On March 8, women around the world celebrated International Women’s Day to recognize women’s contributions to global communities and economies. International Women’s Day challenges us to combat gender inequality and asks us “to champion women of all backgrounds who dare to innovate, lead, and uplift others towards a more equal and inclusive workplace.”
To understand the dynamics influencing solidarity, Dr. Patti Giuffre, Professor of Sociology, co-authored a review entitled “Women’s relationships with women at work: Barriers to solidarity.” Dr. Giuffre and co-author, Dr. Gretchen Webber, identified three factors that discourage women from supporting each other at work: “(a) negative stereotypes about women, (b) lack of recognition of gender inequality, and (c) the devaluation of women’s relationships, groups, and networks.”
Negative gender stereotypes—such as being bossy, catty, or emotional—undermine women’s work and discourage solidarity. Research has reinforced these stereotypes by focusing on “queen bee” behaviors rather than the factors that contribute to these behaviors.
Similarly, gender inequality is often overlooked in favor of individualism. The assumption that individual actions lead to success. Individualism encourages women to downplay or ignore their experiences of bias or sexism. Competition prevails and structural issues that reinforce inequality are ignored.
Finally, devaluation of women’s work and networks, coupled with the association between masculinity and success, leads many women to “distance themselves” from support networks. Groups that aim to help women advance seemingly further the idea that women need “extra help” to succeed. Ultimately, these attitudes create barriers that limit the recognition of shared experience.
Drs. Giuffre and Webber argue for an examination of workplace practices and culture to combat gender inequality. Changing organizational processes, such as increasing support for women’s groups and encouraging men and women to challenge biases, can create an inclusive culture that facilitates solidarity and promotes equality.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we remember the women who have fought to end gender inequality. Dr. Giuffre’s research reminds us of the importance of women supporting women and the work that must still be done.