Why Competition Among Women Limits Board Diversity

_Gloria_BoardDiversityA couple of weeks back, I had the pleasure of attending the National Conversation on Board Diversity Day, in Phoenix, Arizona hosted by Ellevate and Take The Lead. I had the opportunity to ask this question:When looking at data points from early 2014, countries like Finland, Sweden, and Norway lead the way with the largest percentage of women on governing boards with Norway leading the charge at 40%. According to Catalyst, the United States comes in at 16.9%. What does the data NOT tell us about why women in the US hold fewer seats than they do in European countries?The answers varied. As we could all probably guess, boards in the United States have traditionally been male dominated, particularly in publicly invested companies. There is a good ole boy network in play, which basically means people recommend and nominate people they know for board seats. Naturally, men nominate the other men they know within their circles. So what is one of the ways in which women can be recommended for a board seat? The answer is to become more visible in said networking circles. Makes sense.However, there was one answer that really struck me. It was noted that women are overlooked sometimes because of the manner in which they behave. Specifically, women have a reputation of picking on other women. This causes a few problems:

  • Women do not typically recommend other women for board seats
  • Women become competitive and do not support other women who are on the short list for nominations
  • Another man will be chosen to avoid the nitpicking or “drama” women are perceived to create

The sad thing is, I believe it.Just in the past month, I have heard numerous unsettling comments regarding women in the workplace. While attending a dinner and panel discussion focused on women in technology, I was having a great conversation with a dynamic and spirited woman. She once worked on Wall Street and talked about how she really didn’t present herself as a woman in a man’s world. She just represented herself gender neutral. Period. However, as a response to a comment I made about the unhealthy competition among women as a result of a lack of confidence, she quickly retorted that she wouldn’t work with other women. “They are impossible.”About a week later, I facilitated an interactive presentation with a group of sorority women at Arizona State University and asked, “How do women your age feel about one another?” Eighty-five percent responded negatively with words like: competition, jealousy, and judgment.When talking with men about my work, which is to inspire young women to discover their value and build their leadership skills from the inside out, they tell me how desperately women need to be more confident. They then go onto tell me stories about how unpleasant women (insert expletive) are to work with, especially those who hold high-level positions.Yikes! I couldn’t help but wonder, are we our own worst enemies?Outside of the clear systemic discriminatory and sexism problems in our culture, women are responsible for our own thoughts and actions. There is no finite access to leadership, for it is within us, at our fingertips, as unique individuals. Here are a few ways women can look within before spitting fire at other women:

  1. Madeleine AlbrightReverse the negative self-talk. When we think, “I am not good enough,” we are also putting off the, “If I can’t have it, you can’t either” vibe. The moment our personal shaming enters our thoughts, the practice of being gentle with ourselves can start to help diminish the internal put-downs. Once we believe we are enough, we are more likely to genuinely see the strengths and value in others.
  2. Recognize others’ achievements and successes. When other women in our lives experience success or have achieved a sought out goal, reach out to them and give them praise. Positive psychologists teach us that when we recognize others, we feel a sense of real happiness.
  3. Say goodbye to the energy vampires. We can surround ourselves with other positive people who practice gratitude, represent their most authentic selves, and are confident women who embrace their power to lead in all aspects of their lives. These people aren’t perfect, but they are inspiring and might just energize us to recognize our own greatness.

While these three practices might seem like no-brainers, they are harder to turn into habits than you might think. There is so much negative noise out there; we must learn to tune it out. One of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and, in turn, our families and even our co-workers is to show up exactly as we truly are. When we attempt to diminish ourselves by hiding our individual style, personality, and intellect, as this article suggests, we rob the world of what we have to offer. Don’t listen to the noise; make your own music. The next time one of your fellow sisters has an opportunity or a board seat opens up that should be hers, celebrate it! Nominate her! Give her your support and let’s work toward gender parity in the American Boardroom. Perhaps, if we support one another more, there will be a girls network working in stride to nominate fellow sisters to board seats, as opposed to perpetuating the image of women picking on one another. When we see more women sitting at the table in the boardroom, we will believe there is room for everyone.