Why we need to normalise female rivalry

by Feb 27, 2024

We need to normalise female rivalry

Normalise female rivalry for women to advance gender balance and don’t conflate it with toxic behaviours.


In recent years, there has been a growing conversation about the dynamics of female rivalry and its impact on women’s empowerment and career success. We see lots of calls for “sorority;” a term which comes from the US college residence system. It’s laced with privilege so I am not a fan. And of course the much-quoted line from the late Madeleine Albright

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.” 

What we need to do is normalise female rivalry rather than stigmatise it.

Female rivalry is complex and often portrayed negatively in the media and movies, (remember Mean Girls and Black Swan?) Rather than dismissing it as inherently destructive, we need to normalise and accept it as part of women’s path to gender balance. As more and more women strive for career success and there are fewer places at the top of the pyramid, it is completely normal that there will be competition. We would never tell men not to be competitive!


normalise female rivalry

Toxic behaviours

We shouldn’t confuse female rivalry with bullying and other toxic behaviours. One in five women are bullied by another woman. Some of the other unhealthy behaviours are incorporated into organisational research with names such as Queen Bee and the Crab Bucket Syndromes. This is where women usually, slyly or as a result of their own unconscious biases, undermine other women by:

  • spreading rumours or gossip
  • excluding other women from opportunities
  • actively working to undermine their efforts.
  • withholding information

But do you think that men don’t do that and do we give their behaviour a special name?


Worth a listen: When Does Female Rivalry Turn into Sabotage – 3 Plus International


Not all women are the same

Women, like any other group, are not homogenous. We come from diverse backgrounds and experiences and will have different goals, priorities, and perspectives. Acknowledging and normalising female rivalry means accepting that reality.

Just as men have conflicts, women too have their differences and disagreements. Viewing female competition as normal allows us to move past the expectation of this fake full-time collaborative sisterhood and recognise our diversity.

I have said openly there are some women whose views and behaviours are so diametrically opposed to my vision and values that there is no way I could collaborate with or support them because of their gender.

Challenging stereotypes and stigma

The female stereotype of women is that we are inherently nurturing, cooperative, and conflict-averse, while men are depicted as competitive and assertive. I know women who have all the maternal instincts and emotional intelligence of a concrete slab and men who are highly collaborative and empathetic.

When women look for success in the workplace they are already bucking these deeply embedded cultural stereotypes. Women have always been competitive, but they were not allowed to show it. Go to any neighborhood cake or gardening competition and you will see it out in the open. They are competitive about their homes, kids, waistlines, recipes, and even the way they give birth. Note that these are all part of their traditional roles which don’t rock the male boat.

Why would anyone expect that to stop in the workplace? Stigmatising female rivalry is just another way of holding us back when we should accept it as a normal part of workplace interaction.

Healthy competition

Healthy competition is a potent source of personal growth and achievement. Normalising female rivalry involves reframing it as a constructive rather than a destructive force. When women compete with each other healthily and fairly, it can lead to increased motivation, ambition, and ultimately, empowerment.

When female rivalry is associated with sabotage and antipathy in the “mean girls” way, no women benefit at all. It’s important to foster solidarity to support to build deeper connections and especially to bring on new talent. But it’s also important to discuss differences and conflicts openly and constructively, to build stronger relationships based on honesty, respect, and mutual understanding.

Normalising female rivalry is essential for all women to advance gender balance and not conflate it with toxic behaviours.


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Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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