How To Deal With Female Rivalry In The Workplace | CBCC News
There are more women in the workplace today than ever before. 48% of Australia’s workforce were women in 2022. Over 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs were women at the start of 2023.
Although we should be celebrating the wins of women in business, many women experience the dark side of being in the workforce: female rivalry.
How Does Female Rivalry Happen?
This dark, toxic side to women in business is triggered by the increased scrutiny that women experience. When women in power keep another woman down, mistreats her, or compete unfairly, it’s because, in the end, women are set up to compete with each other in almost every area of life.
Think about it. There may be more women in leadership roles, but only so many women are tapped for the C-suite. Women’s representation in C-suite roles is still below parity. Many workplaces or industries still do not provide a level playing field for women or offer them equal pay.
We expect women to collaborate and mentor each other to be successful. The reality is, women in a competitive, male-dominated workplace who have achieved a certain level of power but lack confidence in their abilities, or who have internalised messages about other women being threats to their success are more likely to see other women as their rivals instead.
“We [women] need to stop comparing and contrasting.”
– Susan Shapiro Barash, author
The Psychology Behind Female Rivalry
The psychological reasons behind female rivalry are interesting. Many studies have confirmed that women are more likely to have an external locus of control. In personality psychology, locus of control refers to an individual’s perception about the main causes of events in their life. More simply, is your destiny controlled by yourself (internal locus of control), or by external forces such as chance or fate (external locus of control)?
So how does women being more likely to have an external locus of control cause female rivalry?
If women lack the confidence in their innate talent to help them reach their goals, they are more competitive. Anyone could be a potential threat, especially other women in their workplace. Their levels of competitiveness rise depending on how sensitive their personality is to outside factors influencing their achievements, and depending on if their workplace fails to offer sufficient advancement opportunities.
“Women are complicated. While most of us want to be kind and nurturing, we struggle with our darker side – feelings of jealousy, envy, and competition… Women often compete more covertly and behind the scenes. This covert competition and indirect aggression is at the heart of mean behaviour among women at work.”
– Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster, co-authors of Mean Girls at Work: How to Stay Professional when Things Get Personal
How To Handle Female Rivalry
Now that you know why female rivalry happens, how do you deal with it when it happens to you?
Detach Yourself Emotionally
Refocus your energy on what you can control in a positive and productive manner. Letting this unwanted workplace competition consume your attention and energy will drain you on focusing on what really matters, within the workplace and in your personal life.
Know your own value and place confidence in who you are. Many women can unconsciously project their own biases and ideas on what is ‘right’ on the women around them, exacerbating any conflict or competition. Stand firm in your own understanding of yourself and communicate your values honestly and sincerely.
Find A Mentor
A mentor can be one of the most powerful relationships you can have in the workplace. From teaching you how to navigate your situation, to protecting and advocating for you, your mentor can be instrumental in helping you overcome not just the female rivalry you’re experiencing, but your workplace difficulties as well.
Identify Your Career Goal
Make a strategic plan for your career goals and share them with your mentor. By having a clear goal and path to follow, it is harder to get side-tracked by an unwanted rivalry in the workplace.
Build Your Own Network
Protect your professional and personal reputation by building your own network of likeminded people who recognise and share your values, and who will be able to recognise your worth independently. If you feel that someone will ruin your reputation and spread negative comments about you to senior managers, other departments, or clients, include these managers, colleagues, and clients into your network.
Many people can carry preconceived notions on how women should act or behave due to their age, culture, or conservatism. Having a network of likeminded people who will support you will boost your confidence and self-belief, allowing you to protect your reputation with strength and confidence.
“Competition between women is good only if it does not prevail; that is to say if it coexists with affinity, affection, with a real sense of being mutually indispensable, with sudden peaks of solidarity in spite of envy, jealousy, and the whole inevitable cohort of bad feelings.”
– Elena Ferrante, author
6 Ways To Change Female Rivalry Into Female Allyship
Want to encourage greater allyship and less competition and rivalry in your workplace? Be the change that you want to see by fostering a culture that values collaboration.
1. Make Sure Women’s Ideas are Heard
In group settings, women tend to gravitate towards the end of the table and edge of the room, away from positions that convey status. Women are also more likely to get less airtime in group discussions, experience more interruptions, and are given less credit for their ideas.
Challenge this by sitting towards the front and speaking up in meetings. Shape the conversation to allow women to finish. Draw credit back to where it belongs – the woman who first suggested it. Give space for women who are struggling to enter the conversation.
Advocate for women’s voices and ideas for a more equal, dynamic, and productive workplace.
2. Challenge the Likeability Penalty
Sheryl Sandberg, former COO of Facebook, first coined the term ‘likeability penalty’ to describe how women face social penalties for acting in ways that leads to power and success, such as being assertive or dominant.
Assertive women are likely to face pushback from men and women because women are expected to be nurturing and collaborative. When you hear a co-worker describe a woman as ‘bossy’ or ‘aggressive’, request a specific example of what the woman did and ask them, “if a man did that, would you think it was bossy or aggressive?”
Chances are, the woman was just doing her job. Give women the benefit of the doubt and examine any negative responses you have to a woman at work.
3. Celebrate Women’s Accomplishments
Women are often given less credit for successful outcomes and blamed more for failure.
Look for opportunities in your workplace to celebrate women’s accomplishments, and point out when women are being blamed unfairly for mistakes.
Get together with other women in your workplace and celebrate one another’s successes as often as possible. By lifting up other women, they can do the same for you, allowing space for everyone’s achievements and accomplishments to be at the forefront and diminishing chances of female rivalry occurring.
4. Encourage Women to Seize Opportunities
Women are prone to more intense self-doubt than men because female performance is frequently underestimated. Even just changing a name on a resume from a woman’s name to a man’s increased the chances of being hired by 61%.
Women need to work harder to prove that they are as capable as their male counterparts, and are more likely to miss out on key assignments, promotions, and raises.
Boost your female co-workers’ confidence by showing that you believe in their abilities, and encourage them to seize opportunities and go for it.
5. Give Women Direct Feedback
Women often receive less feedback than men, and the feedback that they get is usually less specific. This lack of input can slow women down. How can you build skills and improve if you don’t know where you need to improve?
Help women learn and grow by looking for opportunities to give the women you work with direct feedback and input. If possible, share your feedback live and in the moment, when it’s most effective. By providing more feedback more often, your female co-workers will benefit and grow… and ideally, they will follow your lead and give you more direct input too.
6. Mentor Other Women
Mentorship is a key driver of success, but unfortunately women often miss out. Men are more likely to choose to mentor other men because they have shared interests. Women are less likely to get a mentor, and any mentors they get are less likely to advocate for and promote them. However, mentorship is often what creates work opportunities and promotions.
Help women stand on their own two feet and let them create their own narratives. Support their decisions, and regardless of outcomes, help them understand the consequences of their own decisions.
Although female rivalry is painful to experience, they make up a fraction of professional relationships. If we learn to recognise unhealthy relationships and learn to support each other and value each other, we can start to reduce these feelings of jealousy and competition in the workplace.
Let’s work together to be confident women who value each other and want each other to succeed. Together, we can do it. Join the CBCC Women’s Committee and be part of a strong network of women in business in Western Sydney advocating and supporting each other.