In December 2006, while still in Corporate America, I was working round the clock with my team to finish a major eleven-month project for the company’s CEO.
It was bitingly cold; as my colleague and I walked home in the wee morning hours of the streets of New York. My colleague being the Chief of Staff, I was pretty impressed by her work and achievements. On the way home that morning, I asked her, ‘how can I get ahead in my career and achieve what you have achieved?’ Her hesitant response signaled that she wanted to evade the question. I kept quiet and walked along with her turning up my collars against the wind.
Internally, I began to feel that though I was an American citizen, I was a woman of colour. Maybe this is why my colleague, a pure white senior leader, shuffled away from the question.
But I was wrong. Her not being responsive to my question had nothing to do with my colour. Still, instead, it was about the “queen bee syndrome,” a term first coined in 1973, where a woman in a position of authority in a male-dominated environment treats subordinates more critically if they are female.
Time and again in my career, I observed this “queen bee syndrome” “When women reach the most senior of positions – the C-suite or board level –there is a tendency to pull up the drawbridge.
Women have gone a long way in creating equality at many levels in the business and corporate world. One of the single areas where women often fall short is creating a culture of sisterhood.
I have always believed in the strength of sisterhood and considered it a tremendous force for greatness.
Research shows women in particular benefit from the collaboration over competition.
If we want to change the numbers and get more women to lead, we must embrace the next phase of the women’s movement, which is to build a culture of sisterhood where women find more success by helping each other.
And this culture of sisterhood isn’t created just inside corporate houses. It’s created at your home where women of the house support each other. It’s created in your social circles, where other women help you rise. The culture of sisterhood is something each woman carries inside of her, regardless where she is.
Having accidentally discovered and binge-watched the entire series, of Friends, I loved the show. Every episode had a lesson, but the biggest takeaway was the sisterhood of the women.”
During my executive coaching session with women, here’s what I ask them to do so they can create the sisterhood culture:
- Build your Squad: Your squad needs to be made of the chicks who get you and your ambition.
- Help others: As you move ahead, keep the bridge wide open and lend out your support in ways you can.
- Be responsive: Not every woman wants to climb to the top of her career. But those who do are very curious and have a lot of questions. Be responsive and open to sharing your journey with them.
In my own life, being recognised as the only woman of Indian descent to be a powerful leadership speaker and author in America, I have shared my work and journey with thousands of women leaders across the globe, helping them succeed in their work life.
If we don’t begin this new phase of the movement, no doubt women will reach ahead in their careers, but they will be lonely and we will soon see the numbers stall again when it comes to women in lead roles.
I believe a woman alone has power; collectively, we have an impact.
Payal Nanjiani is an globally acclaimed leadership expert and speaker, top executive coach, and New York Award-Winning author. The views expressed are the author’s own.
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