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Why senior women should help junior women in the workplace

When Carly Post was a month out from giving birth she had what she calls a ‘pregnancy epiphany’. ‘Usually getting pregnant is something that stalls a career rather than launches it,’ she says. ‘(But) it made me realise that life is too short to do anything less than tolerable.’

So, at eight months pregnant, she started her own PR company, right there at her kitchen table. Now, six short years later, she has a staff of five, a big, beautiful office and about 40 clients on retainers. ‘It’s just exploded,’ she says.

Her experience of growing Circus Media while growing a human has made Carly ‘passionate about supporting working mothers’.

The unfortunate truth is, workplace gender inequality still exists, and it makes it difficult for women to get a leg-up. This is why it’s becoming all the more paramount that senior women – who know the hardships of breaking through the glass ceiling better than anyone – support junior women in the workplace.

‘I don’t know why anyone would ever say females are the weaker sex,’ she says. ‘What we have to do, especially if you want to have kids and still have a career, it’s pretty amazing.’

Walk, nay run, the road less travelled – and be prepared for others to follow

There are many different paths to the top. And Carly has never been one for doing things the traditional way. ‘As soon as I started a PR degree I absolutely loved it and knew it was what I was meant to be doing,’ she says. ‘But after a semester…I was itching to put what I was learning into practice.’

She switched to online study so she could study and work simultaneously. By the time she graduated, almost 10 years later, she was already a project marketing manager for a major property developer.

This may not be the way you visualise yourself progressing your career, but it does highlight the advantages of gaining work experience early in your studies. Entering the workforce, not only as a woman, but with little experience under your belt can be wildly intimidating, and if you’re a woman who’s worked her way to the top, you’ll likely be able to vouch for that.

However, it also illustrates the importance of being an ally to the young women seeking to follow in your footsteps. The belief still exists that senior women don’t – or won’t – help junior women in the workplace, but it often isn’t – and shouldn’t – be true.

Acknowledge the barriers of workplace gender inequality

‘It makes the things that women are doing all that more remarkable,’ Carly says. ‘Knowing some of the barriers they’ve (faced).’

Being forced to wear high heels to work is only the tip of the iceberg of workplace gender inequality. A 2020 Women in the Workplace study found that, women are less likely than men to be hired into entry-level jobs, despite earning more bachelor degrees.

The study goes on to say that this ‘early inequality has a profound impact on the talent pipeline. Starting at the manager level, there are significantly fewer women to promote.’ As a result, at that very first step-up to manager, the disparity between men and women in the workplace widens even further. If you’re a woman of colour, it’s even worse.

'It makes the things that women are doing all that more remarkable knowing some of the barriers they’ve (faced).'

Carly Post,
Public relations graduate, Deakin University

Why don’t women help other women at work?

Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, famously said, ‘There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.’

Sadly there are plenty of senior women who distance themselves from junior women. Perhaps, says Anne Welsh McNulty, to be more accepted by their male peers or perhaps because of ‘the feeling of competition for an imaginary quota at the top’. A study published in The Leadership Quarterly concluded that this is a response to inequality at the top, rather than the cause.

But what can you do to change that response – and the culture that breeds it?

Give your fellow female colleagues your time

Carly believes that, ‘sharing your expertise and mentoring other women is only going to make the world better for us all. It builds a community of women who supports each other and shares opportunities.’

She believes the best way senior women can support junior women is to ‘give them some time.’ Have a coffee, answer questions, share some tips and give encouragement.

Carly has a lot of coffees and chats with women seeking advice. Recently someone got in touch to say she wants to go back to uni, but she’s a single mum with a young son and is scared of failing. ‘I don’t know how you do it,’ she wrote.

Carly was frank. ‘I said, look, for starters what you see on social media is… what I want you to see – you don’t see all the hard stuff!’ She talked honestly about her support networks and what it takes to balance study and a career with motherhood. She talked honestly, but encouragingly. ‘I was trying to reassure her that, yes, you can do it.’ By the end of their conversation, the woman had decided to enrol.

‘If I can have some kind of positive effect on (women) to think about things differently or see other opportunities, that’s really important to me,’ says Carly.

If that’s important for you too, there are countless ways you can support the women around you. Even something as small as avoiding office gossip and not bad-mouthing other women – perhaps even standing up for the individual if you know them.

Organising women’s lunches – despite sounding cliché – gives women an opportunity to come together in a safe and welcoming space to support one another.

Becoming an advocate for young women looking for career progression, if you’re in a position to do so, is another great way to encourage women at work, and beat the culture of inequality when it comes to promotions and senior roles.

‘Have a crack and I’ll have your back’

When it comes to encouraging young women, Carly provides ‘a robust experience’ for her interns – so far, all women.

‘They work with a diverse range of clients and projects and really get a taste of what agency life is like. We try and include them in everything we do… give them tasks where it’s “have a crack and I’ll have your back” not just make them get the coffees.’

Her interns often return to Circus Media for work and events. ‘It’s like building an extended family!’

What better way to describe a workplace than that?

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