The Tyranny of Women Helping Women
The other day I received a phone call from a woman whom I met briefly three years ago at an event where I was speaking.
She wanted to have 30 minutes of my time to ask for some advice about how to proceed with a particular business deal.
Just 30 minutes of my time, she said, to get my insight and learn about how I built my business.
On the surface, it seems like a small ask. Perhaps you have made the same ask of someone before.
But in truth, asking for 30 minutes of a service-provider’s time to pick her brain is exactly like walking into an Apple store and asking for a MacBook for free.
It’s not on.
But in saying ‘no’ to the request, I knew that I was contravening the sacred “women helping women” rule of modern women’s empowerment, which (unofficially) states that when a fellow woman asks you for help or wants to collaborate, you must say yes…
Or you are not a woman helping a woman.
It’s an implicit social pressure which, for a modern woman entrepreneur who has a professional career, a personal life, and you know, a mind, body and spirit to nurture, is borderline tyrannical.
Let’s examine this trend a little closer, shall we?
Each week, I receive anywhere from 3 to a dozen requests to have cups of coffee to pick my brain or gain my insight and advice.
Sometimes these are people who have discovered my work online. Other times well-intentioned people in my network have referred them to me.
If I said yes to everyone, I would devote 1/5th of my working hours consulting for free.
I am not alone in the tide of free consultations and brain picks.
I recently spoke with a powerhouse woman in business who will receive phone calls from friends and colleagues on a weekly basis asking if she could “just meet with this lovely up and coming entrepreneur for a quick cup of coffee.”
Many of the high powered women CEOs I consult with deal with similar influxes of coffee date requests.
Each of these requests throws these women into a quandary. Do they say “yes” to a request and end up prioritizing something that is in fact, not a priority? Or do they say “no” and face guilt — and very real social consequences of being perceived as selfish or unhelpful?
Let’s be clear. There is no such thing as a quick cup of coffee, OK? Coffee means getting dressed, putting on makeup, getting in a car, and leaning into a conversation. There’s nothing quick about that.
And while I am in favour of women asking for help, I am also in favour of women claiming their power to say no and ultimately asserting their boundaries.
In the beginning of my entrepreneurial path, I said yes to every single one of these requests.
Today I redirect them to other channels (more on that in a moment).
The hardest part was not learning the practical “how to” of redirecting a request for free coaching back into our internal business systems.
Rather, the hardest part was getting over my own fear of making other people mad or having them not like me because I wasn’t willing to say yes to their request.
But you know who suffers when I fail to “woman up” and honour my boundaries?
When I cave to the social pressures that women are always kind and giving — especially of their time — I rob from myself to give to other people.
And that’s why I won’t do it. I won’t compromise my sacred boundaries to accommodate anyone, even the rule about “women helping women.”
Does this mean you shouldn’t ask to meet with people?
Of course not. Just don’t take it personally if you get a no.
Today, I review the requests that come in and say YES to those that are win-win and strategically aligned with where my team and I are going. I also say YES to one or two requests if I truly feel like it…i.e. not because I’m caving to the pressure to be nice and giving of my time.
And for the requests I cannot make time for, I simply redirect the person to my podcast, blog or monthly free trainings, where I offer up the contents of my brain on an almost daily basis.
For now, this is what I have to offer. And I’m OK with it.
Now you may not get the ongoing brain pick requests. But perhaps the “say yes” pressure comes from other sources — family members, community groups, clients — who lean on you and place unintentional pressure on you to put YOU last.
Don’t do it, fierce one.
Put your own oxygen mask on first.
Remember that when it comes to “women helping women”, the first woman you need to help is yourself.
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