Women Empowering Women:  8 Actions to Take Now

It is so easy for us to point fingers at men. If only there wasn’t sexism in the world. If only men would support women leaders more. And while I absolutely agree that there needs to be change in the world by everyone, I find it hard to blame men when there is so much women can do for other women that we more times than not, simply aren’t.

I often have said that until all women are intentionally supporting other women, we have no right to blame others. This is because we are often our own worst enemy. Women who do make it in business and leadership often don’t support women trying to move up the ladder. I have worked for women leaders who surround themselves with white men.

Have you ever seen a woman directly criticize or play down another woman’s light? If you are like most women I’ve asked this question to, your answer is, “yes”.

Why is it important that we intentionally support each other? Because it’s the only way we will see real change. When have women changed history? When women from different places and backgrounds banded together and gave each other unconditional support. That is how women’s suffrage was won. That is how we started to get more equality in pay.

But as we all know, we aren’t there yet.

At a recent conference, a successful woman scientist disagreed with my stance, saying that the only way to achieve change is by convincing the men in charge to push through change. If we had waited for the patriarchal system to do the right thing, we would see very few of the improvements we do have today. Systems only change when they realize opposition will not give up and will not stop fighting for a greater good.

So how do we provide intentional support?  Here are eight actions we can all start doing right now.

  1. Declare Intentional Support:  Women must intentionally support each other. Not just talk the talk, but truly walk the walk. The first way to give intentionally support is to say you will. Simple declarations made publicly often turn into action.
  2. Mentor and coach other women:  I feel like this is just a moral obligation for all of us that are in any type of leadership position. Girls and other women look up to you for guidance. So give it!
  3. Hire More Women: Often, when I say this outloud, I am greeted with a bit of shock. Wait a minute, we can’t intentionally hire more women – that would be reverse sexism, wouldn’t it. Uh, no. Don’t apologize for intentionally seeking out and hiring more women. Just do it.
  4. Level the Playing Field Yourself:  Don’t wait for permission. I have often assumed leadership of new teams and find that some people, usually women, are strikingly underpaid for their level and position. The first thing I do is ensure that all my equal levels and performers are getting paid equitably. That is just one way we can level the playing field.
  5. Encourage our daughters (and sons!) to take risks: Way too often I have heard or seen parents giving their girls loving advice to not take the hard math class or not to do something too dangerous or not to stray too far from their social network. While I believe this is always done with best intentions, we need to push our children of all genders to stretch themselves, reach for the stars, and believe they can do anything they set their heart to.
  6. Be nice to that “different” girl: We all know who this is. For many of you, like for me, it was you. The girl that was awkward, or geeky, or smart, or just, different from the popular girls. This follows us into adulthood. And while many of us grew out of our awkward stage or learned to conform so we didn’t stand out, we often still isolate or even criticize those women who take a different path. What if we accepted them 100 percent and even intentionally helped them? What amazing things could they do
  7. Call out bad behavior by men and women: So often, when sexist behavior or bullying does occur, no one says anything. We need to stand up for each other. The most frequent situation women always tell me about is in meetings, where they will be talked over or their ideas will be ignored until expressed again by a man. When you see bad behavior, call it out in a mature, calm way. But don’t just let it go.
  8. Shine your light on others: We all have an amazing ability to shine, but too often we shine our light on ourselves to get attention or validation. What if we focused on shining the spotlight on others? This involves intentionally calling out a woman or man when they achieve something good or amazing. Put yourself second. Find ways to congratulate and promote the good works of others.

I realize I’m making this sound easy, and it’s not always. In fact, I have experienced incredible resistance to these simple acts. People will fight you. People will say you are being sexist by focusing on hiring, promoting and giving raises to women. But I have never done these things for people who aren’t deserving. This isn’t about rewarding people who aren’t qualified. This is about making it right and equal for everyone. It’s also about making sure we are not actually doing more harm than good for other women.

It is also hard work. It means taking time, and sometimes, a lot of time, working with those women who haven’t had an equal chance. Mentoring, coaching, encouraging, pushing, stretching them. But it’s worth it. I can tell you every time you intentionally support another woman, you receive 100 times worth of light back. It’s just the way the universe works. You can change lives, one woman at a time.