By Roxana Lissa
In part II of my “Women in the Workplace” series, I had an opportunity to talk to incredible women leaders about their views about women in the workplace and what it takes to build a true sisterhood among female colleagues.
I spoke with Dr. Celia Lacayo, Sociologist and Associate Director of Community Engagement UCLA Social Science, and Professor in the Chicano and African American Studies, for her point of view and her insights into what it takes to build successful relationships with women in the workplace.
“It’s only recently that women have had the opportunity to be a part of many of the decisions that are happening today. Historically this option was not available to them,” explains Lacayo.
“The footprint has always been very male. When the first generation of working women decided that the only way to get in the door and advance in their jobs was to act like men themselves, it became hard to assist other women and help create a more understanding environment among female colleagues,” she adds. “These unseen pressures have contributed to creating a cut-throat culture, and ‘hazing’ among women, compared to our male counterparts, where there is an unspoken understanding that they need to help and support each other to advance and become successful.”
“Creating a sisterhood, hasn’t been at the top of our list given how the majority of us are living our lives, juggling career, family, and personal matters. We are doing a lot of work for society without getting paid,” Lacayo emphasizes. “If we work and advance in our careers, we usually have to care for the household chores, the kids, the homework and in many cases, even the family finances. This leads to a lot of frustration and imbalance, making it difficult to take care of themselves, or others, such as mentoring other women or supporting them. It’s an institutional, societal problem where women get paid less, are valued less, and work more,” she explains.
Raising a family and achieving success in leadership roles is not an easy task. Luckily in my own experience, I owned my company and I was able to be a part of a great support system that my employees – the majority of them women – and I were able to create. But unfortunately, this is not the norm. I have seen first-hand the sacrifices professional women have made to become fulfilled in their jobs and be good mothers, and in some instances, with little or no support system. Add to this the rising costs of childcare, nannies, etc. What we get are many talented women who are forced to throw their professional dreams out the window, quit or ask for more flexibility, simply because they can’t juggle both well. And we are not even addressing the more significant challenges that single moms have to face daily.
I posed the following question to Dr. Lacayo: Is it healthy for women to sacrifice so much to strive for success and equality? Is it a good thing? “Obviously, it’s a personal choice. Some women decide to focus on their careers and not have children,” she replied.
Sharon Carothers, Managing Director of Sensis in Washington D.C., explains that the challenge for women leaders – the majority of whom have to balance having families and a career – is realizing that as much as we want to accomplish our career dreams and goals, having a family and kids often makes our dreams harder to achieve. “Without a reliable support system, it becomes truly impossible to navigate,” she explains.
“But what gets lost in the capitalist greed that drives all of us?,” Lacayo adds.
“We jump on the hamster wheel that doesn’t stop, and women are the ones that sacrifice the most, including our children. There are only 24 hours in a day; something has to give.”
A new solution where creative and alternative models within various industries can provide that space and mentorship for women is possible, but unfortunately, hasn’t been the norm. As other societies explore different scenarios and rules that can work specifically for women, the U.S. has a lot of work to do to ensure women can achieve more balanced lives at work and at home to help reduce the pressures we encounter daily. In the meantime, we can do a better job choosing the right companies to work for, sharing our stories, and establishing our mentoring methods.
Carothers shares a few tips that can create a sense of community and support in our daily jobs:
- Listen to Understand
Make time to talk to co-workers, listen with empathy, and offer advice to one another when it’s needed. The notion of serving first is one of the principles of “servant” leadership. Serve first, build trust, and add value to others, are essential elements of creating sisterhood.
- Be Genuine and Transparent
We are natural networkers. Being transparent and genuine about our situations don’t make us weak, quite the opposite. This could be applied to both inside the workplace and in our daily lives. With everything going on in the world, this is the time to be genuine about our choices, challenges, and dreams. Being authentic can help lessen stress and open the door to proactive solutions.
- Share your Knowledge
Whenever possible, share what you have learned along the way to inspire and learn from other women what you can apply to your lives, especially if you are a mom and hold a leadership position.
- Network with a Purpose
We have an opportunity to help each other and leverage each other long after we stop working together. Carothers uses the term “Powerful Operational Mentorship.” We can create our version of the “golf course,” she adds. “By being in touch, often communicating, providing referrals, and reciprocating, we can extend that sisterhood into other dimensions, where we can continue to learn, support each other, and benefit from each other’s expertise. And this is where mentorship comes into place. Ongoing mentorship becomes incredibly valuable as time goes on.
- Be confident. Don’t Lose your Power.
Sometimes the challenges we face in our daily lives make us not feel confident about our strengths in the workplace. Don’t lose your power. Make time for self-care and remember that every day is a new day to create the possibilities you want.