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 Under Attack?
Think another woman is out to get you? Here's how to watch your back.
By Aliza Pilar Sherman

Do women sabotage other women in business, and, if so, what can be done about it? We asked two experts with differing views for advice. "Women are relationship-focused," says Cheryl Dellasega, associate professor at Penn State University College of Medicine at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and co-author of Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying. "Early on, women learn their connections with each other can be very powerful or very damaging." Dellasega believes women who learn to get their way through aggression as girls continue these behaviors throughout life. "They may not even be aware of how sabotaging their behavior is."

According to Julie Overholt, a professional certified executive coach and certified behavioral analyst in Plano, Texas, sabotage is committed by anyone—male or female—who feels powerless. "Women running businesses are not powerless and, in my experience, are far less inclined to sabotage other women," says Overholt. "Women entrepreneurs understand the real, long-term value of building relationships instead of burning bridges."

For her next book, due out in 2005, Dellasega spoke with many women in business and found women often sabotage other women out of a belief that "if you succeed, it takes something away from me." Sabotage can manifest itself in many ways, including "failing" to pass along opportunities that might benefit another woman or sharing them with her competitors instead. Saboteurs may also speak disparagingly about the other woman or choose not to refer clients or business to her.

Overholt says if a woman thinks she has been sabotaged, it could be because, in trying to understand what she is experiencing, she may be looking for evidence in situations and observations that validate her suspicion she is being sabotaged. "If they need to believe that women sabotage women to justify their own experience, then that's what they will find."

Whether the sabotage is real or perceived, both Overholt and Dellasega have advice for women business owners who believe they have been sabotaged. "Honor your fear, but keep in mind that fear is a caution sign, not a red light, so proceed with caution," says Overholt. "Ask questions of people you respect and who respect you. Listen carefully to their replies. Look dispassionately at the evidence you gather about how women business owners behave toward other women entrepreneurs. Does the evidence support your fear? Or does it lead to a different conclusion?" She also advises looking within and asking yourself if you have some responsibility in what you are experiencing.

Dellasega suggests several ways to protect yourself from sabotage: Surround yourself with a solid network of women you know from experience to be positive resources and great supporters. And get to know other women you're thinking of associating with before sharing ideas and connections.

If you feel you have been sabotaged by another woman in business, Dellasega says sometimes the best thing to do is to rise above it and turn to your personal and professional network for support. "There can be legal options for restitution, but these remedies take time," explains Dellasega. "For women, the emotional connotations attached to sabotage often do the most damage." In speaking with women who feel they have been sabotaged, she heard less about the material damage and more about the pain of betrayal.

Overholt suggests if you believe another woman has sabotaged you, you should be open, honest and direct in questioning the woman. "Often, we find other people are acting out of their needs and really not thinking about us. Any harm they do us is unintentional," she says. "Calling it to that woman's attention in a forthright manner is a good way to find out her true intention."                    End

Aliza Pilar Sherman ( is an author, freelance writer and speaker specializing in women's issues.

Same-Sex Marriage in U.S. Cities
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ignited a nationwide furor when he ordered city clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on February 12, 2004. Following his lead, a number of other U.S. cities began granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Over 4,000 same-sex couples were married in San Francisco before the California Supreme Court, on March 11, ordered the city to stop issuing marriage licenses. In June, the court will decide a narrow constitutional issue: whether Mayor Newsom had the right to follow his own interpretation of the California constitution even though it conflicted with Propsition 22 -- the California law that says that marriage can be between only one man and one woman. The court will also probably decide whether or not the marriages that were performed before the court order are valid.

The California Supreme Court will also have to look at the broader legal issues surrounding same-sex marriage, because the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Center for Lesbian Rights have filed legal challenges to Proposition 22. These will take some time to move through the courts, but should result in a high court decision about whether discrimination against same-sex couples in the realm of marriage is legal.

The U.S. Congress is poised to consider a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. In the meantime, marriages continue in New Paltz, New York, despite New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer's declaration that the weddings are illegal, and in Multnomah County, Oregon. Two clergypeople have been charged with crimes in New York for performing same-sex weddings in defiance of Spitzer's order.

It's unclear what cities, counties, and states will recognize marriages from the few locations where they are or have been available. There are also questions about the impact of marriage on a couple's existing domestic partnership or civil union. Gay and lesbian families are in uncharted legal territory, and the status of same-sex marriage changes from day to day and week to week. For the most current information, check out the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund at, the National Center for Lesbian Rights at, and Equality California at


California Enacts Sweeping New Domestic Partner Law for 2005
Registered domestic partners in California will have many new rights and responsibilities under AB 205, the new domestic partner law that goes into effect on January 1, 2005.

Under AB 205, registered domestic partners will be entitled to the same legal treatment as spouses in most areas of state law: Community property laws will apply, as will the right to seek support from one's partner after a breakup. Children born into a domestic partnership will be considered the children of both partners, without the need for an adoption. Partners will be responsible for each other's debts, and in most circumstances will have to use the court system to terminate their partnership, rather than simply filing a termination notice as is possible now. This is only a partial list of the rights and obligations created by AB 205. It's important to remember that this is a state law, and that the federal government does not recognize domestic partnerships. Domestic partners are not entitled to their partners' Social Security benefits or to any other federal benefits that married couples get. Domestic partners cannot file their federal tax returns jointly, and are required under the new law to file state tax returns under the same status as their federal, so they also can't file state tax returns jointly. . Also, a domestic partnership in California won't be recognized in other states (except Vermont, where the civil union law is very similar), so partners won't necessarily get the rights they are entitled to under California law when they move to a different state.

The law doesn't go into effect until January of 2005, and in the meantime there is an attempt underway to get a referendum on the March 2004 ballot to repeal AB 205. Stay tuned for further developments on this important new law.



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