Female Managers. Friend or Foe?
The Other Woman – The Power of Female Mentorship
One of the most important instruments in cultivating successful female leaders is the mentorship of her peers and managers. It is so necessary for women to see each other as enablers rather than as competitors. When women push each other, stand up for and speak up for each other, and counsel and encourage each other, the results can truly be transformative.
In many anecdotes, however, women are often portrayed as the biggest obstacles to other women’s success. Sometimes, when we meet smarter, younger, more beautiful, more loved versions of ourselves, our insecurities are drawn out and stick to us like emotional cellophane, so that we cannot see clearly. How will I differentiate myself? We ask. And our insecurities morph into greater poisons – envy, resentment, perhaps even sabotage. We undermine the other woman, at first subtly, then tragically, as we ourselves slowly become that intolerable noun – The Corporate Bitch.
As a professional female in a male dominated industry, I admit that I have often been plagued by these twitches of negative emotions within myself. In these moments, I take a deep breath, and ask myself what it is that truly unnerves me about the other woman. Is it me? Or is it her? I try to derive specific behaviors and I ask myself if they would bother me if she were a man. But one of the best antidotes I’ve found is simply to reflect upon the positive memories I’ve had of my female mentors and managers.
I’d like to share three examples of how and when the women in my life saw the best in me, and helped me see myself more clearly.
Creating an Open Communication Channel
My first manager at my current company was female. In my first performance review, she sat me down and, after giving me her observations on my strengths and opportunities, asked: “Is there anything that I am doing that you feel is preventing you from reaching your full potential?” The question blew me away, and gained my trust permanently. It shows an acute level of self-awareness and a deep reflection of how she relates to me not just as a manager by title, but as someone who wants to nurture her impact on my professional development. This question from her gained my loyalty, and I was never afraid to go to her with questions, self-doubt, or admissions of mistakes, because I knew she would never use those moments against me. This one single question from her has yielded long term dividends – she and I are friends to this day.
Providing Support at Tough Moments
In my second job in the company, my manager (also a woman) was the only person on the team who encouraged me to go to HR when I was contemplating documenting a colleague for disrespectful behavior. All the male managers on the team I spoke with lamented that things will never change. They complained and tried to solve the problem informally, but never took the time to officially collect evidence and written documentation. My manager told me, “I am with you 100%, and I’ll even go into the meeting with you if you’d like.” Her encouragement was all I needed. I did the work, and she checked in with me actively during the process. In the end, the offensive person was designated to a more insular role where he now has much less impact on other people.
Advocating On One’s Behalf
In my third job, I was blessed with a female manager who took special care to go above and beyond for me. My job was one where my whole team didn’t go to the office regularly and so, I had infrequent contact with her. Because of our irregular interactions, I didn’t think that she got to know me that well. She, however, as I found out later, took the time to make observations about me as a leader. She called me one day to let me know that she wanted to recommend me for a special program within the company. When the candidates met with the CEO, I was the only minority and only female in the room. I can say without a doubt that the only reason I was in that room was because she pushed me to the forefront.
As a fairly newly minted MBA, I have been lucky to have found many mentors along the way, both men and women alike. But the female mentors are special to me, because I recognize within them, as they do in me, a shared empathy of who we are and how hard we had to work to get here. So whenever I do struggle with insecurities, I know I can anchor myself with gratitude for the positive reinforcement that these women have given me. It is humbling to know when someone will fight to recognize you when they themselves have no tangible benefit from it – they do it because they care, because someone in the past did it for them, or didn’t do it for them. And they fight extra hard, because they know what it’s like to be you. And that’s inspiration enough for me, to be the Other Woman, to someone else.
-A. is a Wharton MBA alumna, working in a manufacturing company in the United States.