Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Shine bright like a diamond

My favorite episode of IT Crowd is "Italian for Beginners.”  It focuses on Jen, one of two women at a meeting of department heads at Reynholm Industries.  The other woman, Linda, is running in place as she gives a presentation on her suggestions for the company.  When asked about it, Laura informs the group that she is doing a virtual triathlon to benefit orphans. Mr. Reynholm then proclaims, "Linda, you're the best woman." 

The rest of the episode follows Jen as she pretends to speak Italian so that she can impress the board room and beat Linda for the title of Best Woman, alienating a valuable resource in the process.  In a world where most board rooms look just like the one in IT Crowd, it's all too common for women across industries to be competing with each other to not just be the "best woman," but to even get in the room.  But is that the best approach?

In her 2013 New York Magazine article "Shine Theory: How to Stop Female Competition" Ann Friedman suggests another way.  She encourages women to identify those women who inspire feelings of jealousy and competition, and befriend them.  "Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison." she says, "It makes you better."

Friedman points out that associating yourself with cool, accomplished women immediately makes you seem more interesting and accomplished in the eyes of people who know you.  Sure, my friend is obviously the most amazing person for having sold her first company in her senior year of college.  But how cool am I for being someone she wants to be friends with? Friedman also points out the career benefits of having successful friends--those are the women that will be recommending you in life.  Or conversely you may have an opportunity to recommend one of them for your company, and that's going to reflect well on you.  Shine Theory is all about believing and acting on the idea of "if you shine, I shine."

Perhaps pinning my hopes that board room demographics will shift on Shine Theory is a touch fanciful.  But, I do truly believe that choosing to act against the stereotype that women are constantly competing with other women is a huge step in that direction.  If Jen had embraced Shine Theory, she and Linda could have made a valuable contribution to Reynholm Industries.  Not only that, but they could have spent energy on things they actually care about, rather than fighting over title handed to them by a man.  


Earnest Femingway said...

Josie, such a timely post considering the recent revelation of how women on Obama's staff would support each other in group settings. Their amplification tactic worked well in what is likely one of the most hyper-masculine work spaces in our country. While there is much work to be done, this type of ingenuity in the face of adversity gives me encouragement that a more egalitarian, and gender-equal workplace culture can be achieved. I really appreciate you shedding light on this phenomenon; I don't think you are being to fanciful. Positive examples give us fuel to fight through the impossible moments.

Here is the link to the Washington Post article discussing the staffers:

Julie Maguire said...


I really appreciate the content of this post. The competition that is presumed between women of all ages is a thing that really bothers me. It is as though the concept of more than one woman being successful at any given time is preposterous. Women should be encouraged to celebrate each others' achievements as opposed to being envious.

To play devil's advocate, however, it can sometimes be the case, as a result of this competitive atmosphere, that successful women can occasionally look down on others who are lacking in success akin to theirs. There can often be a tendency for women to feel they are looked down upon when they do not amount to a particular standard in their given field. Is the pressure put on women from themselves? Or is it from the women that consider themselves superior?

Kyle Kate Dudley said...

I love this Shine Theory idea. How can we as women combat the misogyny, implicit bias, and historical oppression if we're busy fighting each other? In a Huffington Post article earlier this year, Julia Abbiss wrote: "I read this great quote recently that said, 'Behind every successful woman, is a tribe of other successful women that have her back.' It’s important to recognize that this tribe is not just populated by the women in your immediate circle. Instead, I believe that women are at their strongest when they consider every woman from every walk of life as a member of their tribe."

I think the way we might begin to practice the "you shine, I shine" concept in our daily lives is to consistently consider this idea of the tribe of women from every background and every corner of the world. If the women in our immediate 'tribes' are not helping us, we can perhaps remind ourselves that other women have supported us and will in the future, whether we see their support directly or not.

Kyle Kate Dudley said...
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Kyle Kate Dudley said...

PS: It helps to have this Feminist Legal Theory class, and know, firmly, that we're part of each other's 'tribe.'

Joan Maya said...

Like Kyle Kate I also really like the Shine Theory idea. I also think your blog post brings up the issue of women sometimes being the greatest obstacles for the success of other women - something I feel like has been mentioned a few times in class. For example, like in Misrepresentation when they were interviewing Gavin Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco, he mentioned how when he appointed the first female fire chief and police chief women, not men, were the ones that were the most upset (saying it was too much progress too fast). I have often wondered why women are so critical of one another, and why we often do not rejoice in another women's success. I am sure the answer is multi-faceted and different depending on the situation, but it would be a very interesting discussion to bring into the class.

Flamingo said...

Thank you for this post, Josie! I find the Shine Theory to be compelling too.
Moreover, I think that we could apply this to the every-day life as well and not limit it to success in life or at the workplace. For example, I often hear women commenting each other harshly, about clothing, manners, behaviors, relationships... It might be useful to apply the shine theory in these instances and refrain from saying bad things and judging people that we don't even know (for instance in the streets). The idea is to collaborate in order to all be able to shine together. Looking down on people helps no one to shine, especially not the person who is looking down.
In my opinion, this also includes complimenting people. If we like someone's outfit or hair or whatever, best just to say it! And to men as well, as I am pretty sure they generally receive less compliments. Yet everyone enjoys compliments and just one of them can make a day instantly better! I feel like complimenting strangers is more common in the US than in Europe, which is inspiring.

mxengel said...

Thanks for the great post as well as the article! I had never thought about working environments like this, and I think it is a great idea.

It is hard being the only minority, but it sometimes is harder when there are two, because then comparisons are made between the two. And while Shine Theory is great outlook to have while there are not a lot of diversity at a corporation, it does not necessarily help the company get more diversified. I think that this is a great outlook to have, and can definitely be a part of a bigger solution, but that Shine Theory by itself will not solve the under representation at corporations. That being said, there is no be all, end all or correct way to achieve diversity, nor on how to survive non-diverse work environments. But I really love this theory of lifting up other people, and think that this a great place to start to try to help minorities at a workplace and to diversify a workplace.

Additionally, I wish more law students took this approach. We all compete for the same jobs and grades, that it can be easy to see each other as competition. And we are competition, but we should want to friend and learn from those getting good grades, or with connections, or who seem to do great at interviews. I think if we did that, and started to try to learn from each other and friend each other instead of just envying each other, this whole process would be a lot easier.

Again, loved the post, and really appreciate what you had to say!