Sisterhood + Shining Through: It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace author insights

September 5, 2019


“While sisterhood can be spontaneous and ad hoc, an effective and sustained workplace sisterhood depends on some sort of purposeful association, network, or community of women.” ~ Andrea S. Kramer & Alton B. Harris, authors of It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace

Simonetta Lein invited me to write the Future Entrepreneur blog, based on my #shinethroughthenoise book series. we explore concepts that are more than self-help…we delve into self-worth. I share stories on recovering from being a “starving artist” and people pleaser, willing to do too much for too little. Now I’m a brand expert giving back. In all my work I see a common denominator: We all have noise. Once we address some of the inner and outer noise, I share ways we can shine through and reach our goals. This week for healthy perspective, we’re continuing themes our Future Entrepreneur blog has explored from sisterhood, to stereotypes, equal pay and #MeToo.
My wish is that you’ll have a better understanding of workplace conflict (more “noise” to understand and then overcome), with the professional perspective that Andrea S. Kramer and Alton B. Harris bring to this topic after 2 years of research.

Resistance to Sisterhood
Here at The Wishwall we have formed a community of entrepreneurs with women in business and men that support our goals.
Still, as the authors point out, in their latest book,
It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace: Women’s Conflict at Work and the Bias that Built It, we all live in a business world where approximately 85 percent of corporate executives and corporate board members are white men, a percentage that has remained basically unchanged for many years.

Andrea Kramer and Alton Harris (AKA Andie and AL) began by digging into the raft of popular “self-help” books that argue that women have frequent workplace conflicts with other women because they are fundamentally antagonistic to one another. Books in this genre paint an ugly picture of women’s basic nature: Mean Girls at Work; Working with Bitches; The Stiletto in Your Back; Mean Girls Grown Up; and Mean Girls, Meaner Women.



Lean in and listen to Andie and Al’s fresh perspective on the genre and conflict:
“We believe that the view of women’s workplace conflicts is profoundly misguided. In It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace we make clear that, in fact, women are not intrinsically antagonistic toward one another but highly desirous of having strong, supportive same-gender relationships. Nevertheless, because this ‘women are mean to each other’ trope is so common, we think it is important to understand just what is being claimed and why…
We decided to write It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace because so many women across the country emailed us, commented on our website, or came up to us after one of our speeches and said something like, ‘You are absolutely right about gender stereotypes and bias holding women back, but you also need to talk about women’s meanness to [competitiveness with, hostility toward, antagonism to] other women. I get along fine with the men I work with; it’s the women who are the problem.’ After we had heard this sort of comment a great many times, we realized we needed to look at the issue in real depth. We began reading comprehensively in the social science research, conducting our own surveys, and interviewing hundreds of women in many career fields. It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace is the result of our almost two-year investigation.
We reached three preliminary conclusions. First, women have no more intense or frequent conflicts with other women than men do with other men. Second, there is no evidence that women are more mean-spirited in their dealings with other women than men are in their dealings with other men. And third, such evidence as is available points not to women being inherently hostile to other women, but to their desire to be supportive of and advocates for each other.
As a result, when women behave toward other women in a formal, “all business” manner—precisely the same way men behave toward them—these women, but not the men, are often seen as cold, selfish, and unpleasant. In other words, because women think about the ways in which women should relate to each other in stereotypical terms, there is an asymmetry in women’s expectation of their workplace relations with women and with men. Accordingly, senior women who do their jobs in perfectly professional ways can still be seen by junior women as hostile and people they don’t want to work for.”

And how do your findings relate to the #MeToo movement? Have things changed since the 1950s perception of woman at work?
“Certainly, women have made important gains, but they still lag far behind men in virtually all major leadership roles. The statistics are all too familiar.
What is also discouraging is that a recent Boston Consulting Group study found that men age 45 and older, that is, those commonly with decision-making authority in corporate environments, generally fail to appreciate the obstacles that women face in hiring, retention, and advancement. Indeed, only 25 percent of older heterosexual white men see unique obstacles for women in the workplace. We have also seen discouraging studies involving Millennial men who exhibit significant biases about working for or with women. The road for ambitious women is still hard and there is no evidence that we will age out of it with the upcoming generation of leaders.
Specifically, with regards to #MeToo, although an important movement for giving women their “voice”, there has been some unfortunate backlash. A 2018 survey by Leanin.Org found that since the start of the #MeToo movement; almost half of male managers are becoming uncomfortable participating in common work activities with women such as mentoring, working alone, traveling, and socializing together. With so many more male than female managers, when men avoid, ignore, or exclude women from interpersonal exchanges, women lose access to leaders, mentorship and sponsorship opportunities at all stages of their careers.
So short answer, yes and no.
We hope that after reading It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace women will stop blaming themselves and their women colleagues when their same-gender relationships go awry, and instead focus on the structural features of the organizations for which they work. It is not the women but the workplace that makes sisterhood so difficult.”

Thank you, Andie and Al, for your valuable perspective and findings. I appreciate the range of women’s conversations explored and the key steps to take to overcome obstacles. I highly recommend It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace for women at all stages of their careers. The wisdom you present can help us refine our goals and brand to shine through with a better understanding our workplace environment and ourselves.    
Andie and Al on Twitter. (Loved this Interruption tip sheet!)

Thanks for reading and we welcome comments on Instagram and Twitter.

Akasha Lin

Akasha Lin Garnier
Author, Brand Expert, Filmmaker


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