Dr. Anne Litwin, Author:
New Rules for Women – Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together
Dr. Litwin, what initially drove your passion about focusing your work and training on women in the workplace?
As a coach and consultant for 30 years, I heard too many women complain about feeling unsupported by other women at work. I feel that we are up against enough challenges in male-dominated organizational cultures without having to worry about being undermined by other women. Women need the support of other women to be successful. I decided to do the research that is the foundation of my book in order to try to improve support among women colleagues.
In the introduction to your most recent book, New Rules for Women, there is a very poignant quote: “Behind the curtain of sisterhood lies a myriad of emotional tangles that can wreak havoc in women’s relationships with each other.” That is a very powerful statement.
What are some of the reasons women struggle in their workplace relationships?
There are multiple dimensions to this dynamic. On the one hand, masculine organizational cultures set women up to feel disappointed by each other when women’s friendship rules clash with the norms of the masculine workplace. This clash can cause disappointment and a sense of betrayal between women. This dynamic also reflects internalized oppression, or the internalization of negative stereotypes about women by women. This internalization is often expressed as horizontal violence when marginalized group members, in this case women, act out the negative stereotypes against each other by withholding support or trying to damage each other’s reputations.
Women also tend to expect different behavior from female bosses than they expect from males. They expect female bosses to be more relational and collaborative. These different expectations from female staff can set up a double bind for female bosses for whom promotions can depend on utilizing a masculine leadership style. While female staff expect masculine behavior from male bosses, they are confused about what to expect from female bosses and, therefore, often say they prefer working for a man because they know what to expect.
What are the main factors that are contributing to this behavior? Talk about horizontal power. You state in your book that sabotage by women colleagues happens for a reason. Please explain.
What are the paradoxes you have witnessed with women in the workplace?
Of course, I have also seen the best of women’s dynamics in the workplace. I’ve seen women support and champion other women, and form deep and trusting relationships that last a lifetime.
Talk about the difference between Masculine Workplace Values and Feminine Workplace Values.
Feminine values of work (which men can also have, but which women more often report) define results differently than the masculine values .For example, a task focus is masculine; a community or team focus is more feminine. Independence is a more masculine value; inter-dependence is more feminine. Most organizational cultures are set up to value and reward masculine work values.
What are some tools that employers and women can use in order to secure better relationships and increase retention of talented women?
Not only can women be friends in the workplace, they need the support of other women to be successful. Workplace cultures need to change to be more supportive of building women’s relationships, and of utilizing and rewarding women’s relational capacities to motivate employees and to build teams.
One tool that can be helpful is called “Role Hats.” This tool can help women manage role boundaries and relationships in the workplace with other women.
Do you believe that pay inequity is a major factor in driving how women interact with one another in the workplace?
No. Pay inequity is a symptom of the systemic marginalization of women, but salary information is largely hidden and unreported.
How much are men to blame (if any) for this situation? What about current organizational cultures?
I would not say that men are to blame. It is masculine workplace cultures and unconscious bias that is to blame for women being marginalized. Male leaders can do more to understand the double binds that women deal with, to establish “no interruption” norms in meetings, and to support women’s voices being heard.
Talk about gender socialization and how that impacts women at work?
I do believe it is important to understand the impact of gender socialization on women at work. In my book I talk about how we develop relational expectations during adolescence (and earlier). I call these expectations “friendship rules.” Women and men develop different relational expectations, or friendship rules and we carry them into the workplace unconsciously. Most hierarchical organizational cultures reflect men’s friendship rules because they were there first. When women carry their flat-structured, egalitarian relational expectations into the workplace, their friendship rules crash into the masculine hierarchical expectations and can create confusion for women about what to expect of each other.
In an article in the Huffington Post, high-ranking women staffers on President Obama’s team talk about the importance of “amplification”.
Can you comment about that?
I love this! This is exactly what I recommend that women, and male colleagues who are allies, need to do for each other.
In a perfect world, if women would truly support one another in the workplace, what do you think the result(s) would be?
I think that organizations would change to value feminine workplace values, and productivity and ROI would increase measurably.
What woman has had the greatest impact on you in your personal life? Your professional life?
Dr. Amanda Fouther was a wonderful friend – like an older sister – who helped me accept myself.
Alexandra Merrill, Edie Seashore and Mikki Ritvo were all important role models, teachers and mentors in my professional development.
Dr. Litwin, thank you for your time. Can you leave us with your favorite quote?
“As nobody can do more mischief to a woman than a woman, so perhaps one might reverse the maxim and say nobody can do more good.” – Elizabeth Holland, 19th century writer.
L to R: Dr. Anne Litwin and Shivaun Palmer, CEO, Plaid for Women