There is a huge movement going on in the world when it comes to women and equality, and it is a beautiful time to be a female. The solidarity among women this year at the events I have attended and hosted has been awe inspiring. There is also an elephant in the room: the women who are busy tearing down other women whilst the rest of us push for progress.
Recently I founded The Baton Awards which took place at The Houses of Parliament last week.
I have worked in the equality and diversity field for several decades, but my inspiration for The Baton Awards came from my own BAME hero: my best friend and mentor, my mum, Caroline Rhiney. She was pioneering in her field, driven, dedicated and when she died suddenly in 2010, she left a legacy that touched hundreds of people through her trailblazing work and her kindness. I spent my childhood watching her empower and boost women, perhaps that’s why the opposite is so deeply disappointing to me.
The concept of The Baton Awards is based on harmony, nurturing, support, guidance and legacy; all the things my mum taught me. The gesture of a baton being passed on from one BAME woman to another to me represents teamwork; sending the elevator back down, sharing as sisters.
Behind every successful woman is a tribe of women who has her back. Anon
This issue isn’t new to me, I’ve worked in different industries all over the world and seen it at play all too often. Still, it disappoints me deeply. Even in putting on The Baton Awards, an event designed to celebrate women of past, present and future; the negativity, spite and diva-like self-absorbed behaviour I witnessed in women was baffling.
As a psychologist I know there is a whole myriad of reasons for why some women feel the need to tear each other down. From childhood experiences to the ongoing effects of male dominated industry that makes women feel constantly threatened by each other and behave in a territorial manner. The media doesn’t help as it constantly shows women’s relationships as competitive, catty and all about jealousy and manipulation. The latest media portrayal of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, is an example of this. Just like they did with Diana, Princess of Wales and Sarah, Duchess of York before them, the media is already pitting them against each other as rivals.
It’s a problem that spans all cultures and industries; actress Jennifer Anniston revealed she’s been “treated worse verbally and energetically by some women” than men in her industry. Given how many predatory men we now know in are Hollywood, that is really saying something.
We cannot change the environment we live in overnight and the media machine won’t change in a hurry; but the problem is also that too many women haven’t learned yet how to be effective supporters of each other. In most cases as women we are the victims, but it’s also true that too often we are the perpetrators.
As the buzz of my event spread (not because of me but because of how people felt seeing powerful, pioneering BAME women being acknowledged), a woman who I would expect to be passing the baton down to me as my elder, went on what I can only describe as a vitriolic attack.
Speaking to the amazing, inspiring, strong women around me since has really brought it home just how big an issue the so-called Queen Bee syndrome is. We speak a lot about how to survive the sexist world we live in and rather than wallowing in feelings of disappointment, I penned some of my own well-honed tips for overcoming the unfortunate situation of when your biggest enemy in the room is a woman.
- Talk It Out
What concerned me about my recent experience was this individuals keenness to destroy my reputation. As women we may not always like each other, which is fine, but respect is an important foundation. Sometimes you have to be able to pick up the phone and have the tough conversations, not to necessarily become best friends but to build understanding and move on with mutual respect. We need to be willing to say to another woman that we didn’t like something she did or said and do it in a respectful and private way where we are still building her up, not pulling her down.
“Don’t go tell 10 of your friends not to like her. You’d be amazed at how silly we can be. We’re still in kindergarten some of us. Gossip is still one of the most rampant, nasty things we do as women to each other. And it hurts. It really damages women.” Sharon Nelson ‘The Women Code’
2. Create a thick skin
‘When they go low, we go high’. Michelle Obama
Part of the key to surviving this painful process is to use it as an opportunity to grow a thick skin. This doesn’t mean you’ll no longer care at all, it’s more about getting to a place where it doesn’t steal your joy, cloud your judgement or make you bitter towards other women. The majority of women I know humble and inspire me, being able to take the small majority in your stride by reminding yourself this is an unfortunate reality but a crucial learning curve is how you’ll develop a better coping mechanism.
3. Surround yourself with people who lift you up
‘Blood is not thicker than water’ Anon
My mum had some favourite sayings and this was one of them. Even though her family was her world, what she was saying was that a healthy friendship between two balanced people, blood or not, is a deeply fulfilling experience. A toxic relationship whether it’s family or otherwise simply isn’t. I am blessed to have friends who I consider my family; as my self-esteem and inner strength has grown, these friendships have strengthened too.
Don’t get me wrong, nothing is always moonbeams and rainbows but I can trust that when they tell me I’m wrong (which they do!) they are coming from a place of respect, love and sincerity, not agenda, spite or insecurity. I’m also proud to have many wider circles of old friends, new friends, old colleagues, neighbours and associates who I may not speak to everyday but appreciate for the role they play in my life. I have learned the hard way that the moment a relationship becomes toxic, it’s time to remind yourself ‘It’s all about me’ and put your own well-being first.
4. Be a light to other women
As women we need to realize that we win when we help other women get ahead. According to a study published in the journal Development and Learning in Organisations, 70 per cent of female executives feel they have been bullied by women in their office and that it has stunted their professional progression as a result. So when we quote statistics about women being held back in the workplace, some of that responsibility lies with us as women. That is not O.K.
When one of us succeeds, we all succeed.
5. Think outside of the box
As a global female empowerment ambassador, my mission is to empower women to connect with each other to make the world a better place. One of my favourite metaphors for this is sea otters, they hold on to each other while sleeping to keep from drifting away from one another so they can sleep without worry of floating out to open ocean. I have a vision of building my global community of women, who will help one another succeed, and mentor girls climbing the ladder. Women helping women it can be a real movement but it begins with us. This is a movement beyond me, I’m just a ripple, we want to create a wave. When we collaborate with good intention, the magic happens.
I believe we owe respect, cohesion and support for each other to our daughters. So often women who are against other women were often raised by a woman who had low self esteem and didn’t speak positively about women. I want to raise strong, confident, successful girls and the way to achieve that is to teach them to firstly embrace and empower themselves authentically and then to embrace female empowerment. It’s impossible to teach this to a child if you aren’t practising it.
As women we are under pressure from office politics, to job promotions to childcare, everyday sexism to maintaining the ‘perfect’ body image. That’s why we need to be supportive of each other; some of the deepest cutting comments are made by women about women, whose opinions often matter to us more than a man’s. It can only hold us back.
“When you lift other women as you climb, you realize it’s reciprocal. It’s not all about you. We women win when more women are in executive roles in organizations. And by that I mean the right women. I want to caveat that. And again, I don’t mean to be mean or catty but … I know a lot of women in power positions that don’t help other.” Sophia Nelson, author of “The Woman Code,”
In my opinion It’s so much worse when it’s between BAME women. The reason being that the odds are already stacked against us. The crabs in a barrel approach only holds us back. When I stand up before audiences and ask the question why women aren’t progressing as quickly as we should be, it pains me that a portion of that is due to us as women. The Baton Awards was a testimony to the fact that when we do support each other, the impact can be phenomenal.
Recent campaigns such as #MeToo have shown us that change is happening…. but it’s a slow process. Unfortunately as BAME women, this process is even slower. As a collective, we have to constantly push it and move it forward. We have to stand together from every corner of the planet and empower one another’s efforts in a bid to show the world what we are made of. Together.