The Other Side Of Sexism: Women Don’t Help Other Women Enough!

We need to talk about sexism. Both sides of it.

Indira Nooyi talked about how women don’t help women enough. As I reflect on my own experiences, this unfortunate reality doesn’t escape me…

I wrote about sexism earlier, but it solely focused on behaviors of men that make it difficult for women. It’s only fair that we discuss the other side too.

Early in my engineering career, I was pitching my first project to a room full of senior management folks comprised of one woman and twelve or so men.

“I want to approve this project by the end of the week”, the CTO said. This approval meant that management would bet a $2M initial budget on my idea. I was excited!

The only woman VP in the room took a hostile tone, bringing up reasons why the project needed a more senior lead.

A week later, I had put together more convincing data with which the CTO approved the project under my leadership.

When I was scheduled to meet with L, a partner at a prominent Silicon Valley accelerator, I arrived 10 minutes early.

She waved at me and asked me to wait. She needed to finish up an existing meeting. 20 minutes after our scheduled start time, she showed up.

“So, remind me, who introduced us?” L asked.

“D did.” I said.

“Oh, yes, D! He’s amazing! Tell me about yourself” she replied.

As I start to talk about myself, L typed on her phone. Mid-sentence, she stopped me.

“Shoot. My next meeting is 10 blocks away. Do you mind getting into an Uber with me and we can talk as we ride?” L asked.

In the 7 minute Uber ride, we were interrupted by 2 incoming calls she had to take and a quick set of texts she had to send for her next meeting.

“Just keep talking, don’t mind me doing this other stuff.” L said. I talked.

“Sorry, this was such a rush.. thanks for riding with me, let’s follow up when you are further along” she said as she got off the Uber.

I wrote to this successful woman entrepreneur who had an open invitation on her website for women to get in touch with her for advice. 5 emails and 2 months after, I had given up. She finally wrote to me asking me to join her next class for a fee.

I felt fortunate when this prominent consumer strategy veteran and angel investor made some time for me between her meetings.

After chatting for a bit, she said “How is it possible that we haven’t met before?!”

She loved what we were building and she volunteered to help. “Send me an email and I’ll put you in touch with the right folks”, she said.

It was the warmest meeting I had had in a long time.

5 weeks later, she replied to my 6th email to say that she’s too busy to engage further.

Without a doubt, I’ve met some amazing women who would do anything to help if they could. And who have helped to the extent they can with the capacity they have. But, this leaves me wondering…

Why is it that once we “make it”, many of us women become uninspired to truly help other women?

Is it because we feel that others must endure the same challenges and work similarly hard to get there?

Is it because we have internalized sexism that is hard to shake off?

Is it because we lose our empathy in the process of “making it”?

Is it because we unconsciously accept the struggles as unavoidable?

Is it because we’re stuck in a vicious cycle of a culture of women not sufficiently helping other women?

After analyzing this a good bit, I believe it’s a mix of all of the above.

It has taken over a decade for some of the world’s most successful women to speak up against harassment they had to endure from powerful men. Did no one think about how they could save other women by speaking up sooner?

While it’s an unrelated example, it points to the same underlying problems.

If you are reading this and you are a woman, I want you to take a moment to think about ways in which you can give back and help other women.

What challenges did we overcome and how can we help another woman avoid those challenges?

How did we get help when we needed it and how can we give back?

I’m certainly thinking about this — I’ll share my thoughts on how I plan to give back and pay it forward in another post.

There are plenty of men that have exhibited arrogant, dismissive, condescending, sexist and racist behaviors towards me. This post is not about them. This post is about one thing and only thing only.

Women are fighting unconscious and deliberate biases all the time. When some of us rise up against the odds, it is our responsibility to help other women avoid and overcome those struggles.

I met an incredibly down to earth founder of an extremely high profile unicorn in Silicon Valley yesterday. He arrived 5 minutes early to our meeting and spent an hour with me.

“I’ve certainly been helped by others before. So, I wanted to hear you out and see how I can help”, he said.

And that, ladies, is the key.

Once we break this cycle and start helping other women, that mentality will trickle down and we will create a culture of willingness and eagerness to help.

Some of you are already doing it. Thank you for that. I hope that many, if not most of us, will get there too!