In the age of the continued gender gap, wage gap, the Time’s Up movement it is imperative that, as women, we actively work to empower one another—especially women of color, LGBTQ+ and non-binary individuals as access to equality in the workplace is even more difficult. What is perhaps most disappointing is when women don’t support other women, or worse, actively sabotage other women. When women come together – great things can happen. We, as women, can empower other women, elevate one another, mentor one another, ensure our voices are heard at the table, so we get supported, recognized, promoted, and receive equitable raises.
Here are five distinct ways we can empower our fellow women colleagues:
A key component to empowerment is being honest. We have to be wiling to tell a fellow female colleague when they are wrong or made a mistake. This should not be a “caught you being bad moment,” but rather an opportunity for growth. By being honest, we open the door to discussion about pathways, practices, and performance and how we can continually improve to be the best version of ourselves.
Be a Cheerleader
We empower other women when we celebrate their successes. We should never allow ourselves to be threatened by another woman’s achievements – our success is not diminished by the success of another. Being a cheerleader for one, casts a wider net. When junior women see us applaud another women’s accomplishments, it helps them step out their comfort zone and envision pathways to to success, they might not otherwise have thought available.
Encourage Other Women to Step Up
At my women’s faculty meeting yesterday, one of the more senior members encouraged all of us to step up and participate, engage, and take on a leadership role. This is an important element in empowering other women because we can so easily get caught up in our day-to-day roles and responsibilities, so we don’t consider potential opportunities, which can broaden our skills or enhance our careers. But it is also important to support women in saying, “no,” to avoid taking on too many responsibilities and being spread too thin. Like Gloria Steinem once said, “I have to keep reminding myself: ‘No’ is a complete sentence.”
Tell Your Story
It does not matter what our position is, how quickly we got there, we all hit road blocks along the way – some placed by others, some we placed ourselves. Other women can learn from our mistakes and our successes, but only if we share those stories. I often tell my students (and I’ve written a blog post about it) about my first job out of college. You know the saying about not burning your bridges? Well, I torched mine. The job was not a good fit and the company treated many of its employees poorly. I opted to resign after six montes, and I was extremely proud of my scathing resignation letter, but stunned when the CEO lectured about not burning bridges and that I would never get a job at that company again. I walked out thinking he was – well, you can imagine what I thought, but in reality, he was right. I should have handled the situation very differently. My point, by telling others about my experience, perhaps they won’t make the same mistake I made.
Our stories also help others relate to us — to see themselves in our shoes. Representation matters, so share your story.
Ensure Our Voices are Heard
While women need to step up and take advantage of a place at the table, that doesn’t mean other women can’t ensure other women’s voices are heard at the table. It can be as simple as asking a female colleague for their opinion. It can also mean giving junior women opportunities to speak at the table by inviting them to present at meetings, etc. You may have even heard about the "amplification" tactic that was popularized by female aides in the Obama administration. They found, that in male-dominated meetings and work spaces, women's ideas weren't being heard (and in some cases, a man would later say the exact same thing and get the credit for making a good point). The solution? Women in these spaces would often repeat and validate their female colleague's points or ideas to boost the voices of women in the room—voices that would otherwise be drowned out, or worse, ignored.
Empowering other women to speak and express themselves also carries with it a responsibility to curtail negativity. By supporting other women, we can effect change. We feel more confident, we start to believe in our own power, and we feel more equipped to take on new challenges. This is not to suggest that empowering women is, in some way, disempowering men. Nor am I suggesting that we step on men or cast them aside. The goal in empowering fellow women is to level the playing field and to also provide pathways to those younger women who are following in our footsteps.
I encourage you to think about the women in your work and personal life, and find ways, every single day, to lift them up, share your stories, help them find and share their voices, encourage them to step out of their comfort zone, and be their strongest cheerleader in celebrating their successes and achievements, as well stand by them in times of indecision, mis-management, and failure. When women empower other women, we all succeed!
Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies