I recently heard Lupita Nyong'o promising to partner with more female photographers in 2019.
It was on the evening of the 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards event late last year, and Instagram had partnered with her to capture the event through her eyes. As you can imagine, hearing her say this made me really happy - not only because of my love for photography, but also because it's always nice to hear a woman choosing to support other women.
Unfortunately, women supporting other women is rarely the case - especially in the workplace.
Having recently graduated from University, I'm currently mentally preparing myself to go back into the workplace, and I find that out of all the concerns I have about finding a job, the thought of working alongside other women is the one that troubles me the most...
Don't get me wrong - some of my past experiences working alongside women were pleasant. However, overall, I've had quite a number of negative experiences with women - be it in friendships, in school settings, or just in everyday social encounters.
I used to think that an enemy was someone who was openly hostile towards you. But I've learnt that the real enemy is someone who smiles to your face and pretends to be your friend, while gossiping about you behind your back, undermining you and your ideas in public, and divulging secrets which you told her in confidence, among other things.
Having experienced this, I now find it extremely difficult to open up about my life to other women, because I know that anything I say has the potential to be used against me in a different setting - regardless of how innocent it may be. I also find myself keeping women at a distance, because I've learnt the hard way that some of them don't always have good intentions towards other women.
This kind of behaviour can really affect a woman's self-worth. Being constantly put down by other women not only negatively affects your social life, but it can also affect how you see yourself as well as what you think of your capabilities in the workplace. In my experience, having my ideas undermined in public discouraged me from speaking out at work, as I didn't want to go through that again.
I initially thought it best to keep these experiences to myself. But once I started speaking to others about it, I realized that I'm not the only one who has experienced these things; there's actually quite a number of us out there going through - or who have gone through - something similar. What's more, speaking out showed me that it is a real problem that is still yet to be solved.
Some of the posts and conversations I see on social media platforms can fool you into believing that we are advancing more than we actually are in terms of women empowerment, and women standing together in solidarity. But the reality is a far cry from that. We can talk about change and progress as much as we want to, but if we aren't willing to put our money where our mouth is, we might as well stop pretending that we stand together at all.
We need to change the way we treat each other, and we can start doing so by following these simple steps:
1. Examining ourselves: A good first step is asking ourselves whether we have been or are currently guilty of this behaviour. If so, why do we do it? Why do we feel the need to treat other women in the workplace a certain way? Answering these questions honestly can go a long way in helping us find a solution to this problem.
2. Being intentional about forming healthy friendships with other women: Secondly, we need to get to know the women around us better. Having a wide range of conversations with other women will reveal to us that there's more to them than we think. We'll also realize that we have a lot more in common than we initially thought we did - shared struggles, shared fears, shared hopes and dreams - and that it probably makes more sense for us to be friends instead of enemies.
3. Magnifying each other's strengths: I love the quote, "Admire someone else's beauty without questioning your own." It simply means that admitting you admire the way another woman dresses, speaks or works doesn't make you less of a woman in any way, shape or form. If anything, it could tell you a bit more about yourself. We often admire things in other people that we would like to see in ourselves. So don't shy away from complimenting another woman or magnifying her strengths out loud. It's a great way to boost her confidence, and create an amicable atmosphere between the two of you. It's also a great way to exchange fashion tips, as well as work-related tips.
4. Remembering that we're all women: Regardless of what one woman may have that you feel you don't have - or what another woman may have achieved that you haven't yet achieved - don't forget that we're all working towards the same goals: equality and women empowerment. A victory for one of us is really a victory for all of us. And another woman's success is proof that you can be successful, too.
We need to shift our focus from just talking about women empowerment, and actually start doing something about it. Let's borrow a leaf from the likes of Lupita Nyong'o and put our money where our mouth is: find a woman today who you can support in one way or another. Compliment her, encourage her, befriend her.
This is how we make a difference, this is what real progress looks like.
And with that I'll leave you with a quote from the 19th Century writer, Elizabeth Holland: "As nobody can do more harm to a woman than a woman, perhaps one might reverse the maxim and say, nobody can do more good."
*Artwork below by Nicholle Kobi.