How to Create a Workplace Culture Where Women Support One Another
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I’m going to let you in on an open secret: Women aren’t very nice to each other in the workplace. What you may not know is why.

I happen to be a woman,have been all my life. My chosen career path and aptitude lies in technology, and that further led to a successful career in management.

Along the way, I’ve heard plenty of people congratulating me for being one of the fewer than 5 percentof women in theC-Suite, less than 2 percenton boards, 4 percentfunded, and so on. I’ve beaten so many of the odds that I could rattle them off in my sleep.

The one question I get asked repeatedly is, “What advice can you give to other women who want to be in your shoes?” My answer: stop being so mean to each other.

Madelaine Albright said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I understand the sentiment.

30 percentof all workplace bullies are women, and 75 percentof all targets of workplace bullyingare women. And according to a workplace survey, 76 percentof people report having had a toxic manager. I, myself, have been the target of bullying from women in my own companies, from frivolous HR complaints to personal attacks.

Albright’s statement isn’t a call for women to magically reach up into the C-Suites of companies and grant positions to each other.Instead, it’s a plea to treat each other better. We are all struggling through the same slog, usually alone or as near to it as can be. When another woman comes along, she can either help, and the two can grow together, or hurt, and step on the other to make herself look better.

Sabrina Atienza CEO of Valued has seen this first-hand. “No one wants to admit that they’re being bullied at work. This is not something you would be proud to say.”

Her software company uses natural language processing — a process that allows a computer to quickly perform computations on large blocks of text — to identify workplace harassment phrases and behaviors, then offers just-in-time feedback on how to deal with the situation. Additionally, it offers surveys and role-playing for managers to help them identify and correct their own bullying behavior.

Says Atienza, “Statistically, you’re going to bully someone below you – and your subordinates won’t give you the feedback to get better.”

So how can we fix it? Here are her tips:

1. Provide management coaching.

According to Atienza, most companies promote managers and offer them little training on how to lead. This causes them to act like they think they should act, however, their behaviors are often strict, authoritarian and disrespectful.

Instead, give management training prior to promotion, and provide coaching once on the job.

2. Provide anonymous feedback.

As bullying requires a power differential, it is usually from a manager to a subordinate. Therefore, it often goes unreported.

You should provide a mechanism to provide anonymous feedback – even in a small company – so that every person can get the information they need to improve.

This can be done with a simple suggestion box, but to maintain true anonymity, third-party tools such as Incogneato andHyphen can help collect this information.

3. Set “ground rules.”

In a lot of companies, employees come from different backgrounds – often different countries. This gives them different methods of communication, phrases, and even languages.

If you create a set of rules that you’ll all agree to work with, it will do much to alleviate potential communication issues. These can be as simple as to not use acronyms and slang in meetings, to more nuanced rules like “Comments in email/slack/etc should be considered to be informational, not emotional.”

While I certainly don’t have the answers to solve workplace disparity, what I can say is this – if we simply recognize that there indeed is an issue, we’re better off than before.

And, maybe we can be a little kinder to each other. It’s hard out there.

Feb 20, 2019
Afton Vechery, co-founder of Modern Fertility.
Afton Vechery, co-founder of Modern Fertility.

For Modern Fertility’s Afton Vechery, the biggest adjustment to going remote during the coronavirus crisis has been minor but symbolic: “I’ve had to switch from contacts to glasses because of all the screen time and video calls,” she says. Vechery co-founded her home-fertility-test startup, which has $22 million in funding, in 2017. While many now have plenty of time on their hands for, well, fertility, Vechery is busier than ever. Here’s how she stays productive.

Climb Every Mountain

The alarm clock buzzes at 6:30 a.m. “A lot of founders have these amazing morning productivity hacks, like meditation,” says Vechery. “For me, the single greatest motivating factor is to just be doing something I love. And so, uh, that translates to emails in bed when I wake up.” After that, Vechery typically bikes to work. During the crisis, she’s swapped her commute for an early-morning ride to the top of San Francisco’s Twin Peaks. It doubles as me time. “It’s really helpful to understand what’s going to bubble up from your subconscious when you’re not being stimulated sitting in front of a computer,” she says.

Face Time

Vechery’s days in quarantine include more one-on-one meetings than they did before, but that’s the cost of keeping information flowing. Modern Fertility has implemented daily meetings at which employees can check on current and upcoming projects. And the staff has organized optional virtual lunches and happy hours, which Vechery will drop into when she can. Whether at home or in the office, she and co-founder Carly Leahy generally eat dinner while working and wrap up around 9 p.m.–though they encourage staffers to leave earlier.

Clear Screen, Clear Mind

Vechery relies on an app called Captio, which lets the founder email a note to herself with one click. But you won’t find the Captio icon on her iPhone’s home screen, which is clear of everything but three apps: Calendar, Clock, and Notes. Manually searching for apps lets Vechery ignore distracting notifications. “As a founder, there’s constantly something else you could be doing,” she says. “But when you have space to think through what you’re working on, you’re a better leader.”

Portion Control

When she makes time for a TV show, Vechery starts with the season finale and views the episodes in reverse order. The strange habit helps prevent the urge to binge. “I have an incredibly addictive personality,” she says. “So this is better for everyone.” Vechery also unwinds by playing the trumpet. “It’s a total break from everything else in life,” she says. “It lets you process your thoughts in a really different way.”

May 13, 2020

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