In one of the great music collaborations of the 90s. The Eurhythmics and Aretha Franklin teamed up to belt out the sisterhood anthem ‘Sisters Are Doin It For Themselves’. Women championing other women. What’s not to like about that?
More and more Aussie women are ‘standin’ on their own two feet’. They’re working around families, leaving corporate life, tired of the glass ceiling and the tokenistic hat tip to diversity and inclusion, and eager to march to the beat of their own drum. Over a third of all businesses in Australia are run by women and women focused Facebook groups, retreats, events, and resources are growing not dissipating. And the underlying message is ‘us women should stick together’.
I’m a member of a lot of women in business groups especially Facebook groups where we are encouraged to support, lift and encourage each other. These are places where the underlying message is collaboration not competition. I’ve meet some incredible, ass kicking women in business through these groups and done a lot business. But they’re not always the safe spaces the sisterhood would have us believe – I’ve witnessed a lot of nastiness. While it is easy to paint these displays of nasty behaviour with the brush of ‘see how mean women can be’, I know men can be equally horrible to each other. I wonder if this sisterhood is an unbreakable bond between women, or is it only held together because all we have in common is we’re women and just because we are women in business, does that mean we all have to be best friends and sing kumbaya?
I wanted to see what other women thought, so I asked women I’ve meet through my business journey what they think.
Lisa Cox is a media professional and disability advocate has experienced the positive and negative sides of the sisterhood in business. “While often it’s other women who best appreciate the challenges and will be the first to lift you up and show their support, it can also be other women who are the first to drive a knife in or cut you down. I thought childish bullying ended in school but I’m afraid this has not been the case,” she said.
beinc.’s CEO Hayley Birtles-Eades doesn’t factor the sisterhood when looking for support, connection and community in business. She hasn’t found it a huge thing for her. “I’m more excited about humans in business. For me it makes no difference if you’re a man or a woman. Everybody should supported based on their ability and situation. No one should simply say I support you more because you’re a woman or I support you more because you’re a man. I look forward to the days where people are genuinely talking about “humanhood”,” she said.
But overwhelmingly, the women I spoke to about this topic wholeheartedly agree that the sisterhood is alive and well … and vital. Peace Mitchell created a business firmly cemented in sisterhood as the co-founder of AusMumpreneur Awards. The biggest lesson business for her is “we need each other”.
“From a young age Disney films tell us we can’t trust other women. At school we’re taught to strive for the top mark in the class and rewarded for individual achievement. In business we’re taught to be aggressive and make sure everyone you meet signs a non-disclosure agreement because you never know who’s out to steal your idea,” she said. “It’s crazy and in my experience wholly untrue. In 11 years, we’ve worked with thousands of women; we’re surrounded by the most incredibly supportive, generous, encouraging women who’ve always got your back.”
For Jules Brooke, founder of She’s The Boss, the sisterhood is alive and well – and thriving. “I see it time and time again with female founders and small business. People helping each other and lifting each other up. You can see it in action in women’s business groups on social media. It’s not unusual to see someone asking for help as their sales are down and a whole heap of women go and purchase from the site. It’s beautiful to see,” she said.
Industries where women are unrepresented like STEM, people like Fiona Holmstrom, co-founder of STEM Punks believes “with a lack of female inclusion on boards and at high-level executive positions, it’s vital women actively pursue a sisterhood, not for their own interest or advantage, but for the greater societal benefit.”
“There’s a feeling of connectedness when businesswomen gather together and network. I’ve experienced this repeatedly; it’s like an unspoken code, an unwritten acknowledgement of the effort involved in being a woman in business. We understand each other, sometimes without even knowing each other, and that’s an affirmation of the journey businesswomen are on,” she said.
Before starting her own business, Krystal-Lee White, from Soul House Of Hair had heard of sisterhood in business but never thought she’d experience it. In the employment space, her experience was vastly different. “Connecting with other businesswoman and creating a deeper level of understanding sharing ethos or beliefs makes you feel like one even when you are all so different. Sisterhood is the unspoken oath you have with another whether it be your own staff or the florist down the street,” she said.
Katrina Wurm, an empowerment coach, said for so long women were told about the ‘boys club’. “I actually don’t want entrance to it. I’d rather gain entrance to a real community of collaboration, of support, one where a rising tide lifts all boats. A true community of sisterhood which truly knows and believes we don’t need to compete with one another, that we are all individual and there are enough customers/clients in this world that need our individuality,” she said.
I love the viewpoints from these amazing businesspeople; I’ve experience many moments as described by them – the collaboration, the connection, the support and knowing I’ve a cheer squad cheering me on. I’m all for ‘girl power’. Born in the 70s, I grew up in the greed-driven heady days of the 80s and 90s. As a woman, I’ve dealt with my share of bum pinching, lecherous come-ons by male bosses and being overlooked because I’m a woman. I’ve also had some of the most awful times at work because of other women – they can be bitchy, catty and mean. There’s just different ways of makig people’s life miserable.
I received many responses to my question about sisterhood in business and 90% say it’s a real thing, it’s a necessary thing and it something women in business love. Yet, I can’t wait for the day when we see each other another human. It’s how you show up and treat people; we should be valued for who we are rather than our gender. As a Pollyanna, that’s my dream for business; instead of sisterhood, I want to see a humanhood – people supporting each other regardless of the gender lens.