The fight for safer work environments for women has been at the center of a national conversation since women stepped their high heels into corporate offices some decades ago.
And while Western businesses have made great strides in allowing more women to have a cozier seat at the executive boardroom table, there are still a few broken rungs on the corporate ladder that need to be fixed if women are to reach their full potential.
Feminist ideologues claim low wages and the patriarchy in general are reasons why women don’t succeed, whereas conservative critics of corporate America believe that female employees are unsuccessful due to their choice not to achieve like their male counterparts. Having worked in corporate environments for more than a decade, I believe the challenges women face are more nuanced and have much more to do with human nature, culture, and the opposing energies that both sexes emit rather than it being a one-sided ideological blame game. Wherever our opinions lie, these interpersonal struggles frequently cost women the very important career mentorship they need to achieve their career aspirations.
Men Are Hesitant To Work with Women, Thanks #MeToo
A 2019 study published by LeanIn.org suggests that 60% of male managers are uncomfortable mentoring, socializing, or working one-on-one with women at work. This number was up 14% from the previous year, indicating an upward trend in female colleagues missing out on positive male interactions in the office.
Much of this is attributed to the rise of the #MeToo movement, a social movement that began in 2006 and went viral in 2017, sending shockwaves of personal testimonies about sexual harassment and abuse across the world. For many, #MeToo was a necessary catharsis for women who otherwise felt their experiences would never be heard. But conversely, the movement put much blame and pressure on all men – including good men who have no intentions of behaving inappropriately.
Today, giving a female college an innocent side hug could be misconstrued as unwanted touching. Or a male boss asking his secretary to work late could send the wrong signal.
Men are walking on heaps of eggshells on their way to work, an indication of an imbalance of power between the sexes. An esteemed chief executive is now at the mercy of a young intern who may naively suspect predatory vibes from a man who has a lot to lose. Left to media propaganda, she could develop a skewed perspective of the opposite sex without truly understanding that the source of her discomfort is fear by proxy, not by personal experience.
60% of male managers are uncomfortable mentoring or working one-on-one with women.
Due to misunderstandings, miscommunication and – frankly – feminist narratives, female employees are unfortunately missing out on the corporate trips, promotions, and even after-work gatherings that are intended to help build a more positive office culture. Thus the workplace turns into a Boys’ Club all over again – the very opposite of what the “lean in” movement was created to change.
Women need male mentorship, which will “ultimately lead to stronger and safer workplaces for everyone.”
The survey went on to suggest that women need the opportunity for male mentorship and that it will “ultimately lead to stronger and safer workplaces for everyone.” But to make this a reality, a cultural shift must happen in which women understand that not everything a man does or says is sexual in nature. (Because that’s called stereotyping.) But also when instances do occur, a woman must learn to set professional boundaries or know exactly where to go to resolve them (Human Resources, anyone?). This includes not agreeing to one-on-one dinners with that attractive director of accounting and choosing to present oneself in a professional manner at all times. Being invited to the after-hours party shouldn't mean letting so loose that you cross the line.
Until both men and women partner together to create a harmonious workplace environment, the #MeToo movement will result in more women being left out of career opportunities and pushed into the position of #NotYou.
Female Sabotage Limits Girl Power in the Workplace
If only it were just men that corporate boss babes had to worry about. Women frequently lock horns with colleagues of the same sex. Society talks much about “girl power” in the corporate setting, but reality looks more like female crabs in a bucket, pulling each other down. This phenomenon is dubbed Queen Bee Syndrome, as women vie for career positions – sometimes to win the approval of male executives and to be accepted as “different” from other women.
“Queen bees” try to prove themselves to the boss while preventing their female underlings from advancing.
This power dynamic seems to be fueled by envy and contempt, as older, seasoned “queens” use everything in their power to prove themselves to their own bosses while not giving their female underlings the opportunities they need to advance. I have had personal run-ins with female directors who were so entranced by their own upward mobility that any chance for my own mentorship or professional development was out of the question. The queen bees I've experienced kept their budgets so tight that I couldn’t sign up for a professional society membership or training resources to further develop my skills. Raises weren’t a point of discussion. And forget about one-on-one training (because she doesn’t have time for that). Many other women feel left out as I did. Some just put in their two-weeks notice simply because they just couldn't get along with an overbearing boss babe.
This is why so many women feel discouraged about career aspirations. There’s no easy solution for this, other than putting a spotlight on how difficult mentorship can be under an overzealous female manager. It’s important that women understand that a dynamic like this exists before even entering the workforce and that this issue is fairly common. But we must also acknowledge that positive female interactions do exist and that we should seek out those relationships in order to find support and even to survive the corporate battleground.
What a Good Mentor Looks Like
While I’ve swatted my share of queen bees, I was fortunate enough to have one female mentor during my postgraduate internship with a corporate marketing department. Having worked for Fortune 500 companies, my mentor – a web director – was simply settling for her new role. I remember her dressing impeccably each day, but unlike more stuck-up colleagues, she had a relaxed approach to her work, and during our coffee breaks, she offered much wisdom about being competitive but in a feminine way. As her mentee, I followed her around like a shadow and admired how she never once raised her voice, even in the most difficult conversations with other “queen bees.” Her expertise was so vast that the department depended on her presence.
She never once raised her voice, even in the most difficult conversations with other “queen bees.”
Yet, surprisingly, she didn’t have aspirations to climb the corporate ladder. A recent transplant to the South, she wanted a work-life balance as a mom of three kids and so she was comfortable in her role. We even shopped and traveled together, something I would never experience again with other female colleagues. I feel she would be a unicorn among women in the workforce today. She was a true queen in her own right. I only hope I could walk as tall in my heels as she did. I also hope that other young women could experience positive female mentorship all the same.
That said, we are human and no one – male or female – is going to be the perfect, ideal colleague. No one is entitled to a smooth sailing career, after all. But the fierce female dynamic is one that crushes C-suite aspirations for younger staff, sucking the air out of the room and leaving otherwise good employees to find somewhere else to breathe.
Women are closer to breaking the glass ceiling than we ever imagined with more of us graduating from college, operating businesses, and making strides in leadership than ever before. This positive momentum is often slowed by harmful mainstream messaging as well as unchecked misunderstandings between the opposite sexes and among our own. This turbulence is part of the ebb-and-flow of having a career at all, as there’s no area in life that exists without conflict. Sadly, these are the things no one tells us when we finish college. But thankfully, as the workplace nuances come to light, more women will be able to make an informed decision as to whether the corporate world is right for them at all.
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