Two weeks ago, I met an “angel” in the restroom. Her name was Tiffany.
After a long day in our New York office, I had roughly 3.5 minutes to change in to some upscale clothes for a dinner event celebrating a wonderful occasion: Richard Edelman receiving the Committee for Economic Development’s (CED) Leadership in Diversity award for his and the firm’s commitment to help advance women to the most senior positions of the company.
I used about 45 seconds of my allotted time to change my clothes. I then attempted to use the remaining 2:45 to fasten a safety pin in a rather challenging place. I was about to give up, resigned to wearing my coat for the evening when a young woman I had never met – aka “angel’ – washing her hands next to me offered, “I may have some double sided tape in my desk drawer. Would you like me to get it?”
Was this my imagination? Is that a cell phone I hear or bells like from that scene in ‘Miracle on 34th Street’? Is this ‘Miracle on the Hudson’? Did an angel just get her wings?’
“Yes!!” I blurted.
She dashed out and floated back in with the tape in her hand and a smile on her face. She even helped me figure out how to put it on.
“Thank you,” I said. “I really appreciate your help.”
Women help other women in a myriad of ways in the workplace. We seek advice and give counsel. We network and make connections. We complain to and listen with empathetic ears. We openly discuss challenges and celebrate opportunities. We offer strategy or spare Blackberry chargers. We swap funny stories about client calls at kids’ soccer games, navigate maternity leave, vacation coverage and, yes, even sometimes, come to the rescue with an occasional wardrobe malfunction.
I often hear both sexes perpetuate the stereotype that some women don’t help other women succeed in the workplace. I vehemently disagree. To be clear and sure, of course there ARE women that don’t help other women – in the same way that there ARE men who don’t help other men. (Equal opportunity, if you will.) The entire idea that women somehow excel at this notion is – if you excuse the expression – a tired old wives tale that oversimplifies, offends and is simply not the case in today’s working world.
But don’t take my word for it. Research conducted by Catalyst, a non-profit organization that looks at women in the workplace, found that “most women aren’t in fact looking at their female subordinates as competition to be cut down. Rather, they view less experienced female coworkers as potential talent and are actually more likely than men to develop that talent through informal or formal mentorship.”
In my own career, I have the privilege each day of seeing senior women serve as sponsors and advocates for their more junior colleagues, their peers or even their bosses. A piece from the Huffington Post highlighting the findings of a Catalyst report titled ‘High Potentials In The Pipeline: Leaders Pay It Forward,’ states: “many of the men and women currently involved in talent development had themselves been developed by someone else. Of this group, 65 percent of women who had received career support went on to return the favor to the next batch of emerging leaders, compared to 56 percent of men. Out of the women who said they were developing talent, 73 percent said they are developing other women, the study showed. This contradicts the idea that the majority of powerful women are ‘Queen Bees’ who discriminate against the women they supervise.”
As we know from movies and from life, angels don’t need to wear actual wings to earn their status – a fact that’s far less indicative of a wardrobe malfunction as it is of colleagues helping colleagues – women helping women – each day in the workplace. Many have certainly helped and inspired me along the way. I now know a young woman named Tiffany who recently earned her wings. How will you earn yours today?
Gail Becker is chair of Canada, Latin America and U.S. Western Region