#10 Why Women Leaders Must Support Each Other in the Corporate World with Unni Turrettini

The 360 Leadhership Podcast, Episode 10, 02 March 2022 by Lucy Gernon

What was it like working as a corporate lawyer in a wall street law firm?

Unni felt there was a lack of solidarity and support between women. She explains in her very first job in a Wall Street law firm. She approached the only senior woman and asked her to go to lunch and thought they would become friends. This woman was her inspiration and role model. Unni asked to go for coffee and this woman looks up and says “You and I will never be friends. There is only room for one woman in this firm”

This incident made Unni scared to approach other women in other jobs due to fear of their reaction to her.

In another job, there was another ice-cold, talented woman who was well respected. She would withhold information that Unni needed to do her job, which would make her look bad in front of her bosses. Unni felt there was no one she could talk to you. She managed to do a good job but it could have been a lot easier.

This woman’s hostility made Unni lose trust in her colleagues, she was always afraid of what she might do next. This made Unni feel lonely. This is was led Unni to her work today helping companies to create a culture of belonging.

Why are women like this?

Unni studied women and the relationship between women. Why do we have this unhealthy competition? There are a couple of issues:

  1. It’s been historically been difficult to make it in the corporate world. It is a male-dominated world in many sectors. In the sectors where there are a lot of women, women find it hard to connect and get the support they need from other women. There is instilled fear in women.

    When we step out of the home and into the home, there isn’t room for all of us. There is only room for a few or maybe just one. If we are not aware of this, it’s been instilled into us that we cannot be many women. That doesn’t create room for women to support other women.

  2. Lack of self-worth. Women know they are capable but there is a little voice in your head telling you “Who do you think you are?” Who are you to do this?” “You are not worthy to listen to”. We need to talk about this stuff more. Lucy shares how she never felt good enough, never felt worth and worked so hard to prove her worth, she missed out on life.

  3. Jealously. Women can feel threatened by other women instead of learning from successful women. Flip jealously to curiosity and learn from the woman you feel threatened by.

  4. The culture of not being allowed to make mistakes does not help, as there are threats, so women are just focused on getting it right as they are afraid of the repercussions. But this affects innovation and creativity. Communicate to your team that is ok to make mistakes and make changes. That’s where leaders get it wrong.

    Leaders don’t admit their mistakes and share their stories. If leaders do this, they will gain respect from their people.

Why sharing something you’re struggling with is a good thing

Start little by little. You don’t have to share your innermost secrets. Share something. When you have your weekly team meeting, do an exercise where each team member has 5 mins to share something that team members don’t know about them. It doesn’t have to be something embarrassing but this will build a connection. Or something you’re struggling with so people understand what you are going through.

Research shows that women need those close relationships more than men in the workplace yet many women don’t support one another. Women need to find a way to cultivate those social connections.

How to cultivate a culture of connection between women:

  1. Share stories to create connections and build trust.

  2. Implement a mentorship program where you mentor another woman who is less experienced than you. Take the younger woman with you to meetings, teach and support them. It’s important it’s woman to woman as that senior woman is your role model, not a man.

  3. Be more courageous and speak up when you need help. Research shows that when you make a thoughtful request, people respect us more. When you ask for help in a thoughtful way, you will get the support. Also, be open to receiving help, say thank you and receive it. Sometimes we can be suspicious to receive help and support as we are not used to it. Allow yourself to receive it.

3 things that corporate women leaders must do to support one another:

  1. Look at the ways in which you are afraid of helping another woman Start with the little things. Do the inner work to see what triggers you. Recognise where you see this sense of competition. “If i help her, what will happen to me?” Work on your self-worth and self-esteem.

  2. Take the initiative to bring up the connection piece in your organisation to create a sense of community where everyone feels valued, seen and heard. Encourage new voices to speak up with their ideas, even if they are silly, but welcome the ideas to encourage innovation and creativity.

  3. Implement a mentorship programme where everybody in the organisation has a mentor to support and guide. Have weekly or monthly check-ins. Have a coffee, brainstorm some ideas, give some advice on how to deal with senior people and little things that will help them in their work.

What happens when women support women:

Unni shares a story of her connection with a more experienced woman who supports her. This lady sends Unni messages checking in, encouraging her to “go get ‘em” and shares her stuff with Unni, so she can do her work better. That type of support makes Unni feel incredibly grateful for this woman and the mutual respect they have for each other.

When women support women, good things will happen.

The more positivity you put out, the more good things that happen to you.

The 2 best pieces of advice Unni has ever received:

  1. When you need something, ask for it. When you make a thoughtful request, research shows it will be granted.

  2. Dare to be you and don’t try to fit in. It’s ok if some people don’t like you. Just be you! Don’t hold back on your gifts.