Five Myths That Cause Women To Compete

What works for men does not always work for women, because success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. That’s what the research shows. As a man gets more successful, everyone is rooting for him. As a woman gets more successful, both men and women like her less.

—Sheryl Sandberg

What are the Myths?

According to the United States Department of Labor, women make up 47% of the workforce. So, with those kinds of numbers, why do so many ambitious, motivated women feel like the workplace is a battlefield? Here are five myths that cause women to compete with, rather than support, each other’s progress.

There’s not room for all of us to succeed

One of the biggest myths we are afraid of is that there is not enough room for all of us to succeed. If this were true, why wouldn’t it apply to men just as much as women? We seem to think that there is ample opportunity for men to succeed, but that the opportunity for women is limited. This couldn’t be further from the truth; there is room and opportunity for all of us to succeed. While we can’t all hold the same position in the same organization, there are an abundance of leadership and entrepreneurial opportunities as well as opportunities to make a valuable contribution or meaningful impact if we keep our eyes and minds open.

To overcome this myth, we must learn that EVERY woman can make a difference. We must work together to overcome the challenges we face in the workplace.

We need to change our perception that there are only a few seats at the table for powerful women. It’s up to us to bring about positive change. We need each other’s support; no one should feel like they have to go it alone.

We must compete at a man’s game

Another myth is that we, as women, must compete at a man’s game and on their terms. We now make up 47% of the workforce, why do we feel like we are playing on the competition’s home turf? Most people still seem to feel more comfortable when a man is in charge. As women, we face criticism when they act like a boss. The cards are already stacked against women; so, it’s up to us to change the game.

When we compete with one another, we play right into the man’s game.

To overcome this myth, we should be supporting each other in our quest to fill high-power positions.

Women are every bit as capable as men to fill leadership roles; we need to stop undermining each other by harshly judging, spreading rumors, and acting like catty, high school teenagers.

It’s survival of the fittest

It is a myth that, in business, only the fittest survive. This promotes an ‘every woman for herself’ mentality. It encourages an attitude of exclusion rather than inclusion. The truth is, when we help each other, we all succeed.

To overcome this myth we must learn to value each other’s passion and contributions.

We must create an environment of trust where women can feel safe to share ideas and know they will be taken seriously. Instead of hoarding our wisdom and experience for our own benefit, we need to provide mentorship for other women and create great role models for others to follow. We are stronger when we work together.

If we bring others down it brings us up

One of the most dangerous myths that affects both our personal and professional lives is that if we put others down we will look and feel better about ourselves. This only works in the short-term, over time this behavior actually destroys our own self-esteem and sabotages our chances of success. Putting others down not only negatively affects how you feel about yourself, but also how other people perceive you.

If we are going to overcome this myth, we have to learn to work together instead of against each other.

We all have strengths and weaknesses and something of value to contribute. We need to help bring out the best in each other, rather than tear each other down. Your actions speak to your character and your values; consciously focus your behavior on the message you are sending about yourself.

Our emotions are a weakness

One of the main myths we believe is that we must compensate for our emotions by showing that we can be tough and ruthless. But, emotional intelligence and empathy have been proven to be leadership strengths, not weaknesses. Great leaders are passionate and that passion often translates into emotion. But, women are more likely than men to be labeled as emotional versus passionate.

So, how do we overcome this myth? First, stop apologizing for showing your emotions.

You allowing yourself to be feminine or emotional is never an excuse for others to treat you as weak, do not permit it. Being courageous enough to be in touch with, and acknowledge, our own emotions allows us to understand and empathize with the emotions of others; this is one of our greatest strengths, not a weakness.

Change the Game

As women, we need to take an active role in overcoming these myths and supporting each other. When we compete against one another we are missing a huge opportunity. When we refuse to let these myths govern our behavior we are operating outside of, what have become, cultural norms; this can cause discomfort. Well, get comfortable being uncomfortable.

We need to capitalize on the collaborative intelligence we have as women. Start building bridges that give all women a hand up. Share opportunities with each other. Be compassionate, inclusive, and generous. We are each responsible for how we choose to behave; choose behaviors that are encouraging and supportive of other women. Let’s change the game.


Dr. Liz Stincelli
Dr. Liz Stincelli
LIZ is passionate about recognizing, inspiring, and igniting the leader in each of us. She focuses on helping organizations change attitudes, change communication dynamics, improve collaboration and problem-solving, engage employees, and strengthen organizational culture. Liz holds a Doctor of Management degree with an emphasis on organizational leadership. Liz offers 20+ years of pro-active operations management, problem-solving, team-building, human resources, accounting, and business administration experience in a variety of industries. She serves on the Editorial Review Board for the Independent Journal of Management and Production and the Journal of Managerial Psychology. She has also been a guest lecturer at the Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business, Westminster College.

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  1. An interesting perspective, Liz. I have never spent much time in the corporate world but my observations actually welcome women in managerial and leadership positions. I believe women bring a more compassionate ideal to business (and leadership) which makes for a better environment for those whom they are leading.
    Men seem to focus more on profit no matter what kind of disruption it brings to those who are attempting to make the business profitable.

    • Thank you for sharing your perspective, John. I do think that organizations are starting to appreciate the contributions that female leaders can make and are embracing their inclusion in management more. I still think, however, that women have a long way to go in overcoming the stigma that has surrounded them in the corporate world for decades.