During March, we celebrate, honor and support women from all walks of life. From the boardroom to the classroom and laundry room — there is power in females standing by one another to create a brighter future for upcoming generations. The fight for equality is far from over — and even potentially set back by the pandemic — making it vital to check in with yourself on how you treat those in your immediate circle. In other words: are you raising women up? Or are you bringing them down? Small negative habits, snide comments, or even being silent are ways we unintentionally set progress back.
Here, we spoke with female psychologists and leaders on how to shift the way we treat women in our life to promote change and release toxic behaviors.
Instead of gossiping, compliment.
From the time we’re running around on the playground until we’re shuffling through the halls of a nursing home, gossip is one of those pastimes that’s widely accepted. And in many cases: expected, since media often portrays women as the gender who has the ‘scoop’ on what’s going on in the neighborhood. Though it may be a difficult habit to break out of, you’re putting her down when you gossip about a woman, says psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. “This can bring a woman down by influencing people to think negatively about her. This can then cause the woman to potentially lose opportunities with her career, social and/or love life,” she explains.
Instead of spreading rumors or saying poor things, try to raise another woman consciously by speaking about her admirable and positive qualities. “By doing this, the woman’s reputation doesn’t negatively precede her — and she can have more of a chance to be judged more fairly,” Dr. Thomas adds.
Instead of giving conditional opportunities, give without expectations.
Have you ever heard of ‘charging opportunity debt’? Maybe not, but there’s a good chance you’ve practiced it. In short, it’s a ‘quid-pro-quo’ attitude where you believe a woman is indebted to you for an opportunity, explains Anita Stubenrauch, the founder of Cause:Effect Creative. An example of this is recommending a female for a job, then taking credit they landed the gig and expecting them to do things for you in return.
“This is especially messed up when the ‘indebted’ individuals ask for more — when seeking better compensation, a promotion, or when renegotiating the terms of a deal,” she continues. “Too often, these scenarios are met with some version of ‘How dare you to ask for more? You should be grateful.’
If you’re guilty of this, cut it out — and put an end to oppressive power dynamics. “Instead of making a woman beholden to you, explore ways to recognize and reward their talent and expertise and watch them flourish,” Stubenrauch suggests.
Instead of being selective, be open.
It’s part of nearly every teen comedy and sitcom out there: the ‘cool’ girls don’t let the ‘not cool’ girls sit with them at the lunch table. This plays out of the screen, too, at your workplace, within your child’s school, and even within your friend group. Dr. Thomas says if you’re purposefully keeping a woman out of your ‘circle’ (and being rude about it), you’re putting her down.
“By doing this, the other woman may feel rejected, unworthy, or unlikeable and, thus, can cause damage to her self-image and self-esteem,” Dr. Thomas.
If you have a valid reason for not including someone — perhaps you don’t trust them, they have reckless behavior, etc. — that’s okay. But if you’re being exclusive for the sake of being exclusive? It could be worth reconsidering including this woman in your events. “This gesture can help women build networks together to help each other with career, social, and personal opportunities,” Dr. Thomas says.
Instead of being quiet about pay, be vocal.
Historically, the question of ‘how much money do you make?’ is an uncomfortable one. But while it may make you anxious to discuss salary with your female colleagues or friends, the only way women can bridge the pay gap is to understand the current landscape. That’s why leadership expert and entrepreneur Shannan Monson encourages women to be vocal about what they’re making — rather than protective.
“The scarcity mindset that makes us protective and hesitant of creating transparency in things like networks, pay, and opportunities,” she continues. “It’s rooted in the idea that there is a fixed pie, and giving away a slice to someone else means there is one less slice for you. It’s a harmful lie that pits us against each other instead of allowing us to rise up together.”
Instead, Monson says to believe — and trust — there is an abundance of money, people, and opportunities in the world, and the more freely we share, the more we all win together.
Instead of judging, ask questions.
One of the best parts about life is that we all get to decide how we want to live it. While some women choose to get married and have children, others want to stay single and kid-free. Others may choose to spend most of their time traveling, while others are homebodies. There is no ‘right’ way to design your routine, but there is a wrong way to judge other women’s choices. When you meet someone who isn’t married, do you instantly say, ‘Oh, you’ll meet someone, I just know it!’ If so, you’re not being supportive, and you’re making assumptions that may not be true, Dr. Thomas says.
Instead, try to understand why this particular woman did not want kids or marriage and that it may have been the best decision for her based on where her life was at the time, Dr. Thomas says.
Instead of giving unsolicited advice, listen.
When a pal comes to you venting about their day, do you snap into therapist mode — or do you allow them to release whatever it is they’re feeling. It might be well-intentioned, but sometimes sharing advice is the last thing a person needs, Monson says. One of her favorite questions to ask a friend when they share something vulnerable they’re experiencing or a problem they’re facing is:
‘What do you need from me right now?’
- Sit quietly with you and listen.
- Give you alone time and space to process.
- Share advice and experiences that may help.
“Taking the time to ask what they need before you respond helps to protect your relationship and allows you to show up best for their needs in that moment,” she adds.
Instead of recreating toxic patterns, break the cycle.
Did you have crappy pay and long hours with very little recognition when you first entered the workforce? If so, we’re sorry. But that doesn’t permit you to recreate toxic patterns when you step into a leadership position, Stubenrauch says. “It’s not malicious; it’s unconscious and often culturally systemic,” she continues. “The first step towards undoing this toxic pattern is to become aware of it. Just because that’s how things were doesn’t mean that’s how they should be. Instead, define the patterns you’d like to live and work together to find ways to make them a beautiful reality.”