Yesterday I had a thought-provoking conversation with a 40-something, very successful woman in finance. She said she resented when women acted entitled to her help, simply on the basis of their shared gender. She said she liked to help “people” (not just women). I simultaneously empathized and recoiled from her statement.
I empathized in the following sense. Consider the recent moment of levity in international relations when Presidents Obama and Putin (who are not exactly friends) each said they would pull the other man aboard to save them from drowning in a shipwreck. Outside of life-and-death situations, the motivation to help someone becomes more complex. Many people are inclined to help those affiliated with them: family, friends, and acquaintances. Even with perfect strangers, affiliations still matter. That is why we see alumni networks, and clusters of people who share a hometown, appearance, or personality type.
I recoiled from her comment because I think its unlikely that a woman would seek her help only because of her gender. My guess is that they sought her out for her unique, rare success in a male-dominated field and because she seems like a friendly, open person. Its virtually never the case that all we know about someone is their gender. On Fairygodboss, you get a sense of who someone is by their comments and employment history. And most professional appeals for help come with at least some basic information from the person asking. So while a woman shouldn’t expect another woman to help her simply because of her gender, I think its highly unlikely for that to happen in the first place.
In some ways, it feels silly to have to write a post about something that seems fairly obvious. But people often ask me, “Do women help women?” “Do women help other women just because they are women?” And of course, there are comments like the one that inspired this post.