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.