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What should we do about women who undermine us?

/ Nov 20, 2012 7:35AM / Print / ()

What should we do about women who undermine us?

I caught up with a couple of future female leaders for lunch yesterday. They were bright, confident and opinionated. They were feisty and vocal about the challenges ahead of them.

Over salads of tuna nicoise and chargrilled lamb, we discussed the roadblocks between their ideals and realities. Disappointingly, a major obstacle they have discovered in the handful of years since joining the workforce has been the behaviour of some senior women. Both of the young women in their twenties had experienced what they described as subtle blocking by female leaders.

Subtle blocking is when someone creates doubt about your ability while pretending to do the opposite. In my experience, and that of my lunch guests, this is often the work of women who purport to be supportive of women.

I once worked for a woman who would tell clients how "fabulous" I was, especially since she "got me up to speed and out of my comfort zone". At least some of the clients with whom she shared that good company news felt compelled to warn me of her style of enthusiasm for me. I was quite senior at the time so the impact on my reputation was minimal but I can't pretend I wasn't disappointed.

What is truly disappointing is that in some industries and organisations this behaviour is still in play. Women climbing the corporate ladder have enough to navigate (gender pay gap, lack of female leader role models, childcare, etc) without bumping up against another woman's negative behaviour.

My impressive young companions have decided to draw a hard line under women who exhibit such behaviour:"If they are women who are unsupportive of other women then they are out". These two women have joined forces to create the seed for a networking organisation that is about women helping women succeed.

They expressed a hard line and anger, actually, that I hadn't previously heard from such young women. I was inspired by their passion and determination to change the situation for other women. They are already concerned about the generation to follow them and it will be some years before either of these women celebrate their 30th birthday.

There I was thinking that women of my generation and the generations before had made considerable progress in developing support networks and female tentacles throughout certain industries. But compared with the vision of this future generation that appears to be imbued with impatience, we have been slow to move. And certainly, if you listen to the younger generation of career-focused and driven women we appear to have been too quiet and polite about those women who have blocked us along the way.

Do you agree? Should we start outing women who block other women?

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