Updated: May 12, 2020
Do women support women, that is the question?
Women earn more degrees, cast more ballots, start more small businesses and outnumber men. Yet, we're still underpaid, undervalued and underrepresented in leadership positions. Why?
Growing up, we're taught about the -isms. As a Black person, racism becomes your expertise - you learn to spot it a mile away. As a woman, sexism becomes your reality the first day you hit the workforce. From sports to politics, I've learned sexism very well. And as the days pass, I'm starting to get real familiar with age-ism. But, there's another -ism causing all kinds of chaos and inequity that we don't often talk about. I call it,"bee-ism". Women discriminating against other women - bee-ism is the result of the beehive complex.
In 2020, it's time to call bullshit on bee-ism.
In the midst of the "me too" movement, I kept waiting for bee-ism to come to light. It's a real form of workplace harassment. I've seen more women fall out of the professional pipeline because of a lack of support from other women, and in some instances, downright hostility from other women. On Capitol Hill, women underpay their female staffers, they don't give female staffers the same opportunities, and they are held to exceptionally high standards. I have seen women judge other women with a degree of nastiness that I cannot explain.
My biggest nightmare is the thought that I've committed bee-ism. I've managed dozens of women and I fear in my early days of management that I failed younger women around me. I recall one particular young woman that I absolutely failed, and it haunts me to this day. My lesson has been learned, because I know all too well the pain of being failed by your female boss.
I worked for six women in politics, and it was a journey. I often wonder how my career would have been different if I worked for men. I don't know, but I know my battle wounds are deep. Some of the women that I worked for and worked with were horrible.
In my first week as a Chief of Staff, I desperately reached out to an older woman colleague for advice. I didn't know how to hire staff, nor what to pay them. I needed urgent help from an experienced source. The advice I got, "dress more conservatively, you will upset the women Members." Another woman Chief hastily uttered as she walked unto an elevator, "you need to stop wearing high heels on these marble floors." The doors closed in my face. All I asked or was a mentoring coffee. I never got that advice on how to build an office or manage a team - the all women staff that I hired, we just figured it out together. I have to tell you, in my five years as a Chief I never stopped wearing my stilettos and by the time I left women Members of Congress asked me for fashion advice.
Women aren't winning right now - Hilary, Elizabeth Kamala. We are not where we should be and the deck is stacked against us. There are simply too many challenges and obstacles already - we cannot afford to be problems for each other. And, as women, we cannot harness our power if we're divided. This is especially true for women of color - us fighting is truly crabs in an empty barrel. Ain't nobody got time for this. Instead of bee-isms, what if we put our energy into creating a new women's network, one stronger than the old boys club?
At no point throughout my career has a woman said, "you remind me of me when I was younger." I would always see male colleagues and their male Members of Congress bonding over drinks or cigars - I never saw women members and their women chiefs doing anything similar.
Only one women that I served in Congress supported my campaign - this hurt. We give so much to those we serve in Congress. I worked for one Member for actually blocked key endorsements and quietly endorsed my opponent (a man who justifies stop & frisk and believes we have too many women in leadership roles - but I digress). I didn't understand this one, and I wont for a long time.
The moral of the story, let's all agree never be this woman, nobody wins. We have too much left to do as women and we must commit to being better and uplifting one another. It's on us to ensure every woman has the ability to take her seat at the leadership table. When my sister does well, I do well.
Before we blame anything on any of the other -isms, let's make sure we've checked off bee-ism.
Somethings we can do to help each other:
Plus One: Being in the right room with the right people can make a major difference in your career. When you get a plus one, bring a young woman.
Recognize Her: Never miss an opportunity to praise other women,especially in the workplace. The highlight of my time on Capitol Hill was hosting a yearly, "Women on the Rise" event. I designed this to provide a platform to help junior staffers elevate their profiles and gain recognition for their hard work.
Say No: Don't be a bee, reject bee-ism. Support women.