Two times this week I have facilitated a dialogue with women leaders on the topic of women working with other women. Specifically, we examined why it can be so difficult. Needless to say, I’m exhausted. However, what I’ve observed in both groups has me really intrigued and has given me the inspiration to keep this topic on the table with the women with which I interact. Despite my sweaty palms.

This is a tough topic. Most research on the matter concludes that is exactly why it is among the lists of “undiscussables” with women. From my own experience, it can bring up issues of shame, embarrassment, defensiveness, and most certainly denial. I’ve found this to be true for myself and most recently, I have observed this in other women engaging in the topic. What it requires is women to look at the “dirty underbelly” of female culture. There is an increasing amount of research on the topic of why women struggle to work with one another. The findings typically attribute it to three dynamics: how we are encultured as girls to deal with anger and conflict, the fact that we are often pitted against each other in the media and the challenges we face as we aspire to be leaders within a society that traditionally honors and rewards the masculine.

So sure, there are a lot of good reasons this is happening. And certainly, this is a really hard issue to explore as a group of women. But here is my concern: what if we don’t? What are the consequences for us as women if we don’t discuss this issue and begin to take ownership of our collective dynamics and perceptions? What then? My fear: more of the same. In fact, the research out there comes to the same conclusion: until women rise up address this within our own culture of women, we will find ourselves stuck and divided. More of the same.

From my experiences this week, I’m getting a bit clearer on the rub. What I’m noticing is when women don’t relate to the statistics and the stories that would paint this picture of “internalized sexism” – either because of their experiences or because of their own resistance to claim a rather unattractive issue – they tend to vehemently push away the topic as if it was a hot potato. Which it is. The problem is, who will catch it? And ironically, isn’t the very notion of “passing the potato” to another woman discounting the many, many voices of women who claim this issue is true and alive to them? Isn’t that in itself an act of judging and differentiating ourselves from other women?

And then there is the whole Law of Attraction thing… If we begin to focus on this topic as women and talk about it more, won’t that “draw it in” to us? So, in effect, we will be creating more of what we don’t want: divisiveness, disagreement, and conflict among women?

So what’s a woman to do? Simple, the research concludes: RISE UP and DO SOMETHING!!!! The bottom line, is that we need more women winning, than losing. We need to see the connections between our successes and our losses and resist the urge to just use our own perceptions and experiences to drive our actions (or inactions). We need to wrap our minds around the idea that when we find fault with another woman – or another woman does – the notion is reinforced that women are somehow faulty. And that includes you, whether you “deserve it” or not. So the invitation is to turn the tide – to somehow make it fashionable to be good to each other (which flies in the face of the current cultural mindset).

Specifically, here is what we can each do:
Become less judgmental about other women
Find common ground – we are more similar than different, so focus on that
Don’t allow the media, or anybody else for that matter, to define who you are.
Support women’s organizations with your involvement and/or your checkbook.
Mentor a younger woman–become an ally for another woman and support her success. Be an activist in ways that engages dialogue, not debate: invite curiosity, not judgment.

So what do you think? Let’s talk about this. And I’d ask you again: what are the consequences if we don’t? Isn’t it time?