From rival to relationship: How to foster collaboration among women

Lately, Tina dreads going to the office. Her two coworkers, who are both female and also in their early 30s, seem to have something against her. While working on high-profile projects that require close collaboration, the pair always find a way to edge Tina out — partly out of spite, and at times so that they can steal the limelight.

When Tina comes around, the chatter and giggles between the two stops, leaving Tina only to assume they were talking behind her back. 

”What’s with these two?,” Tina thinks. “Have I done something to create a wedge between us? Have I made remarks that struck a nerve?”Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/

The answer is, probably not. Tina’s actually a really nice girl. She gets along with mostly everyone in the workplace. She pulls her weight. And she’s always willing to pitch in to help her coworkers so that the team can shine.

She continues to wonder. Is this a racial thing? After all, Tina is East Indian and her two female coworkers are White. It’s definitely not ageism, as the three are around the same age.

Tina just can’t put her finger on it. And she’s at her wits end to the point where she’s already interviewing for other positions to escape what has become a toxic situation. Not only is she starting to feel paranoid, but also as if she’s the target of career sabotage.

Assuming this has nothing to do with skin color or proficiency on the job, could Tina be facing a classic case of cattiness in the workplace? Does this fictitious story sound familiar? Can you relate? The same story line, replace the characters?

When I recently interviewed the founders of the Society for Professional Women of Color we briefly touched on this issue of competitiveness among women both in the workplace and in business. To be sure, this issue plagues women at all points of the career ladder.

  • Why can’t we all just get along?
  • Why can’t women — no matter what you look like, where you come from, or what your level of expertise — reach back and extend outward to help a fellow sister out?
  • Why is it so hard for women to support and connect with one another, rather than perceive each other as rivals?

I posed these questions to Sherry Williams and Jocelyn Tejeda, the cofounders of The Society for Professional Women of Color, in a follow up email interview. And here’s what they had to say:

Naturally most humans function from a place of scarcity (there’s not enough of) versus abundance (there’s enough to go around). When this mindset is present in an area of social constructs, for example within gender, it automatically increases competition for resources, status, and recognition.

Sherry and Jocelyn also said that the perception of scarcity is played out even further with theories like the glass ceiling, for instance.

Fear, feeling threatened

There’s also the prevailing notion that competitive women simply don’t want to “share the stage,” and may feel threatened that another woman who is seen as more capable, better looking, or more connected might take the “top spot,” steal her “shine,” or outperform her, the pair said.

Women also are more likely to believe that sharing knowledge with others will put them at a disadvantage, they added.

If we all recognized we have unique gifts to bring to the table and realized there is a greater movement standing shoulder-to-shoulder, then the impact would be greater for the individual AND collective, said Jocelyn and Sherry.

The solution?

They said women-owned businesses and those organizations targeting women should be intentional about fostering collaboration.

If you’re an organization, be the kind that breeds opportunities for women to move from the “survival of the fittest” to a “survival of a (professional/entrepreneurial) community” mentality; one that increases opportunities for success, resources, and meetings of the minds to reach both the individual and collective goals; and one that empowers women through shared experiences, they added. Even if you’re an individual trying to develop better relationships with other women, inject these principles into your life.

Other ways to eliminate cattiness in the workplace, in business, and in life?

Sherry and Jocelyn urge women to:

  • Celebrate each others’ successes and achievements and lift each other up when one has stumbled.
  • Create global and economic transformation by promoting leadership opportunities among women and support women-owned start-ups and businesses.

What do you think? Share your story and insights in the comments below or start the dialogue on Facebook.