I do not support gender preference in the work place or in education. However, I am very much a proponent of women supporting each other. We’ve all heard of the book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” by John Gray where it acknowledges that men and women have different behaviors, needs, and desires. Men and Women are different and we should celebrate that.
That also means that women are great advocates, supporters and mentors for each other. A 2010 survey by Catalyst found that women are more likely to serve as mentors than men. And, 73 percent of the women surveyed are helping to develop new talent in the workplace compared to only 30 percent of male mentors. Women provide a different type of mentoring and support, too. Whereas, in general, men tend to want to fix the problem or tell someone how to avoid a situation, women tend to provide more emotional support (Sue Shellenbarger, WSJ). Women think differently and therefore not only provide a difference of opinion in team situations, but are great for bouncing ideas off of each other.
While we are here, let me refute the career experts who think women undermine each other. I have found that women do encourage each other. While there are bad apples, there are bad men apples, too. The majority of women does encourage and assist their fellow female colleagues to climb the ladder, start their own business, or raise the funds they need for the next step. Women should not assume all women are catty, will sabotage their career, or feel threatened by another’s success. Quite the opposite.
Women understand the balancing act (more aptly, juggling act) of home and work life, and charitable work, and hobbies (wait, who has time for hobbies?). Seriously, women do a fantastic job of not only understanding each other, but being able to pass on helpful suggestions for life and career advancement.
I have said before that I disagree women are largely discriminated against in the workplace. As others have mentioned before me, if women were so cheap and underpaid, then corporations would be full of smart, cheap women and men would be crying discrimination. An intelligent, accomplished friend of mine in the energy sector keenly says women need to know the culture of the company and what skills are significant to that specific organization. Does the business place an emphasis on engineers? If you are an MBA graduate, that company may not be where your talents are best for advancement. It’s not because you are a woman, but because you do not have a degree in engineering. This type of advice and mentoring is critical for success.
Many great women’s organizations exist that have been created for the purpose of developing, educating, and mentoring women. I do not believe that women need “auxiliary” groups. Quite the opposite. I think auxiliary groups are outdated and silly. However, I do think there is an important role that women’s professional and leadership groups play in our community and businesses. First, they can help introduce us to other similarly accomplished women.
Second, women’s organizations allow women to be women. Pink Petro, a newly founded social channel to unite, connect, develop, and grow women in the energy industry, recently hosted an afternoon tea. While “tea” is traditionally a female social event, women actually do like afternoon tea. What a wonderful way to network with likeminded women.
Many superb organizations for women continue to find purpose in our society. The first Junior League was founded in 1901 in New York City. Since then, 242 Junior Leagues have been started in four countries. Part of the mission of The Junior League of Houston is to develop the potential of women. The Women’s Energy Network’s mission is also to develop and educate women. The Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce is “dedicated to the advancement and empowerment of women…”
Other groups exist to help improve women’s lives through advocacy and education. The Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) focuses its work on economic issues that affect women. While all issues are women’s issues, IWF targets its message to women.
Women are our own best advocates. We share common bonds of not just motherhood or a general love of shoes, but we are created to nurture, listen, and encourage while we push harder, pull further, and advance our careers and lives.
Elizabeth Biar is vice-president of Strategic Public Affairs, a Houston-based full-service firm that provides strategic advice and counsel to small businesses, Fortune 500 companies, trade associations and PACs. Her email is [email protected].