Over the past 4 decades, women’s involvement in the workforce has evolved from the traditional support roles to managerial roles. Indeed, today’s workplace remains a male dominated environment, where women may build successful careers and hold equal positions as their male counterparts.

In light of International Woman’s Day and Women March at Deloitte, I wanted to take a moment and reflect on the ongoing developments in the professional workplace and draw attention to the dynamics of professional relationships among women within the traditional male dominated work environment. Whereas previously men more often filled managerial posts, women today are expected to adapt to working with one another and manage the growing likelihood of having a female boss and colleague.

As a relatively new dynamic, the interrelationships that coexist among working women naturally takes time to settle. Managing competing priorities and adjusting to the egos of ambitious women managing the peaks and troughs of professional and family life, naturally lead to tensions that may not have been experienced in a purely male dominated workplace.  Evidence of these tensions were highlighted by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, who provided evidence that suggested positive correlations between success and likability for men and negative correlations between the two for women.  She told the New York Times “As a man gets better, gets more successful, gets more powerful, gets to the corner office, everyone likes him better, men and women… As a woman gets more successful, everyone likes her less, men and women.” Moreover, a Gallup poll finds that more women would prefer to work for a man than for another female (40% prefer men, compared to 27% who prefer a female boss). What’s even more intriguing is the fact that research indicates that women sometimes exclude other women from opportunities or even impede their female colleague’s progress in order to gain a competitive edge.

In an age where women continue to struggle to develop gender equality and a female-friendly work condition, it is astonishing to observe the number of women who outwardly demonstrate apprehension and even at times hostility towards other professional females. One explanation for this phenomenon can be explained by what The Wall Street Journal calls a “Queen Bee Syndrome,” based on the findings of a study from the University of Michigan showing that women who achieved success in male-dominated environments were at times likely to oppose the rise of other women; largely because the patriarchal culture of work encouraged the few women who rose to the top to become obsessed with maintaining their authority. Another possible explanation would be the fact that management positions are still associated with traditional male behaviors and thus it is somewhat more acceptable and expected for men to lead.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, and as part of the initiative to accelerate women’s advancement within Deloitte and across the Middle East, I suggest as an initial step that women focus on empowering one another by progressively working and celebrating their success and achievement. Through the evolution within our own working environment, including the increasing proportion of female colleagues in our firm and the rise of women into leadership positions, I believe will lead to help change our unfounded preferences and tendencies and encourage female employees at Deloitte to pursue ambitious careers and capitalize on the strength that this diversity breathes within our workforce.

by: Youmna Saloumi, Consulting, Deloitte Middle East