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Women in Business – The Glass Ceiling for Female Friendship?

We hear a lot about the glass ceiling for women. The stats are clear: fewer female CEOs, politicians, Board members. At least Australia has had one female Prime Minister, unlike the US!

We also hear about competition between women in the workplace. Fighting amongst each other for the scarcest resource still available to women – power – is fuelled by inequitable power structures, wages and workplace cultures.

Lately I’ve been thinking about what you could call the glass ceiling for female friendship: when a woman succeeds in business as well as the other parts of her life. Unfortunately this can bring out a complex range of emotions in other women, from outright envy to covert hostility.

If you’ve been blanked or blocked by old girlfriends when a new venture hits the big time; or a new acquaintance from your son’s school cools when they find out you run a multimillion company as well as the annual fete … you’ll know what I’m talking about.

It’s upsetting and I think unnecessary. To me it raises the question: how can competition for status points amongst women corrode even the closest friendship?

Total package = tall poppy syndrome

There’s a real viciousness reserved for women who are the “total package”: smart, articulate, attractive, who can juggle career success, the school run and being a decent person in humility and high heels.

Australia’s notorious “tall poppy” syndrome seems to strike these women hard; as if it’s okay for women to achieve to a particular point, but succeed “too much” and they’re seen as arrogant overachievers.

Internationally, Meghan Markle is a classic example of this. She was lauded till she actually married a prince, but media and social media attacks – including, sadly, by women – since then have been unbelievable.

Men are socialised from an early age to channel competition into outcomes rather than against each other in gossip and cliques: for example sport, competitive hobbies like video games.

Competition can be healthy. But I don’t believe toxic competition that turns into envy between women benefits any of us. I want to start a conversation about why women’s achievement seems to caps other people’s contentment with us at a certain level.

Do guys experience the same fallout over self‑made fortune? Why is it okay to succeed to a certain point – but then women are resented for being “too” together? Do men resent others who seem like they’re “the package”?

Why aren’t we comfortable with the women we know succeeding?

I’ve been gifted by the wonderful support of generous mentors, female and male.

I believe in celebrating the successes of the women that I know and am close to. My philosophy in life is like my philosophy in real estate: there is enough in the market for everyone. Success has no ceiling. There’s enough for everyone to share in.

I have close girlfriends whose talents and achievements I’m in awe of.

One of my closest long‑term friends is a social worker who has supported me through my many career lows as well as highs. I recognise that unlike her I could never guide a vulnerable family or young person through a crisis; she could never, she has told me, turn an idea into a million dollar business.

When I asked her about competition, she made it sound really simple.

She said, “Kitty, I’m not a business person, but I have my own strengths and skills. I don’t need to compare myself to you, or anyone. I am a whole person.”

Culture of comparison

It sounds so simple. So why does seeing our friends achieve touch a raw nerve for some? It’s true we live in a culture of comparison, fed by Instagram and Facebook.

We spend a lot of time looking over our shoulder at how other people are doing, seeing how we measure up.

The social norming and comparison pressure is ridiculous compared to previous eras, and it’s just going to get worse for our teenage girls.

But is it more than that? Why can another person’s achievement make us feel less than whole? To answer that we must look to psychology…and another blog!

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