Passing The Baton: 5 Ways Women Leaders Can Help Other Women

With these five strategies, you can be a helpful colleague to other women at work.

With these five strategies, you can be a helpful colleague to other women at work.

I was in the audience at a conference listening to a professional panel last week, with each one of the three women leaders talking about her years of experience in media. A younger woman in the audience raised her hand to ask a question.

“I want to know more about passing the baton, and how I can grow into a career, following in your footsteps.”

One of the seasoned journalists responded, “I want to pass the baton to you smoothly, but I cannot stop and look for you behind me. You need to keep up the pace, so I can reach behind me and you can grab it quickly, move ahead and continue the race. I am happy to help, but if I stop to try to find you, we will both be disqualified. This way we both win.”

What a graceful metaphor.

But the behaviors of women at work can be on the other end of the spectrum. In some work environments, women leaders not only don’t pass the baton, they make sure they are obstructionists to any other woman rising up. We don’t want to be her. So here are five quick strategies to being the kind of woman in the workplace who is not only amenable to other women, but also supportive to the cause of empowering all the women she encounters professionally.

  1. Compliment, Confirm and Congratulate.

Sometimes I think there are co-workers who believe they appear more savvy if they always find something to criticize about a report, presentation, even an email of a peer. Especially if another woman is behind it. These negative peers can ruin your day. You don’t have to make a compliment sandwich every time you speak to a colleague, but do confirm when she makes an extra effort or does something well.

It’s called amplification. “In a story in the Washington Post, a top female White House staffer described an agreement senior women made to keep from getting drowned out by male colleagues. When a woman makes an important point in a meeting, the other women repeated it, giving clear credit to its originator. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own,” writes Elizabeth Weise in USA Today.

  1. Assume Nothing.

Give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume or assign intention. I recently heard a woman in a meeting accuse another of deliberately introducing an agenda she disagreed with. The colleague said no, that was not what she said or meant and apologized with a clarification. The other responded, “You didn’t say it, but it was  implied.” We get tripped up with semantics, but cannot assign intention or mind read. It’s difficult enough trying your best to be excellent without having to defend yourself over imaginary inaccuracies.

Give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume or assign intention.

“Women also have to walk a narrow line in order to seem both strong and likable,” writes Krista Kafer in the Denver Post.   Don’t make that line a tight rope for her.

  1. Mentor, Reach Out and Listen.

Mentoring programs nationwide including Glassbreakers Take The Lead are helping thousands of women connect, empower and inspire each other. And so many other entrepreneurs are also investing in the model of female entrepreneurs giving others a hand.

Frédérique (Fred) Irwin, CEO and Founder of Her Corner, an online platform for women leaders and business owners, tells Forbes: “Whoever said that women don’t help one another was full of bologna. Women do collaborate, very much so. And what we’ve witnessed via peer groups and accelerators is that if you give them a place to come together and connect, talk business, and help one another, not only do they collaborate, but they genuinely help one another grow their businesses.”

  1. Advise Wherever Possible.

You don’t have to volunteer to co-author a report, but you can ask your colleagues what they are working on and offer assistance. Do you know of a study or a resource to share? Can you site an example of a company that has done something similar? Pass along the link, put the book in her mail slot, introduce her by email to someone you know who can offer insight or background. It will take a few minutes and you will build an ally.

“No one gets to the top alone,” writes Lindsay Pattison, global CEO of Maxus, in Fortune.“Everyone needs a helping hand on some of those bigger rungs, and that’s when all of the time you spent advocating for yourself and instilling confidence in others will come into play. Likewise, you must always be on the lookout for those who also deserve a helping hand, and do your part in paying it forward.”

  1. Publicly Applaud Colleagues.

If you are known as someone who genuinely is interested in the professional advancement of other women, that aura will augment your own standing. Compliment the work of your colleagues to the shareholders, the customers, the board, the CEO. People will remember that you took the time to pat someone on the back publicly. It’s difficult to maneuver the workplace as a woman. As women leaders, applauding loud and clear the achievements of other women at work is one way to make it possibly go more smoothly.

People will remember that you took the time to pat someone on the back publicly.

“In a Pew Research Center survey released last month, 53 percent of Americans and 63 percent of women say significant obstacles continue to make it harder for women to get ahead then men,” write  Jessica Rohman  and Tabitha Russell  in Fortune.  “A 2015 study by and McKinsey & Company also found that corporate America is not on the road to gender equality. ‘Women face greater barriers to advancement and a steeper path to senior leadership,’ the report concluded. Given a legacy of sexism in American offices, many of the leading workplaces for women recognize the importance of helping female employees elevate themselves professionally.”

Five strategies alone may not be the solution to enhancing the profiles of women we work with, but it certainly will help.

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon