenges that women face in the workplace. It can also be a place where we celebrate our strengths and exchange ideas for how to build upon them.  I hope that both women and men will engage in these conversations as a way to understand each other better and learn to support each other more.  We need to work together to bring about the many changes needed in our work environments to make them more inclusive of all of us and make our organizations more productive.   I look forward to hearing from you.]]>

Women’s Friendship Rules at Work

New Rules for Women, shows that women often have different relationship expectations of their female colleagues than of their male colleagues. I call these expectations women’s friendship rules. We begin to develop friendship rules at a very young age. My granddaughter, by the time she was 4, was talking about the rules for being a friend. In middle school, girls ages 9 to 13 are thinking, “Who is my friend, who is not my friend, and what do I have to do to get invited to the party?” By the time we are adults, our friendship rules have become embedded as a set of filters, but, for the most part, we are not conscious of them. We don’t just show up in the workplace as a blank slate. We carry with us all the things we have learned, including this set of filters I call friendship rules. Men have friendship rules, too, but because of differences in gender socialization, theirs are not the same as ours. It is through the filters of our friendship expectations that we interpret the behaviors of other women at work and decide whether or not we trust or like them, along with a range of other expectations that can create misunderstandings. My research validates that a core of very common women’s friendship rules exists. Not everyone has the same ones: there will be variations for each of us. The most commonly reported women’s friend rules include

  • Exhibiting unswerving loyalty
  • Showing trustworthiness
  • Keeping confidences
  • Listening well
  • Sharing gossip and airing problems
  • Displaying self-disclosure
  • Practicing equality and acceptance, while seldom disapproving
  • Not discussing the friendship rules
The last one, the taboo on discussing friendship rules, is the one that gets us into the most trouble in our relationships. Cultural differences and other factors make it unlikely that all women share the exact same friendship expectations. However, the taboo against discussion means that mismatched assumptions may not be discovered until damage has been done to a relationship. How conscious are you of your friendship rules? I suggest you talk with some women friends, either at home or at work, and try to identify and name the friendship rules you share and the ones you don’t. Once you are aware of your own and have some practice describing them to someone else, you will be better prepared to talk about friendship rules at work with women colleagues to prevent misunderstandings. Let’s face it—we need all the support we can get at work. Naming and discussing our relational expectations with our women colleagues can go a long way toward strengthening our ability to help each other thrive and prosper at work.    ]]>