Today, and every day we can break the bias.
Imagine a gender equal world, a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together, we can forge women's equality, collectively we can all break the bias, individually we're all responsible for our own thoughts and actions all day every day. We can break the bias in our communities, in our workplaces, schools, colleges and universities.
The theme for International Women's Day 2022 is #breakthebias. I want to combine the theme of International Women's Day this year with how women who do it all can combat burnout and beat the bias at the same time. I want to talk about this from the perspective of women lifting and supporting other women.
Let's start with forms of bias that may come into play:
Imbalance and selectivity
Fragmentation and isolation
Ability and disability bias.
Bias can come from everything in our lives from our parents to our schools or colleges, our friends, what we see on TV, or the music we're listening to. It could even be the environments that we grow up in. Stereotyping is probably one of the most common forms of bias for women and for women who do it all, we can combat burnout and get to a place where burnout doesn’t exist.
I focus on three things in preventing burnout, recovering from burnout and allowing women to have success, to have it all and do it all without the guilt. From a core-led woman’s perspective those three things are:
We need to understand who we are at the core and dig deep and have a real understanding
Once we understand who we are, then we create boundaries
Then once we understand who we are and we have our boundaries, we can then start to take proper time out for ourselves.
Taking time for ourselves isn't selfish! It doesn't have to mean me first, it means me too. I am also worthy. I'm also deserving of taking this time for myself and the same is true of our boundaries; I am worthy of setting boundaries and I give myself permission to set boundaries and I am worthy and deserving of understanding who I am at the core.
We develop all these labels as we grow up; daughter, sister, friend, mother, our job titles, our status, our salary levels, our age, where we live, what we do. But sometimes all of these labels can be all consuming and we begin to lose our sense of self and our self identity. I hear this a lot with women that I work with; they don't know who they are and if you don’t know who you are, how do we know if the work that we're doing is aligned to our values?
How do we know if our relationships are aligned to our values?
When we lose that alignment or we step away from that alignment and our work, our relationships and ourselves are not aligned with who we really are, this is where we can start to develop physical health issues, mental health issues, emotional health issues, financial health issues and spiritual health issues. But I see many women who are still not supporting other women and sometimes when I speak to women whilst I'm delivering talks or in my coaching programmes, I can see the way in which women are putting other women down.
We’re criticising the work that we do, we’re criticising when other women celebrate success, we criticise what other women are wearing, how they are parenting, what kind of a friend they are, what they look like and how they speak. I had a weekend away recently and we were in some small breakout groups and one of the women in a breakout group got really upset during one of the conversations. She'd put a post on her social media celebrating some recent success and one of her so-called friends had created a post with a before and after shot of this woman. It was before kids and after kids, basically saying what do you think of this and showing how before children she was very fit, healthy and very slim and now she's larger.
When she challenged her friend, her friend said that she was never meant to see it and she thought she had excluded her from the post. It broke her heart. This was allegedly a friend of hers and this malicious post had gone on to social media in response to her talking about some recent success within her business. And this isn’t an isolated incident.
I’m a part of a lot of the groups with other women who are business owners and I’m connected on social media with corporate women who do similar types of work to me and in these groups we discuss burnout, supporting women in leadership and business. So many times the feelings of upset and anxiety that people post and share in these groups are based on comments from other women within their circle. Women putting them down and criticising them. They then said, I no longer want to share my successes and talk about what I’m doing, because other people will criticise me.
Mums of young children are pouring their hearts out in these groups because other women in their circles don't understand why they work, or why they are creating a business and they're being criticised for their parenting, for how they are as mothers and that they can’t be good mums because they choose to work. Then they feel that they're being seen as not good at their jobs because they’re mothers, When we're talking about this gender equal world, when we're talking about break the bias, a lot of our focus goes on to men in the workplace and what men need to be doing to support us more, how men can be showcasing us more, how we need more equal opportunities, how we need more inclusion, how we need to break down some of these biases and stereotypes and discrimination. That we need more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces where women are valued and celebrated and yet a lot of the time we are not doing that for ourselves and some of the most toxic experiences that I have had throughout my entire working career have not come from men. I have experienced some of those toxic situations because of men on occasion, but some of my most difficult, challenging and toxic work situations have been at the hands of other women.
Very few women that I worked with in corporate were supporting other women. The ones that were, were doing it brilliantly and I had some incredible managers and worked with some incredible leaders. But the most challenging, upsetting toxic situations that I've had at work, have been at the hands of other women and I'm not saying that we have to all like each other and be best friends, but I think we have to recognise that if we genuinely want a gender equal world then women need to be doing more to lift each other up.
I work with incredibly strong women, fierce women, powerful women and successful women who come to me suffering from burnout. As we start to get into some of the issues about why they're currently feeling the way they are, a lot of the time the judgement that they are feeling and the criticism that they are experiencing is coming from other women. This could be from their mums, sisters, friends and colleagues, but they don't experience the same criticism from the men in their lives. However, they are too afraid to ask some of the men in their lives, some of their leaders, their managers, their CEOs for help because they don't want to be seen as a weak woman. We have to change this because for years I've been hearing about what men need to be doing to support more women in the workplace and in some workplaces, sectors and organisations this is absolutely true.
Organisations aren't doing enough to welcome women and they're not doing enough to develop and support them. There is still this stereotyping and this bias and discrimination because they are women. But we also have to take a really long hard look at ourselves and say, are we doing enough to challenge and change the stereotypes of women? Are we doing enough to lift other women or teens in our families, our communities, our schools, colleges, universities and in our circles, in our networks or on social media platforms?
Are you a woman that sees another woman post about some of her success and either ignores it, slags her off or puts a comment on there that basically says, should you really be sharing this, we don't really need to hear it. Or are you a woman who sees that success and wants to congratulate her, say well done and comment and share and say wow look at what this woman's doing, it's amazing. If only more of us could be doing the same because sometimes our bias comes from the world in which we have grown up in and if you're the first woman in your family to have achieved something, it might feel a little bit alien to those around you. But that doesn't mean it's still not worth celebrating.
Maybe just because you've experienced some criticism or negativity doesn't mean that you can't be doing more to lift and support women. A few years back, I had somebody who I thought was a very good friend and we'd supported each other and helped each other through business difficulties, business challenges, personal challenges and personal difficulties. I thought I had found my new business bestie and this was a woman who understood what it meant to have her own business and understood what it meant to run a business with children. Yet behind the scenes she wasn't who I thought she was. She started criticising and slagging me off. I’m not normally one who believes in gossip, but when enough people start telling you what this particular person is saying about you and others behind your back, you kind of have to start questioning if it’s really true. So I challenged her on it and she admitted to some of it and some of it she said wasn’t true. But this was a woman who was making a business out of supporting other women and yet it seemed that she was actually only supporting those women who were paying for her services. Because behind the scenes, she wanted to start taking and taking from other women, but wasn't doing enough to support or lift or celebrate other women within her circles.
Again, this isn't uncommon and some of this comes from jealousy and some of it comes from misunderstandings. But are we really doing enough to support other women?
I've recently seen on one of my LinkedIn feeds a woman that I've known for quite a few years and she had put something about being a womanist on her LinkedIn headline. So when I saw another woman referring to herself as a womanist and womanism, I thought I need to look into this. For what I could find, womanism is a separate movement for black women, because black women don't feel that the feminist movement has done enough to include them over the years. And so feminism is now being seen as as this thing for white women and womenism is now being seen as this movement for black women. I’ve not seen a lot of it on my social media feeds, but maybe that’s just my feed and the bias of the algorithms, but the fact that we see this as a separate movement and that is now dividing in black women and white women, I feel quite upset by that and this has caused me to be more aware of my social feeds and what's happening.
A lot of the groups that I am in and a lot of the events that I go to are still with the majority of white women and I still see and hear white women putting other women down, criticising each other and not wanting to celebrate success. And yet with some of the incredible black women that I follow, I look at their feeds and I see them post something about success and I see the support that they get from other black women in their feeds. I see how they are doing more to lift each other up. So maybe I'm not surprised that there is this separate movement, this separate term that has been put out there. I'm not surprised that we see black women saying they've been left behind by white women because I don't feel that as women, we do enough to lift each other up. White women are not doing enough to support each other and lift each other, instead we are tearing each other down.
It is changing and my close network ARE women supporting women, women empowering women, women lifting women. But as I said, a lot of these groups that I'm in it’s the women criticising other women that is causing me issues. So if the women who do it all, who can do it all and can be it all are receiving pressure and criticism from other women and this is contributing to them suffering from burnout., then this is where we need to make a change. Again this isn’t about all of us being best friends, but we've got to recognise that each of us are individuals and we will all have our own challenges, our own struggles and our own background.
We have to be doing more to lift each other up and to support each other.
We cannot on International Women's Day or any day, just keep expecting all of this focus to be on the men and how men are repressing us, holding us back, creating these glass ceilings, who are not listening to us properly and not paying us properly. We've got to start taking some of this ownership and responsibility for ourselves and that can be a really difficult thing to do, especially if you don't feel that anybody has your back. It can feel really lonely and isolating to be the only woman on a particular path. Knowing, feeling and experiencing the women that are walking that path behind you, chucking arrows and knives in your back, can be really lonely, really isolating and really hurtful.
For all the women who do it all; they can combat burnout by understanding who they are at the core, by creating better boundaries for themselves and by taking time for themselves. But we cannot be the woman on the perimeter stealing their energy, criticising them, passing judgement and being jealous. We can’t be the woman who is commenting on their looks, or how they work or how they parent.
I get a lot of comments on social media about the way I look. I’m sure we all get the odd hey gorgeous, love your smile etc from blokes, but I would say 90% of the criticism I get about my weight, my hair, my glasses or makeup, is from other women. I don’t need that type of negative energy. None of us do. I'm at the point now where I can ignore it, but it makes me question what gives you the right to say that anyway?
What is it about you that you don't like, that you're choosing to deflect onto me?
Why do you think it's acceptable to be criticising?
Why can't you be using that energy to help yourself?
Why couldn't you have kept your opinion to yourself and just say great job really loved it.
Why the need for the criticism?
And I've had criticism all my life from other girls, other women, from other mums in the playground, from women at work, from bosses, leaders, exec team members, teachers and friends. There was one particular mum who spoke to the teachers about the fact that I shouldn't have a lead role in something. That I wasn't good enough and that her daughter had to be included as well. Now I do understand that she was trying to lift her daughter up, but I didn't need criticising and pulling down in the process.
We need to be each other's allies.
If we see a woman tearing another woman down, we need to do something about it. It could be easy for us to say, this is all still down to the men and beat the bias and yes part of it is down to men not appreciating us and we do need to make changes in the workplace and its old school patriarchal leadership. But what are we doing for one another? Because I believe a lot of the burnout that women are experiencing (particularly the women who do it all) are reaching that point of burnout because of the criticism, negativity and judgement from other women. And we have to change it.
So today on International Women’s Day and everyday #breakthebias, what are you doing to lift and support the women around you?
How can we do more of it?
How can we celebrate more success?
How can we lift each other and help each other to rise?
How can we be the change to help beat the bias so that we can be taken more seriously and break down these stereotypes?
How can we remove this discrimination for all of us and create more diverse, equitable, inclusive workplaces.
Core-led women do three things:
Take time for themselves.
Core-led women do not tear each other down, they lift each other up.