Rosa Brooks hates Sheryl Sandberg.
Or at least that’s what she professed this week in one of the most discussed articles in the Washington Post. Her biting first-person commentary about women’s expectations—in their lives and careers—has many women up in arms. Not because she very sarcastically describes herself as a woman “who wants it all,” but allows everyone else to determine what “it all” should be for her. And not as much because she missed the main point of the book—that if this is what you want at this point in your life, go for it…be all in…don’t accept stereotypes—because it’s hard to miss the stereotype she so aptly drew of herself.
Most women are angry because she says she hates Sheryl Sandberg.
One would think by the commentary that is swirling around this article that its point was to show disdain for Sandberg’s success. Whether intentional or not, Brooks’s comment has raised an ugly question: Do women have a tendency to undercut each other’s success, rather than pull each other up?
“We talk a lot about women supporting women. The dirty little not-so-secret is that women also sometimes undercut other women and sabotage their careers,” says Dr. Barbara Brock, professor of education at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, in her paper “When Sisters Turn into Saboteurs.”
Brock says she never planned to study this topic. It emerged from her research for a forthcoming book on principals dealing with difficult teachers. But she noticed that women’s responses were different from men’s, and that emotional overtones marked women principals’ accounts of women teachers whom they found difficult.
Why does the “mean girl” attitude exist around career advancement? Is it due to a lack of internal support? Or perceived segregation in the workplace? Or a lack of trust that stems from a bad experience? We’d like to know what you think. Because if we don’t talk about it, it will continue.
And it’s as important to lean on each other as it is to lean in.