I'm often asked the reason behind the Silver Sirens' guiding principles.
I set up our guiding principles after the 2019 Redefining Ageing event. I was sitting in a post-event debriefing with a small group of women who made up the then steering committee or unofficial board. A woman present began to speak negatively about one of the presenters and other women joined the conversation, putting down the presenter because she was beautiful and appeared to have had an easy life.
This incident took me back to my experience working in the fashion industry when it was commonplace for the women I worked with to bitch about customers, other colleagues, and models because they were attractive, skinny or just successful in some way.
I hated this and it made me uncomfortable. I never joined in, and I would usually call out or challenge the behaviour. This made me very unpopular, but I didn't care.
I know that this behaviour is not exclusive to the fashion and beauty industries. If anything, it has been normalised in pop culture, movies, sitcoms and across social media.
Sitting in that meeting four years ago, made me question what sort of community I was building and what I wanted Silver Sirens to stand for.
I vowed that very day that we would be a community that supports, encourage and champion each other. Because of that conversation, the above principle was the first one that I came up with.
At the very first Redefining Ageing event, our MC Kathryn Toohey opened the day by saying, "When women come together, magic happens".
To be more specific, I believe when women come together in the spirit conveyed by pillars that underpin Silver Sirens' ethos, magic can happen.
In her article below, LET’S STOP THE RIVALRY, Jody Webster explores this theme further.
LET’S STOP THE RIVALRY
The one question that has always puzzled me more than any other, is ‘Why don’t women support each other, instead of trying to tear each other down?’
In a world where we are constantly battling bullying behaviour and nasty comments on social media for our teens, why are we not standing up and stamping out the same behaviour in our own peer group?
Why are we constantly criticising and judging other women? Is it a learned behaviour? Or does it stem from something inside us?
In the workplace, sexism is often behind the lack of opportunities and positions for women, heightening a sense of competition. When women adopt this ‘scarcity mindset’ and fight amongst themselves, it actually holds all women back, and perpetuates the male belief that we can’t work together and are ‘emotional’ and ‘catty’.
In her article ‘It’s time to break the cycle of female Rivalry’, Mikaela Kiner writes:
‘Women can and do internalise patriarchal messages that women are not as strong, competent, and capable as men. This is known as internalised sexism. Women unconsciously absorb beliefs about their rightful place, and those messages show up in how women judge each other. That can lead women to mistreat, underestimate, and distance themselves from other women in order to increase their power and standing among men. In addition, successful leadership has long been defined by men. With few women role models, professional women have emulated men in order to find acceptance and get ahead.’
I have witnessed this behaviour firsthand. When I was in my 40s, I started work with an office in a rural community. The company was a reasonable size and had branches all over NSW and Victoria. The office I was going to work in was a small one, but it’s growth potential was good, so they hired me to work with an older woman who had been with the company for a few years.
I was naïve enough to think we would work together and build a good working relationship, if not a good friendship, but that was not the case.
On my first day, I walked into the office, and after introducing myself, I told her I was looking forward to working with her, learning from her, and believed that we could work together to make the office a great one.
She stood up, took a step toward me, so we were almost nose to nose and said:
“This office is already a great one. I don’t need you here. I don’t even know why they hired you.”
The next few months of my life were not pleasant ones. She refused to show me anything, would alternatively make disparaging personal comments, or ignore me completely, gaslight me, and complain about me continually to the boss (who was based at another location).
It all finally got too much for me after she took credit for some work I had done, and I submitted a formal complaint to the boss. His response was:
“This is why I hate working with women, all they do is bitch about each other.”
I resigned the next day and later found out that I was the fourth in a line of women that this woman had monstered until they left.
At first, I blamed myself, thinking I had somehow done something to cause her dislike, but I later realised that it was not me personally, she saw any other woman who entered her work domain as a threat to her position and security.
In his article ‘Why women don’t always support other women’, Dr. Shawn Andrews stated that as a speaker, author, consultant and professor, the question of why women don’t support each other is the most common one he is asked. He addressed the subject by saying:
“As is the case with many gender-related topics, there is no one simple answer that can explain the issue. When it comes to this question, there are several reasons why women may not support other women. First, there's an invisible natural law in the female "culture" that helps to shape how women interact with other women at work and in their personal lives. It's called the "power dead-even rule," a term coined by Pat Heim and colleagues in ‘Hardball for Women: Winning at the Game of Business".
This rule governs relationships, power and self-esteem. For a healthy relationship to be possible between women, the self-esteem and power of one must be, in the eyes of each woman, similar in weight to the self-esteem and power of the other. In other words, these key elements must be kept "dead-even." When the power balance gets disrupted (such as a woman rising in status above other women), women may talk behind her back, ostracise her from the group or belittle her. These behaviours are to preserve the dead-even power relationship that women have grown up with their entire lives. Of course, this is a subconscious process. Most women are not aware of this invisible rule and what drives their behaviour, but it is a big reason why women sometimes do not support other women.”
But even if we understand why these behaviours happen, it doesn’t make them easier to deal with on a business level, or in our personal lives.
Mikaela Kiner suggests that some ways to discourage negative behaviour in the workplace might include:
Do not talk badly about other women, gossip, or throw them under the bus. If you have constructive feedback for another woman, share it with her directly and respectfully. Talk to her, not about her.
Stop expecting more from female versus male bosses, peers, and direct reports. Stop judging women, including yourself, using a double standard. Assume best intentions, and if their behaviour doesn’t make sense to you, get curious.
Learn from those who have been working longer than you. Reach out to your more experienced female peers, talk to them about the battles they’ve faced, and what they’ve had to overcome. They will appreciate your asking.
If you’ve already “made it,” don’t unintentionally haze other women by putting them through the same challenges you faced over the course of your career. Send the elevator back down!
Now, on a personal level, of course all the same rules apply. One of my favourite Silver Sirens Guiding Principles is: Silver Sirens discourages the judgment of a woman due to her age, weight, body shape, beauty, success or failures"
But let’s not stop there, let’s not be happy with just not dragging someone else down. As Silver Sirens, let’s work together to actively support and lift each other up!!
A few years ago, I was visiting a shopping centre, lost in thought, when an older lady stopped me walking past and said:
“I just wanted to tell you how lovely you look today. That dress really suits you.”
I thanked her profusely, a little shocked as I had no idea who she was, but as I walked away, I could not remove the smile from my face. It stayed there for the rest of the day, and it got me thinking, imagine if we all did that?
So now, if I am out somewhere and I see someone who is wearing something I like, or who has a great haircut, or just looks good, or is doing something well – I tell them!
It can be as simple as: ‘Love your shoes!’, or ‘Great dress!’. It is such a small thing for me to do, but it can make a big difference to another woman’s day. You would be surprised how many complete strangers have walked away with a smile on their face after I have given them a small compliment.
So that is my challenge to you: brighten another woman’s day. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll get hooked!