If you’re really serious about gender equality here are some things you shouldn’t say

handsfromamySentences like this:

“I don’t believe women support other women”

“All my mentors have been male”

“I’ve always preferred male company because I know where I stand with men”

“women compete with other women”

I could go on…

I am lucky to know many powerful women around the world who do amazing things for other women every day. I know so many generous women that I can’t possible list them all. (although I will probably tag some of them on Facebook because the chances are good that they will share this post. And I really want it to be shared)

We have to stop spreading news about how women don’t support each other

In fact I think it’s one of the most sinister forms of misogyny around because it perpetuates a message that as a gender we are stingier, nastier and basically just not as nice as men. How can this be useful? How can this be scientific?

It negates the powerful generous women who have been doing so much for other women for years. It also gives too much airtime to the women who don’t.

I commend all the women supporting women right now – those of you who are mentoring, coaching, advising and helping just because you can. I am privileged to know quite a number of you. But there are also many of you I haven’t met and probably never will. You don’t do it for the credit or recognition. You do it because you’re generous and you like to help just because you can. You are to use a well-known Yiddish word a mensch. Which translated today means “a person of integrity or honour” But of course in its original German literally means a man. See how much work we still have to do?

I’m not negating the hurt that we’ve all felt when we’ve been let down or unsupported by other women. But it’s crazy to make this gender specific. I’ve been hurt and let down by men too.

And is it reasonable to expect unconditional support from a sisterhood just because we belong to the same gender? Men don’t do this. All they do is choose better friends.

How about we do the same?

“Do you really think we’re part of a supportive congenial network and that you are the only ones who suffer with politics?” a male friend once asked me

The difference is that men know that politics is part of organisational life and that’s that.

Some time ago I compiled a 5-step checklist to help girls to create healthy friendships.  All of the steps are equally useful for women of all ages so I’m repeating it here:

  1. We need to change the narrative that happens around girls and girlfriends. Yes there might be mean girls who bring your daughter down but focus on the friends who support her too.
  2. In the same way that Hollywood idealises romance, unrealistic images are often painted of “best friends” . I have some wonderful women friends in my life but none of my relationships bear much similarity to the kind between Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson in Bride Wars. Celebrate the small acts of kindness and support you get from your friends and your daughter will start developing more realistic expectations too
  3. Teach your daughter what it means to be a good friend so that she “becomes the change” rather than waiting for the perfect friend. Praise her for loyalty, courage, compassion and practical things too like remembering birthdays and phoning a friend when they are sick to offer homework help
  4. In my work with women leaders I ask them to reflect on who they turn to in times of crisis when they refer to the PHD (pull her down) factor. The answer is invariably “my women friends”. But sometimes we neglect these friends in our busy lives – something of which I am often woefully guilty. But in the tradition of appreciative inquiry practice, what we appreciate appreciates. Our relationships need time if they are important to us.
  5. Remind your daughter to choose friends who are worthy of her and her energy. Whether they are male or female, we need to encourage affirming relationships in our lives while we limit the toxic ones. This way we’ll have more time to spend with the people who deserve us and who we deserve in return.

Our #WeLead Circles are rich opportunities to experience female generosity and advocacy so please do drop me a line if you’d like to experience what it’s like to be surrounded by a dream team of powerful women who hold you accountable for achieving your goals.

But I’d like to throw out a challenge for women outside of our #WeLead community too. Send me stories of the women who’ve supported you. Give them the public recognition they deserve in a comment below or on my facebook page. (The best shout-out will get a prize.) Lets create a new narrative together


4 thoughts on “If you’re really serious about gender equality here are some things you shouldn’t say

  1. Hi Debby,

    I shall be sharing this with a women’s group I am part of.

    I hope your end of year gathering was as wonderful as I remember last year being. I am sorry I missed this.

    Thank you for your consistent voice throughout the year.

    You have been a beacon to me and to many.

    Blessings and love,


  2. Thanks, Debbie! I agree with your perspective – I’m very tired of hearing of the PHD syndrome!! I am where I am – in a place of happiness, because I’ve chosen to surround myself with amazing generous women (and a partner) who support and love me just because…
    I identify as a feminist (an identity interwoven with many others) and understand the world as one dominated by a patriarchal culture – a culture created, recreated and maintained, not by men only but by women too – it thrives on competition, power and privilege. I believe in a different world – one where we can live as equal s and respect each other’s dignity, no matter where we come from. A world lead by women; who nurture, affirm, care, work hard and know how to take care of themselves. And in this way become the best we can be, giving the best we can to all who cross our paths.

    I work as an independent consultant and don’t have a regular income. I set up a Tai Chi practice a few years ago and opened my studio last year on a zero budget! One of my best friends (who’s also married to my cousin), has become my sister and often does things that my mother would do, has supported me unconditionally, over more than 20years! She runs her own a communications company and has done all my marketing and advertising for my business, for free! She loves and supports my children like they’re her own! Her love comes from a deep place and goes way beyond what money can buy. We are simply who we are – with each other – we laugh, we cry, we hug, we chat and can even be silent in each other’s company – no masks, no frills, no secrets! Whether we’re near or far, our love sustains itself and blossoms often – she’s an angel on my path!

    • thanks so much for your reply Michelle. I love hearing stories of women like you who are conscious of and grateful for the generous female friends and support systems in their lives. I think it’s the best way to challenge silly stereotypes and create a new more appreciative narrative together

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