Erin Coupe is a real estate executive and guest columnist for Catalyst. This article originally appeared on Coupe’s LinkedIn.

 

Early in your career, it’s critical to feel supported. And for young women working in business (particularly male-dominant industries), it’s especially key to have support of other women.

Here’s a quick story about my first day in finance.

A large investment bank asked for my résumé when I was 24 years old. Pursuing this unexpected opportunity would change my life in more ways than I can describe here—mostly for the better, but others… not so much.

Twelve interviews later, I started my new job and was happy to be invited to lunch by two important men that I would be working with—the head of the department and the partner in charge. What they shared with me that day shocked me.

“We are very excited to have you join the team. You have an uphill battle, though. The woman you report to was the only person that did not want to hire you, but she had no professional reason not to and you received glowing reviews from all others.”

Uhm, what?! Why?! Did I just hear this correctly? I can’t turn around now, so what do I do?

This woman of influence had no real reason not to like me—she didn’t even know me outside of 45-minutes of interview time. For a long time, this relationship (or lack thereof), added tremendous anxiety and unnecessary pressure to my life. Every Friday at 4PM, I would have an hour-long one-on-one meeting with her and the anxiety leading up to the interrogation was the worst. All I would think about is how can I help her be kinder to me? How can I help her perceive me for who I am or get to know me better?

Years later I realized that my enthusiasm, optimism, genuineness, and confidence were things that this woman did not value in younger professional women. It wasn’t about me—she was projecting her own insecurities onto me. Dimming my light made her feel better. Perhaps it was that she felt competitive or threatened, or that it was my rite of passage to endure the challenges that she faced in reaching her own career goals.

This was a pivotal moment in my career. Honestly, I’m grateful for that woman. Rather than allow negative experiences to make me feel bitter, I made it my mission to rewrite the script.

She taught me exactly how I do not want to be treated. Despite her efforts, I maintained my hard work, respect for others, enthusiasm for people. Her influence was there at exactly the right time.

Instead of feeling unsupported, I subscribed to the mindset that life happens through you, not to you. I could allow my negative experiences to make me more pessimistic, defensive, or less willing to help others, but that’s not what I wanted. I did not want to change myself; I wanted to change my workplace to be more compassionate.

As I’ve advanced career, I’ve stayed true to myself and to being a leader, not a follower. I’ve invested in other women and supported them because I truly believe that the more you give, the more you receive. When you’re leading a team or mentoring another person, you are in a position to make an impression on people and create or enhance culture. If you treat people with respect, they are empowered and produce better work, helping not only your organization but also you to flourish. 

Being an empathetic leader is the right thing to do, but it’s also beneficial to your company.

But being a leader does not mean you have all of the control. To women just beginning their careers: reporting to someone else isn’t giving up power, it’s creating a relationship. Don’t give away what you have inside of you; if someone is draining you, it’s time to speak up and not be afraid to pursue other opportunities.

Believe in yourself and don’t let others make you feel as though you are not good enough. Use your intuition and know that you have everything within you that you need. Even if you are less experienced, recognize that you still have value to add as a person.

To all women who have felt unsupported by other women at work: rise above and support other women in ways that are natural to you. Surround yourself with like-minded women who you admire for their support and collaboration. Perform at your best while supporting the women along your path. It takes all of us joining together, promising to care for one another to create a workplace that fosters mentorship and growth.