Marsha Haygood had a humble beginning as a single mother from the projects. Eventually she moved up the corporate ladder to start her own successful consulting firm. She says she loves her job as an empowerment coach and that she is grateful for what she has. However, one of Haygood’s biggest struggles has been the realization that not all of her friends were rooting for her during her climb to the top.
“I was feeling guilty because I was working and climbing the corporate ladder. My friend on the other hand, didn’t have a good job. She resented it.” Haygood, now the founder and president of StepWise Associates, explained that her friend felt alienated by her corporate lifestyle and grew hostile in interactions with Haygood’s employees. Eventually, the two parted ways. Haygood said she stopped being remorseful for being more advanced in her career and accepted the situation for what it was.
“Not everybody is going to be moving up at the same pace. But sometimes the guilt is there when [your girlfriends] are not progressing as fast as you think they can or as fast as you want.”
Whether as the accomplished career woman or the down and out friend, we can all relate to Haygood’s story. Success inevitably breeds envy in all relationships, but it is an especially sensitive topic in relationships between women. From girlhood, we are conditioned to believe that we have to compete for everything: money, attention from the opposite sex, desirability, the best clothes, the best shoes, the best hair, the flashiest, most expensive homes. The irony is that women are stereotyped as being the less aggressive sex. Still, we deal with an underlying theme that there’s always a shortage of what women want and need—and that there’s only room for one or two of us at the top.
…we deal with an underlying theme that there’s always a shortage of what women want and need—and that there’s only room for one or two of us at the top.
The notion that there’s never enough to go around isn’t as petty and unfounded as it may seem. Sure, public perception about women’s capabilities and opportunities in the workplace has improved and grown more optimistic over time. But there is still a definitive wage and employment gap that sets the tone for women’s professions. The Pew Research Center found that women ages 25 to 34 were still only making about 93 percent of what men were making in 2012. There’s also the challenges that come along with motherhood that can potentially derail an otherwise successful career path. Fifty-one percent of women say that having children has made it harder to advance in their career versus only 16 percent of men.
It is challenging to get ahead when you are a woman—and when we are doing well for ourselves, it is easy for us to feel bad for leaving girlfriends and female relatives behind. On the flipside, it is easy to get salty or despondent when watching our girlfriends progress in their fields as we’re struggling to get by on our own. As a researcher eloquently noted in a 2007 UK study examining women’s friendships and communication habits: “Men focus on shared activities, women focus on shared feelings.” If there are disparities in the confidence a group of women feel about their respective career paths, it’s inevitable that those disparities will breed even the slightest amount of tension among them.
Sherry Sims, a career coach and the founder of Black Career Women’s Network warns that envy or disinterest in a female friend’s accomplishments is a red flag for a toxic relationship.
“If your friends or family members are not achieving that kind of success, there may be an underlying resentment there that you did not realize. This is especially the case when you’re trying to share your success with them…It’s good to support your friends in whatever level of success they’re trying to achieve but if it’s going to be hindering you, then you need to realign yourself.”
Sims goes on to explain that noting people’s reactions to you when you talk about your accomplishments is an easy way to vet who is cheering you on versus who is not.
“If you talk about something you achieved at work that is really important to you, look at their response. Are they a cheerleader? Or is there a lack of interest? The ones that may not be as happy for you are the ones that are silent.”
“The ones that may not be as happy for you are the ones that are silent.”
After looking at the data and talking to the experts, asking whether success hurt female relationships is met with a resounding and obvious yes. However, if we choose the right friends and foster the right kinds of relationships, success (or lack thereof) doesn’t have to be an issue. Ultimately, success—and the time constraints that come along with them—are only threats to relationships that are not based on love, respect and sacrifice.
“My friends and romantic interests realize how hard I hustle and work, and they know not to come to me with bullshit or drama,” Kathleen Adams said. Adams is a marketing professional based in New York. “If I wasn’t the way I am, then I would be surrounded by people who don’t get me.”
Marjuan Canady, an actress and author based in D.C. notes that focusing on one’s career is valuable for women, even if it is looked upon as being selfish or pretentious by some. For her, the bottom line in maintaining relationships while juggling success comes down to building a life with people who will keep you motivated.
“Often times, women are asked to be everything for everyone else and we rarely think about ourselves…If you have supportive people in your life who understand your goals and aspirations, I think it can work.”