It’s a beautiful time to be a woman. The solidarity among women this year at the events I have attended and hosted has been awe-inspiring. But there is also an elephant in the room: the women who are busy tearing down other women.
Recently I founded a BAME women’s awards ceremony, which took place at The Houses of Parliament last week. My inspiration for the 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. 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.
As the buzz of my event spread (purely because of how people felt seeing unsung powerful, pioneering BAME women being celebrated), 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. We speak a lot about how to survive the sexist world we live in when it comes to men but when women are the enemy its a different type of challenge.
So rather than feeling disappointed and sad, I penned some of my own well-honed tips for overcoming the unfortunate situation of when your biggest enemy in the room is another woman.
1. Talk It Out
What concerned me about my recent experience was this woman’s 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
In my opinion the negativity is 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. 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” – Caroline Rhiney
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. Don’t get me wrong, nothing is always sunshine, 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. That, is what a healthy relationship is based on.
3. Be a light to other women
According to a study published in the journal Development and Learning in Organisations, 70% 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 okay. When one of us succeeds, we all succeed.
I believe we owe respect, cohesion and support for each other to our daughters. 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 practicing it.
4. 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 examples of connection 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.
Women helping women 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.
When we support each other, our power is truly phenomenal.