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  • Writer's pictureEilish Jamieson

Madeleine's 'special place' for women who don't help other women

"There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women" - Madeleine Albright

Harsh or true?

I find how women interact with other women in a male dominated workplace particularly fascinating.

In one of my day jobs I provide board evaluations for companies - which basically means I sit at the side of the room and observe the board meeting and informal interactions. It is completely different to being part of the meeting, and I love this work because I'm basically a nerd when it comes to people-watching, and I feel like David Attenborough (there is normally a fair share of lions in a boardroom to be fair!).

What I've found interesting is when there are two or more (ok, this is not often as we know) women at the table. They will broadly fall into one of the following buckets:

👉 ’Blinkers’ pretending the other woman doesn't exist - they won't acknowledge each others contribution much, will avoid unnecessary interaction or informal chat (unless absolutely necessary in the bathroom), and will put all their effort into being part of one of the male subgroups. The Blinkers don't want to draw any more attention to the fact that they are the woman or minority in the room.

👉’Predators’ removing the threat - they will use opportunities to downplay, ridicule or discredit the contributions of the other woman (often with a smile!). The predators are fuelled by scarcity, they believe that the other woman is their competition (not the men, even if their skills are more comparable to one of the men) and they judge performance in the meeting relative to the other woman.

👉 ’Enablers’ amplifying the minority voice - they will acknowledge the contribution of the other, perhaps even defending at times, particularly if it appears to fall on a sea of deaf ears or mansplaining. They work together to draw out behaviours that are exclusive, and use their collective voice to add emphasis to the diversity agenda. They strengthen each other in an almost unspoken agreement which is supplemental and beyond their role in the group.

I don't need to tell you what it feels like to be another woman in the room watching blinkers and predators at play (and you will be relieved to know that predators are the least common from my experience, but they are there!). Frustrating, disappointing and for other women present, well, I think you get the picture.

The enablers on the other hand, don't just empower themselves, they empower the other women who see their interactions, they role-model, and even more importantly they make the men in the room sit up and take more notice. Their collective voice also seems to have the added effect of diluting the level of ego, and instead energising the debate, something less evident from types 1 and 2.

We not only need more women in the boardroom, we need them to support each other when they get there, to amplify their collective minority voice, and to realise that their role is now more than the sum of the job spec.

"Don't pull the ladder up behind you!" Adrienne Clarkson

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