Sisterhood sounds cliché but is vital in a corporate gender unequal world, particularly after COVID-19


Paola Olmas, Strategy Partner for Carat UK and Senior Cohort of dentsu's 2020 Women and Leadership Programme, shares her three top take-aways from the programme, and thoughts on how women supporting other women in the corporate world is crucial to make progress.

COVID-19 has had a regressive effect on gender equality. According to McKinsey Global Institute, women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs, due to the burden of unpaid childcare. Consequently, building and nourishing an all-female network has never been more important for women’s personal and professional development. My participation in Dentsu’s Women and Leadership programme taught me three valuable lessons of how to support, lift and help your female peers: 

1.     Letting go of judgment and ‘mind reading’ is essential to build a ‘circle of trust’

It’s no secret that women struggle with self-confidence more than men; today less than half of females personally identify with being confident (49%), according to KPMG. This often translates into ‘mind – reading’; anticipating how others are feeling and making assumptions of what they are thinking. And it’s accompanied by judgment - not only of yourself but other women who might be wildly different, and may seem better, than you. I quickly realised that to benefit from every single minute of the programme, I had to leave my pre-conceptions and insecurities at the door and approach every interaction as an opportunity to learn from the diversity of skills and leadership styles we all brought to the table. Only then was I truly able to build a real sense of connection and trust.

2.     Nothing replaces face-to-face connections

Investing the necessary time and finding the right space to connect with other women is extremely important to build strong relationships. Now more than ever – a year into a global pandemic where building relationships through a screen have become second nature for most of us – we must not forget that nothing replaces face to face. Nourishing relationships in person allow us to become more empathetic, forge stronger bonds and learn more instinctively…and a strict no devices policy is crucial! 

3.     Paying it forward is a moral imperative

In a gender unequal corporate world, women need to be able to lean on other women. However, research suggests[3] there is a discrepancy between our sense of duty in supporting other women and the reality of actually doing it: while 70% feel a personal obligation to help more women advance in the workplace, only 33% have learned to support other female employees. And we also find it hard to ask for help; 79% do not even feel confident enough to ask for a mentor and 92% struggle to ask for a sponsor. These are discouraging numbers because role models can be life-changing and transform your career. I realised quickly into the training that I had the responsibility to offer support to those who might need encouragement or inspiration, even if they don’t ask for it. In the same way, asking for senior leaders’ help is equally important, even if you might think that ‘they’re probably too busy’ or ‘why bother’. 

Sisterhood is an old concept and may sound terribly cliché. But it holds a universal truth: there is incredible value when women come together as a collective, creating a social, moral, and emotional connection. Until we achieve a gender equal workplace where female employees hold 50% of leadership positions women are at a disadvantage, particularly at times of global crisis. Development programmes such as WAL foster a sense of loyalty that allow female employees to build an empowered and effective network, generating opportunities for women’s leadership growth. 

[3] KPMG Women’s Leadership Study ‘Moving Women Forward into Leadership Roles’

This article first appeared on LinkedIn on Monday, 8 March 2021.

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