In the past week, the argument of sexism and gender inequality has been used in explaining Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the presidential election. The conversation has examined the ways in which our country still grapples with sexism. While modern feminism pushes society to accept women in positions of power, many popular feminists, such as Ann Friedman and Sheryl Sandberg, have been prominent advocates for the importance of friendship between females in the struggle for gender equality.
Yet a concept of unity seems to not carry into the real world as effectively as it should. Polling data points to the case that women actually tend to not work effectively among one another in professional industries like business, technology and consulting.
Therefore, in order for gender equality to find further success, conflict between women in professional fields should be addressed through a revision of culture and perception.
Friedman unveiled “shine theory” back in 2013, which argues that supporting other powerful women helps all women find professional success. This past summer, Sandberg supported this idea, asking women to lean in together and create more peer-mentor relationships in professional environments.
Yet the data points to the fact that women often experience friction among one another in the workplace, whether the labels are co-workers or boss and employee. For the past 60 years, Gallup has asked employees if they prefer a female or a male boss and not once have more than 50 percent of women said they preferred having a
female boss. In fact, women prefer a male boss more than men themselves do.
To understand this conflict, it should be noted that 95 percent of working women feel they have been undercut by another woman at least once in their professional careers. There was also a University of Michigan report on the topic of the “Queen Bee boss,” one who is typified as being out only for her own success, and found that due to traditionally male hierarchies in business, women now feel threatened by other women in the workplace.
From the data, it is apparent that women are not leaning in and shining together. To address this issue, we must change the way we raise our girls and how they view one another in their professional lives. In effect, there needs to be a cultural change in perception and expectation toward women in positions of leadership, both on an individual level and a group level.
Author Rachel Simmons proposes in her book, “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls,” that girls, from a young age, are taught to be nice rather than how to deal with conflict or issues of competition, except by pushing the feelings away. This contributes to the lack of cohesion among women in professional industries like business and technology.
If shine theory is to ever exist on a greater and wider level, then progress begins with what girls are taught. Girls must be taught that conflict can be dealt with directly, while cooperation and problem solving should be championed. Girls must be told that their feelings deserve to be heard, not suppressed.
The next generation of female leaders can do better if we teach and emphasize such qualities. For now, women must make a conscious effort to acknowledge when we find ourselves intimidated by hierarchies — we must reach out to other women in these moments, and not isolate ourselves. Only when we come to recognize our shortcomings can we find a way to unify and truly shine.
Katherine Rose is a freshman in the College.
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