What Ever After Can Teach Us About Women’s Leadership
I wrote a feminist critique in graduate school on the movie Ever After starring Drew Barrymore. It was a modern-day Cinderella story that, at first glance, depicted a heroine who refused to conform to traditional gender roles. As a young, aspiring leader, I was in favor of anything that promised to break the bias I expected to encounter in the workforce.
What I found when I dug deeper into the storyline of Ever After, however, was a mixed bag of good and bad.
Yes, the main character was an unconventional girl boss, but she also succumbed to the female stereotypes of catfighting, beauty regiments, and competition over a kiss from the prince. This discovery had an enormous impact on me, and I wondered if the same phenomenon occurred in business. Sadly, in my 23 years as a reputation management and business crisis consulting expert, I have learned it does, and it’s deeply rooted in business and workplace culture.
Celebrating Women’s History Month
Women’s History Month is observed today because women pushed for education and workplace equality. Every March, we take the time to reflect on the accomplishments of women throughout history in many different subjects, such as culture, science, and business. Cooperation between men and women in the workplace is crucial for professional gender equality, but a lesser-known truth is that cooperation between women is just as vital.
Conflict Between Women in the Workplace
In fact, ask most women who their nemesis in business is, and they’ll often name another woman. But that’s not been the case for me. Mainly because I vowed back then to always lift other women up, resist the urge to play into competition, and avoid backbiting. I’m sure I’ve failed, at times, but in honor of Women’s History Month, I want to commend every female leader who did the same to break the bias. AND, offer a special shoutout to my colleague Jenny Larson, who by all practical means is the epitome of my competition. We offer similar services, have nearly identical credentials, and work in the same city. Yet, we have never competed and constantly help each other out.
People used to think that adding women into the workplace would fundamentally change the system and lead to fewer biases. A recent article by the Harvard Business Review uncovered that this was far from the case. Women who worked in industries that had more female workers than males still experienced communication difficulties, like struggling with expressing authority or getting their contributions recognized. The truth is that for a workplace to be equal, everybody needs to be pulling in the same direction. Employees should be incentivized to help their team members and encouraged to support each other. Collaboration and co-dependency lead to a supportive work environment where one team member never benefits at the expense of others. We all want equality between men and women in the workplace – but it’s just as important for women to cooperate.
The Power of Encouragement and Cooperation
I still recommend watching Ever After (I even watched it last weekend). For me, it was the start of recognizing bias and knowing what to do about it. If you have a woman in your life who’s encouraged you, drop her a line today. Better yet, if you know a woman who needs to be encouraged, give her a call. Everyone wins when we remember there’s enough business, support, and confidence to go around.
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