It’s one of those phrases that are constantly bandied about by people who don’t bother to look into whether it’s a massive over generalization that has any actual basis in reality. My experience has been that there are lots of PEOPLE, male and female, who are great to work with in different capacities and a few PEOPLE, male and female, who would as soon stab you in the back or, frankly, in the face, as not. I have seen just as many men fight to climb the perceived “ladder” over the backs of, and at the expense of, other men as I have seen women do the same to other women. Both sexes, if already disposed to be doing that kind of thing in the first place, seem to be fairly equal opportunity about it – they’ll bring you down regardless of your gender if they perceive you as a threat to their advance. To continuously ignore male competitiveness in the workplace and flippantly go on and on about women bringing down other women is a massive disservice to our gender.
I have had the dubious fortune of being part of some of those rather “elite” groups, like going to an Ivy League school, going to law school, being a lawyer for two large corporate firms, and so on, and also in perceived “non-elite” groups like when I worked as a janitress and a waitress. I’ve also worked in publishing, the entertainment world, as a newscaster, actor and spokesperson. I’ve run a non-profit in the arts. Basically, I’ve worked with a lot of people across all sorts of socioeconomic groups, races and, obviously, both genders. In all that experience, I have never felt like women were trying to bring me down any more than men. There are people of both genders who view everything as a hostile competition which can only be won by one person, but they’re just some people. When I was a lawyer, my mentors were a mix of women and men. Two of my favorite mentors, who I stay in touch with to this day, are both women who bent over backwards to bring me up, support me and teach me. In the non-profit I now run, I often find myself surrounded with brilliant women all eager to make a difference in the world and bringing their numerous skill sets to the table to push constructive social change, not to cut anyone down. I also have worked with men of similar ilk.
People are people. If you go out there assured for no particularly great reason or because you had a bad experience with another women that all women are out to get you, I have no doubt you can – consciously or unconsciously – turn that belief into a personal reality for yourself, but why? Women are no more likely to sabotage your promotion than like-minded men. There will always be competition in the workplace and some competition is good – it’s what pushes us to be better and stronger and smarter. How we choose to compete is up to us. And how we choose to generalize – or not – about the genders and how they compete is also up to us. What we say off-handedly with no offense intended – like my friend at dinner – is actually important. It affects how others perceive the genders and impacts the way we treat one another in the first instance. To say something like, “Well, women are always bringing each other down” is not only untrue, it’s irresponsible.
So I said to my friend and we talked about it and then we had some very excellent cocktails and the night ended with everybody happy and nobody with knives between their shoulder blades. Or anywhere else.