How Women Can Conquer Corporate America — And Still Promote Other Women

by Katie Gonzalez

There are a lot of disadvantages for professional women.

There's having to figure out if and when to start a family while working on having a career, there's being paid less than male counterparts, and then there's all the embedded and outright sexism a corporate work environment can cause.

But one study revealed that there might be another, surprising pitfall for women seeking to be successful professionally: the simple act of helping other women.

According to research conducted by management and entrepreneurship professors at the University of Colorado-Boulder, women who exhibited diversity-valuing behavior were given lower performance reviews themselves.

The women who advocated for other women and minorities in the workplace were viewed by their bosses as being less competent themselves.

This study clearly shows that there are many senior-level officials who want women to stall in their careers, coding their sexist inclinations in the statement that women “lack the temperament” to make it in the cutthroat business world because they promoted another woman in the workplace.

The study shows there’s yet another peril for women who speak up for their fellow female colleagues.

Instead of being viewed as mentors, these women can be cast as “weak,” and pandering to their own gender as opposed to applauding merit.

In turn, this will hurt their own careers, causing them to remain in the middle-management level that precludes them from reaching the top spots typically reserved for (and overwhelming possessed by) men.

Slate summed up the study’s sad findings in its headline: “Women can succeed in corporate America, as long as they don’t promote other women.”

The study is an unfortunate remark that seems to confirm the stereotype that women shouldn’t help one another out, because competition is too fierce for the very select few females who will one day rule their own corner of the corporate world.

But this doesn’t mesh with our ideas of modern day feminism, where women should be helping one another succeed on an individual level so that the entire gender can rise to the level of equality it so deserves.

Unwilling to accept that this study’s findings have to hold true, we spoke with Nicole Williams, a LinkedIn Career Expert and founder of WORKS by Nicole Williams, a lifestyle brand dedicated to assisting young professional women figure out their careers.

She’s spent the majority of her own career telling women, “Yes, you can.” And clearly, as a successful entrepreneur and author, Williams’ willingness to advocate for other women didn’t present a roadblock in her own professional life.

Below are her tips for how women can succeed while helping other women do the same.

Performance is Key

Whenever there’s an issue, — even if it’s unfairly related to gender — Williams suggests grounding your rebuttal in a response that doesn’t highlight “women versus men.”

A talented employee, according to Williams, is something a boss will soon learn he/she can’t ignore, even if their problems with you are more personal.

Anytime there’s a gender related issue, I think performance is the key to refuting and to dissolving those issues. At the end of the day, you’re attached to producing something and being effective. And the more talented you are, and maybe the less you talk about gender, the less focus there is.

Be Specific

If you’re now afraid for talking up a fellow female for fear of being penalized in your own performance review, there are ways to talk about the individual that won’t make your boss question if you’re just sticking up for her because she’s a woman.

Williams said that showing a specific performance metric — i.e., the exact reason you’re praising this person, or putting her up for a raise or promotion — is the best way to convince any party that the colleague is deserving, and you’re not just personally helping out a friend in the office.

There should be a specific suggestion as to why this person is being promoted. Show the performance measures. There should be an actual explanation and a share to the rest of the team as to why this one person was promoted, so it’s not just looking like its based on gender. Truly, whenever there’s a stereotype around women, conversation is one of the best ways of getting around it.

Share Your (and Others’) Successes

Women can advocate for other women without seeming like they’re threatening some sort of sexist system by actually convincing male colleagues and superiors that these people are the best for the job, regardless of gender.

An easy way to talk about someone being well-suited is to actually prove it, Williams said. Share their successes in a way that similarly highlights your own talents, so there can be no question of the value you and your female colleagues bring to the company in those performance evaluations.

There’s something cyclical about sharing successes. If you see that someone got promoted on LinkedIn, you can share that with your community, saying congratulations. Inevitably that brings the success to light. And while you’re not being called out individually for your contribution, you’ll be recognized. One way of taking the edge off of what feels like a brag is to say, I couldn’t have done it without this person. conversely they’ll do the same for you. Compliments beget compliments, it’s an important way of getting noticed.

Don’t Underestimate Empathy

The recently published study shouldn’t dissuade women from helping one another out, but that kindness and camaraderie should also be shared with male colleagues.

An entire office, and even the bottom line, profits when the team is truly working together and being considerate of one another's workloads and personal commitments.

Here’s an area where we need to redefine the typically masculine belief in not showing any emotion in the office environment; according to Williams, everyone benefits when we think of each other as human beings instead of just cogs in the machine.

There’s a more male orientation that it’s a dog eat dog world, that when someone’s out of the office or down, that’s when you want to undercut them. But that doesn’t work in reality. The more considerate and helpful you become, the more successful you’ll be.

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