Program Success May 2020 | Page 26

Don ’ t Underestimate the

Power of Women

Supporting Each Other at Work

Anne Welsh McNulty Goldman Sachs Hedge Fund New York May 2020
By Anne Welsh McNulty
Don ’ t underestimate the power of women connecting and supporting each other at work . As my experiences from being a rookie accountant to a managing director at an investment bank have taught me , conversations between women have massive benefits for the individual and the organization . When I graduated college in the 1970s , I believed that women would quickly achieve parity at all levels of professional life now that we had “ arrived ” - I viewed the lack of women at the top as more of a “ pipeline ” problem , not a cultural one . But the support I expected to find from female colleagues - the feeling of sisterhood in this mission - rarely survived first contact within the workplace .
When I was a first-year accountant at a Big Eight firm ( now the Big Four ), I kept asking the only woman senior to me to go to lunch , until finally she told me , “ Look , there ’ s only room for one female partner here . You and I are not going to be friends .” Unfortunately , she was acting rationally . Senior-level women who champion younger women even today are more likely to get negative performance reviews , according to a 2016 study in The Academy of Management Journal .
My brusque colleague ’ s behavior has a ( misogynistic ) academic name : the “ Queen Bee ” phenomenon . Some senior-level women distance themselves from junior women , perhaps to be more accepted by their male peers . As a study published in The Leadership Quarterly concludes , this is a response to inequality at the top , not the cause . Trying to separate oneself from a marginalized group is , sadly , a strategy that ’ s frequently employed . It ’ s easy to believe that there ’ s limited space for people who look like you at the top when you can see it with your own eyes .
By contrast , men are 46 % more likely to have a higherranking advocate in the office , according to economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett . This makes an increasing difference in representation as you go up the org chart . According to economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett . This makes an increasing difference in representation as you go up the org chart . According to a 2016 McKinsey report , Women in the Workplace , white men make up 36 % of entry-level corporate jobs , and white women make up 31 %. But at the very first rung above that , those numbers change to 47 % for white men and 26 % for white women — a 16 % drop . For women of color , the drop from 17 % to 11 % is a plunge of 35 %. People tend to think that whatever conditions exist now are “ normal .” Maybe this ( charitably ) explains men ’ s blind spots : at companies where only one in ten senior leaders are women , says McKinsey , nearly 50 % of men felt women were “ well represented ” in leadership .
Worse than being snubbed by the woman above me was the lack of communication between women at my level . Of the 50 auditors in my class , five were women . All of us were on different client teams . At the end of my first year , I was shocked and surprised to learn that all four of the other women had quit or been fired — shocked at the outcome , and surprised because we hadn ’ t talked amongst ourselves enough to understand what was happening . During that year , I ’ d had difficult experiences with men criticizing me , commenting on my looks , or flatly saying I didn ’ t deserve to work there — but I had no idea that the other women were having similar challenges . We expected our performance to be judged as objectively as our clients ’ books , and we didn ’ t realize the need to band together until it was too late . Each of us had dealt with those challenges individually , and obviously not all successfully .
I resolved not to let either of those scenarios happen again ; I wanted to be aware of what was going on with the women I worked with . As I advanced in my career , I hosted women-only lunches and created open channels of communication . I made it a point to reach out to each woman who joined the firm with an open door policy , sharing advice and my personal experiences , including how to say no to doing traditionally gendered ( and uncompensated )