The Shadow Side

Having time to reflect on International Women’s Day this past week, I’m excited about the advances we’ve seen and continually uneasy about the strides that remain. With the campaign, “Be Bold for Change”, it is clear for the need to look within as the primary enabler of change.  On that note, I’ve summarized a few interesting facts related to the shadow side of women at work and how we can be our own worst enemy.  I invite you to join me on this personal inquiry to understand why we do the things we do and to find new and better ways to show up in support of our self and our women colleagues.

The climate of inequality that exists between females and males in the workplace often perpetuates competition and aggressive behaviors among women. A 2013 literature review reported that the aggression between women tends to be indirect, and manifests as “self-promotion”, or making oneself appear more attractive or successful, and “derogation of rivals”, which is more commonly referred to as being “catty”. There are two theories as to why women participate in these behaviors: evolutionary psychology explains it as an attempt to protect oneself from harm, while feminist psychology asserts it as a response to internalizing a patriarchal system. Both are plausible explanations to describe female aggression in the working world, where the environment often is dominated by mostly males and women feel pressure to succeed by outshining one another in an area that offers limited opportunities for females to get ahead.

For women to thrive, especially amidst the gender and unconscious bias that may surround them in their careers, establishing deep awareness and a common respect for one another is crucial, not only for women today, but for future generations as well. For a fundamental change to occur in the way that females treat each other, we must initiate deep self-awareness and take responsibility for our behaviors. Psychologist Andra Brosh suggests three specific areas that should be explored in order to take steps towards understanding and creating more healthy, positive female relationships: envy, competition and self-worth. In each of these areas we need to become acutely aware of when the feeling creeps up within us to get ahead of the unconscious reaction.

  • Envy. Moving away from feelings of envy to feeling complete in my own sense of self and gratitude for the natural gifts and beauty I bring to the world.
  • Competition. Moving away from unhealthy competition and perhaps sabotage to understanding one’s own motives and moving to collaboration, a sense of abundance, and support.
  • Self-worth. This requires us to become intimately aware of our beliefs around our own inferiority and making strides to look inward for self-worth and align with other women who can support us and do the same.

Greater change can begin if women identify these tendencies within themselves, work internally to uncover and dismantle our old beliefs and manifestations, and aim to achieve greater self-awareness and test new behaviors. Healthier relationships and healthy individuals go hand in hand. By striving to create a healthier self and peer community, females can tap into a collective strength and multiply their capability to positively impact the world. Women possess natural gifts of compassion, intuition and empathy. Inherently, females are born nurturers. Owning these gifts and using them to uplift the female gender opens the door to greater opportunities, collaboration, and health, both personally and professionally.

Join me in being bold for change!

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