Early in my career, I was hired onto a team where my peers were two other women. The three of us held the same roles and titles, but oversaw different areas of the organization. We were all early in our careers and eager to advance. It was the perfect environment to pit us against one another.
Fortunately, that’s not what happened. From day one it was clear that, while we all had the same job descriptions, we had different strengths. My two female colleagues quickly became my closest allies, bolstering me in areas where I still had a lot to learn and turning to me for help in places where I excelled.
Sadly, I’ve also experienced the other end of the spectrum, where I worked for a female boss who regularly took credit for my work and sought opportunities to keep me in the background. Unfortunately, this kind of negative experience is far more common than the positive one I had.
Research shows that women in professional settings tend to view each other as barriers to success. This is compounded by the fact that most organizations aren’t doing enough to address systemic issues that can foster hostile competition among women, such as low representation of women in executive roles.
However, one place where we have seen women supporting other women―even in a highly competitive environment―is the recent Women’s World Cup. Now, I’m a soccer fan, but even if you don’t follow the sport, you probably heard the news that the highly favored U.S. Women’s National Team didn’t advance as far as expected.
Like many people though, I wasn’t cheering for the USWNT team purely because of their success on the field. What truly won me (and many others) over was the team’s “there’s always room in the tent” attitude. Thanks to their unwavering belief that a rising tide lifts all boats, we’ve seen a dramatic rise in both the profile of women’s soccer around the world and the level of play of many other teams.
You’ve got to love a team who, even in the midst of crushing disappointment after their loss, said that the 2023 World Cup has been “a testament to the growth of Women’s soccer on a global scale” and that they’re “excited to see increased investment in these incredible players.”
What they didn’t say was that the increased investment likely wouldn’t have come about without the USWNT advocating loudly and proudly for equal pay and conditions, and supporting teams in other countries when they did the same. As a result, FIFA, the World Cup’s organizer, added an additional $80 million into the women’s prize money pot and set a goal of having equal men’s and women’s prize money by 2027.
Pay equity matters, of course, but so do moments like the Spanish and Swedish players who hugged each other and swapped jerseys minutes after Spain knocked Sweden out of the tournament. Or the English player who paused her victory celebration to comfort a devastated Nigerian player, even going so far as to shoo away a cameraman so the player could cry in private.
Imagine if this kind of empathy and support between women was the standard―not just on the soccer field, but in workplaces everywhere. Imagine if we worked together to make sure we were all paid what we’re worth. Imagine if we celebrated collective victories instead of individual ones.
We can all help make this a reality. Start small, if you need to, by finding an opportunity to highlight the work of another woman on your team or in your industry. Elevating the players in the game sets the stage for the next step, which is leveling the overall playing field by working to improve the equity of performance and rewards processes.
So, ask yourself: which will it be? Are you going to focus on your individual goals and allow yourself to continue to be a part of the problem? Or will you find a way to be a part of the solution?
Because if we all choose the latter, like with the revolution happening in women’s soccer, we would be unstoppable.
About the Author
Caitlin Weaver: Experienced HR Leader with expertise in Talent Strategy, Talent Management, Learning & Leadership Development
Caitlin Weaver is a seasoned HR leader with expertise in talent management, employee engagement, and total rewards. She writes about business, health, and parenting. Her articles can be seen at Insider.com, getHppy, and The Every Mom, among others.