4 Ways to Create a Spirit of Collaboration for Women in the Workplace

The competitive and political nature of the work environment doesn't always lend itself to a spirit of support and encouragement.

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By Michelle Greene Rhodes

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Women have had a place in the workforce for decades, but it's still not a given that women will have each other's backs while we're in it. Perhaps it's a vestige of the fact that there were historically fewer positions available, and so women got used to fending for themselves. We got protective of our roles and settled into a comfortable hesitancy to support other women for fear that it would reflect poorly on us or set us back.

The truth is, collaboration is the backbone of healthy enterprising. If we, as women, lean into our strength as nurturers and lead with compassion, we can transform the norms of business and take that collaboration to new heights. We naturally know exactly what to do to work together; we're just not being proactive enough during the workday.

Below are 4 simple ways you can support your female counterparts in the workplace.

1. Advocate for female coworkers

Whether in a group setting or one-on-one, encourage that everyone's ideas be heard. When women speak out at meetings, ask questions, compliment thoughtful comments and give credit where it is due. If you witness a woman being interrupted, spoken over or disregarded, bring the conversation back around to what she was saying. You can say something like, "I was interested in hearing more about what X was saying. Can we go back to that?"

You can also set an example by sitting front and center and speaking up when you have an idea. Ideally, this will serve to inspire other women to do the same. Additionally, if you see another woman struggling to break into the conversation, invite her into it. This type of behavior is beneficial regardless of a person's gender. It fosters a spirit of true cooperation and creates a community of equality. The more we can create opportunities for conversations, the more collaborations could be birthed.

Related: Gig Economy: A Boon for Women

2. Change the dialogue about assertive women

Being bold, proactive and having a difference in opinion are all great qualities in business, but for some reason are better received when displayed by men rather than when they show up in women. When women are assertive, they are often referred to as cold, strict, demanding, bossy or aggressive. Male counterparts are admired for being confident, powerful and strong. This double standard needs to be uprooted and flipped over.

If assertiveness and confidence are beneficial and desirable qualities, the women who possess them must be viewed with correlating respect. This has to start with how we talk about women leaders and bosses. Try to avoid partaking in conversations that bash women leaders, and do your best to reframe the existing impression.

If you find yourself responding negatively to something that was said to you, try to take a step back. Would you have the same response if a man gave the same feedback? Try to maintain a level of self-awareness and use that to help direct the narrative at your workplace. Give the benefit of the doubt where you can. After all, she likely rose to her position amidst a lot of adversity.

3. Celebrate women's wins

Look for opportunities to give praise and show appreciation to women co-workers. In some work environments, there is a natural tendency to highlight failures. Sometimes, it may not even be entirely a woman's fault, yet the failure will be pinned on her. Women tend to naturally resist the spotlight. They'd be much more likely to credit the team or the product for success, even if they played a big role. When you notice this is the case, make it a point to give credit and celebrate the effort. Sometimes, the reason for success truly is teamwork, but when we can highlight individual contributions, it goes further and outcomes improve.

Related: Why Excluding Men Is Not the Path to Promoting Women

4. Develop mentor/mentee relationships

Having a female mentor and being a mentor is one of the most powerful ways to impact other women in your industry. Throughout a career, numerous challenges arise and it can feel like we are reinventing the wheel when we are faced with a hurdle. By having supportive mentor/mentee relationships, you can learn firsthand from someone who has been where you've been. You can talk about the things that were hard and how they persevered. This information can inform you how to make better decisions and help you avoid pitfalls.

As you become the weathered expert, take younger females under your wing. Show them support and encouragement. Motivate them to be creative, take chances and stand up for themselves. And support them when they feel discouraged or lost. The mentor/mentee relationship is a powerful connection. It's a great way to build on the accomplishments of women in the past instead of starting at square one. These can very easily become some of your most treasured relationships.

Let's approach work like we really are in it together. We don't have to suffer through the daily grind alone and unsupported. If we see the workplace as a dog-eat-dog place, then it will be, but if we view it as a collaborative space, we will be happier, more successful and less burdened. It feels good to support other women who are working hard.

When we treat others well, they will usually reward us in kind, and the cycle will continue. Let us defend, advocate and champion the women we work with. In the process, we will also become thought leaders and champions for women in the workplace. By setting the culture's tone this way, a collaborative spirit can be created, thus more female role models are made. Teams everywhere could always use more of those — let's make history ladies.

Related: 100 Women of Impact In 2021

Michelle Greene Rhodes

CEO Greene Rhodes Consulting

Michelle Rhodes is an international speaker and executive coach known for helping women stay well. Women turn to her for motivation, innovation and transformation. She is also an opinion columnist and editor-in-chief at magazine “The Color of Wellness."

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