To the Woman Who Doesn’t Help Other Women…

Some years back, immersed in the challenges of a competitive corporate environment, I met a group of wonderful women.

Colleagues at the same level, we had much in common.

We’d meet each month to talk about opportunities and roadblocks and fears and frustrations.

We’d offer solutions and sympathy and the occasional advice.

Mostly we’d just listen.

Sometimes over coffee. Sometimes over lunch. Sometimes over wine.

(Those after-hour meetings were always a little more open and revealing…)

There was no formality to our discussions, just a shared understanding and solid support.

The feeling we had when we were together – of being a little less alone, a little less of the odd woman out – was one I wanted to share. So one day I invited another woman I worked with to join us, explaining why we get together.

She politely declined, which was fine.

What raised eyebrows was what she said.

“Oh, I don’t do the woman thing.”

That’s what she said. She doesn’t do the “woman thing.”

What does that even mean?

And… why?

She had always been professionally cordial among female colleagues. But she didn’t converse or connect with them. She chose the men, intentionally separating herself from women as if to say, “I’m not you.”

Maybe she had been advised to do so. Maybe she just doesn’t like the company of women. Maybe it’s not up to me to figure her out, second-guess or criticize her approach.

But maybe I feel a little sorry for her.

Because I think she missed out.

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Madeleine Albright was famously quoted as having said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

I think that navigating the workforce as a woman without the camaraderie of other women is its own kind of hell.

What this woman, the one who doesn’t “do the woman thing” missed out on is a community of incredibly clever, smart, funny, full-of-heart strivers who get it.

The type of women who understand what Everyday Sexism looks and feels like and why so many Women Bounce from the workforce.

The type of women who you want in your Cast of Supporting Characters. Who will get you feeling like Wonder Woman before you go in to the big meeting. Who will let you know you’ve got a bit of quinoa in your teeth first. Who will be sure to point out to the guy who offers up your idea five minutes after you said it that you were the one to say it first.

Back off, Bobby, that was Brenda’s idea. Let’s make sure she’s heard.

Surely male colleagues can pump you up for a meeting, amplify your ideas or point out the quinoa in your teeth.

But do they help you race out that elongated meeting to get to daycare before the penalties for late pickup kick in? Can they share your frustration when a boss tells you to “calm down” and “stop being so emotional” after standing up for yourself in front of a room full of people eager to misunderstand you? And when Dave in digital media stands a little too close to you in the cafeteria line and breathes a suggestive comment into your ear, can they relate and advise in a way that makes you feel heard and understood?

That sounds like a private, lonely type of hell, one most of us would not survive.

Madeleine Albright spoke the truth. Women should help other women and there should be a special place in hell for those who don’t. But here’s another quote, attribution unknown, that’s also true:

Behind every great woman is a tribe of women who have her back.

Behind every great woman is a tribe of women who have her back.

Find and embrace yours.

After a 20+ year career putting stories on television, Valerie Gordon founded career and communication strategy firm Commander-in-She to help high-achieving women take command of the power of story for greater success and satisfaction at work. She offers corporate training, conference breakouts and individual coaching and believes there is an even better next chapter in each of us. 

 

 

 

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