There’s a persistent perception that a woman’s worst enemy in the workplace is a powerful woman. We even have a name for these ultra-competitive female bosses: queen bees.
“If you approach one for advice, instead of opening a door, she’ll shut the door before you can even get your foot in,” Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, and Adam Grant write in The New York Times.
Fortunately, most of the real-life women I know are more interested in supporting and sustaining other women than in combatting them. The friend network that was such an important part of my high school experience still exists. Some of us get together frequently, while those who don’t live near each other stay connected via social media. The glue that really holds us together, however, is our annual Girls Weekend. Imagine. Ten women, who have been friends for more than 30 years, get together every summer without fail. How blessed we are.
At Lafayette my initial friendships were forged in the horseshoe-shaped hallway that was first-floor Ruef.
We’d sit on the carpet, legs outstretched, and talk for hours. There was always someone available with whom to study, commiserate, or celebrate. These friendships, too, continue to this day, and have only grown stronger and more meaningful with time. Watching Lafayette beat Lehigh in Yankee Stadium was incredible, but what was most memorable about my weekend in the city was the time spent with close female friends.
When I pledged Delta Gamma sorority, I became part of a community of women who were committed to bringing out the best in each other. My sisters visited me in the health center when I had bronchitis, tutored me when I struggled with econ, passed along a great babysitting job, and boosted my confidence too many times to count. Friends in other Lafayette sororities reported similar experiences.
Women also have been instrumental in my career. “Learn as much about computers as you can,” advised the female office manager at Pillsbury, where I worked for two years after graduation. Not only did she spend many patient hours showing me how to make complex spreadsheets, but she also convinced our male boss to enroll me in outside computer classes. Thanks to her, I acquired invaluable technology expertise.
A veteran educator volunteered to be my mentor after I got my first middle school teaching job. Had she not, I don’t know how I would ever have survived my first time teaching Animal Farm and Romeo and Juliet to flocks of energetic eighth-graders.
After I made the switch from middle school to high school, the department head met with me frequently to share her lesson plans and model the teaching of challenging texts. She also handed me a red folder, saying, “This is a place for you to keep all of the thank-you notes and compliments you’re going to receive.” Now retired, she continues to be a cherished adviser and friend.
Sandberg and Grant’s research shows that “queen bees exist, but they’re far less common than we think.” Makes sense to me. Time after time I’ve been blessed with the guidance and friendship of amazing women like my mom, aunts, and extended family members; friends from childhood, marriage, and motherhood; professors, supervisors, and teaching colleagues; and, of course, my fellow lady Leopards.
Jennifer Woodworth Sulc ’92 is a writer and teacher who lives in Hanover, Mass.
In memory of Laura Martin ’92, one of the finest women ever to grace first-floor Ruef.