Why Celebrate Women’s Friendships?

We need a way to celebrate the important role that friendships with women play in most of our lives. I remember feeling quite satisfied with my life as a single woman well into my forties because of the richness of my network of women friends. I had good friends at work with whom I went to concerts and on vacations. I had other women friends with whom I shared problems and companionable activities such as movie going, and I had women friends I had known since high school and college with whom I had shared significant life passages over many years and miles. I remember saying at that time that while I would like to have a long-term intimate relationship someday, if that never happened, that was okay, too. My relationship needs felt largely fulfilled by my friendships with women. When I did meet my soul mate at the age of forty-five, and began sharing daily life with him, he and I both understood that my women friends would continue to play an important role in my life. Yet it feels to me like we are missing a way to celebrate the importance of women’s friendships for meeting needs beyond those fulfilled by both same-sex and heterosexual marriage (or their equivalent). In an interesting new book entitled The Social Sex: A History of Female Friendship, the author, Marilyn Yalom, traces the history of female friendships and notes that “almost all documents on friendship during the first two thousand years of Western history—from 600 BCE to 1600 CE—pertain to men.” She notes that ancient Greek philosophers “did not consider women worthy of attention since they were noncitizens, nonsoldiers, and nonparticipants in the public realm.” As late as the mid-nineteenth century, British journalists published articles suggesting that women were too unstable to be suited for, or capable of, friendships “within their own sex.” Could it be that women’s friendships are still largely uncelebrated because of undercurrents from ancient stereotypes about women? Rebecca Traister, writing in the New York Times about the importance of female friendships, contradicts the ancient stereotypes and states that “female friendships have been the bedrock of women’s lives for as long as there have been women.” She notes that a network of women friends can provide support and understanding about shared life experiences as women that a male partner cannot provide. In fact, because no one person can ever meet all of our needs, women married to women also need to maintain their network of women friends to keep themselves and their relationships balanced and healthy. In my book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together, I report findings from my research on women’s relationships in the workplace. My research participants describe the importance of having supportive relationships with other women at work in order to keep their balance and grounding in the face of unconscious bias, subtle gender discrimination, and the challenges of balancing work and family life. I agree with Traister when she says that we don’t have ceremonies or rituals to acknowledge the importance of the role women friends play in our lives —and we need them.  Do you have any suggestions? Please share your thoughts and experiences about celebrating women’s friendships in the comments section, and let’s see if there’s an idea that might be ready to take flight for the rest of us!     The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of Jacquelynne Kosmicki.]]>

Next Steps for Connecting Across Differences

  • Identify the sides on your prism that are most relevant for you at this time in your life and career, keeping gender in the center. For example, I might ask myself how being a Jewish woman, white woman, US-born woman, and woman in my sixties are all currently impacting my experience. What is important for others to know about me as I turn the prism that reflects my wholeness?
  • Make a list of the sides of your prism. Reflect on how each side interacts with being a woman for you at this time in your life and career.
  • Become more curious and open to learning about the experiences of other women who are different. Listen to understand, and be willing to share your experience.
  • Make a connection once a month with someone from a different culture whom you don’t usually interact with. Cultural differences can include different employment levels, ages, races, nationalities, religions, and other differences.
  • Read the histories of other groups or watch movies about the experiences of women from different cultures, such as Real Women Have Curves.
  •   An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>

    Next Steps to Fight Career Aggression

  • Practice feedback skills as much as you can. As with any skills, they get easier with practice. You can practice giving positive feedback to family members, friends, or coworkers so that you are ready to give negative feedback when the need arises. Be sure to include all the important elements of effective feedback: specific behavior, reaction (thoughts), and feelings. Each component gives a different type of information about the impact of a person’s behavior, and they are all important.
  • Practice using the mother-sister-daughter triangle. Notice when you have strong reactions to another woman, either positive or negative, and ask yourself where you have placed her in the triangle. Whom does she remind you of?
  • Investigate the current support structures in your organization for strengthening a women’s community, for learning and creating a shared vision and code of conduct, and for assessing the company’s policies and procedures. Is there a diversity effort? An existing women’s forum? If yes, get involved in the program committee. If not, get a group of women together, including women bosses, for a monthly lunch or dinner and talk about how to shift the patterns to support each other more. Discuss the company policies and practices, and consider how you might develop a business case to present to the leaders about changes that are needed.
  • Research the EEO and harassment policies in your organization. Every organization has them. Be aware of what they say and know your rights.
  •   An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>

    Career Aggression: What You Can Do to Stop It

  • Whom you talked to
  • What you noticed or heard
  • When you had each observation or conversation or learned a piece of information
  • The rule of thumb is to create a detailed record of who, what, and when as soon as you begin to feel that something might be going on that is directed at damaging you. Keep these notes with you and do not leave them lying on your desk or easily accessible in your desk because someone who might spread the information around or who might personally be involved in trying to damage you could see them. You will eventually bring this record with you to HR to provide facts for your case. Step 2: Do your homework. Research your organization’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) statement, employee code of conduct, and harassment policy to understand your rights. Download them from the organization’s website, or obtain them from the Human Resources Department. Underline the sections that seem to cover your situation and add them to the folder of materials that you are keeping with you. Every organization has policies and statements that reflect its legal obligation to provide a work environment for all employees that is free from harassment and protects employees from working in a hostile work environment. If someone is trying to damage your career, that person is creating a hostile work environment for you. Your request for help to stop the unwelcome behavior directed at damaging your reputation and career will be taken more seriously when you can show you have done your homework and understand your rights as an employee. Step 3: Seek out a trusted advisor. It is important that you talk with someone whom you trust to have an unbiased view. This person can help you think through how you will proceed and help you put together your talking points if you are going to confront the aggressor or file an official complaint. You may know a person in HR whom you feel can be your trusted advisor and keep your conversations confidential until you decide what action you are going to take. If not, a trusted advisor can also be any of the following: (1) someone at work who can advise you (2) a family member who is not biased or emotionally involved, or (3) a professional, such as a clergy member or a therapist with whomyou have a good relationship. Step 4: Confront the career aggressor. If at all possible, confront your aggressor in front of a witness before you officially file a complaint. Plan your talking points with your trusted advisor, and confront your aggressor in a private setting with a witness at your side. The aggressor may admit that she has been acting to damage you, or she may not. In either case, record what happens in the conversation in your detailed notes, as well as any subsequent actions the person might take to try to threaten you to keep you from filing a complaint. Step 5: Have a confidential conversation with a management- or director-level HR person. Discuss filing a complaint and show the person your detailed record. Discuss steps to escalate your complaint to the next level and ask for her or his advice. It is your decision whether or not to take the next steps. If you decide to go forward with filing a formal complaint, the organization must conduct an investigation. Whether or not the organization is able to prove that the accused person did try to damage your career, this fluid process is very likely to stop the career aggression and restore your reputation. This process is summarized in table 9.
      Table 9. How to stop career aggression
    Step 1: Create a detailed record: who, what, and when. Step 2: Research the organization’s EEO statement, employee code of conduct, and harassment policy. Step 3: Seek out a trusted advisor. Step 4: Confront the career aggressor. Step 5: Speak with a director-level HR professional about filing a complaint.
        An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>

    The Mother-Sister-Daughter Triangle: A Tool for Identifying Projections between Women

    The core roles of mother, sister, and daughter are universal influences in our development as women, and the triangle is an archetypal structure reflecting the interdependent aspects of these influences (see figure 1). It seems likely that this collective experience of women in one or more of these roles informs many of our relationships with other women. Every woman knows the experience of being a daughter. Although not all women have the experience of being a mother or a sister, most women hold some idealized image of mother and sister in their psyche. These experiences or idealizations are often so potent that we project them onto others. They can influence everyday behavior in individual women. The phenomenon of the mother-sister-daughter triangle becomes a lens through which our relationships with other women can be viewed, especially when we are trying to make sense of extreme reactions to another woman—positive or negative, adoration or detestation. To use the mother-sister-daughter lens effectively, you must have some understanding of where you might be caught in the triangle with the other woman to whom you are having a strong reaction. Does she remind you of your mother or sister or daughter? If you can see a connection between how this woman has behaved toward you and an early experience you had, you might come to feel less offended by her. As an example, I felt that a woman I had known professionally, Cheryl, had treated me unfairly, and she had not responded to my requests to discuss the offending incident at the time. Several years went by, and I was not happy to walk into a new organization and see her working there. I felt that I could not trust her because of what happened in the past, and I told other people not to trust her either. I kept my distance from her. I could not see that I was also behaving in an untrustworthy manner by making demeaning comments about her to others. I could only see that she was someone who had done me wrong. After some time in the same organization (and avoiding her), I learned about the mother-sister-daughter triangle in a women’s leadership training course, and I applied it to my relationship with Cheryl. I asked myself whom Cheryl reminded me of in my family. It took some time for me to realize that she reminded me of one of my sisters, who had tried to physically harm me when we were young. I had put Cheryl in the dangerous sister part of the triangle. As soon as I realized I had done that, an amazing thing happened. It was like a curtain lifted and I could see Cheryl for who she really was. I stopped feeling negative about her. We were never able to reconstruct exactly what had happened all those years ago, but she no longer felt untrustworthy to me. She turned out to be a very nice woman who was not my dangerous sister. This was a projection that I had put on her that was not actually about her at all.   An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>