There's this idea out there (stereotype?) that women are our own worst enemies. That when it comes to disagreements or getting along with our bosses we tend to fight amongst ourselves. I've only seen the result of this attitude (my last female boss who told me she had trouble working with female bosses, though I had no problems working for her, or male bosses who have assumed females would not get along) rather than the actual playing out of this. I suppose because it's on my mind a lot I struggle with it. When a man and a man don't get along, they are just people. We women don't have that luxury, so I make an effort to speak positively about other women and get along with them in the few instances I get to actually work with another female.
Over a year ago, a more senior female engineer left my group and company for a job where she's doing something that at the time was more "fulfilling" to her. She took a significant cut in pay to do so and left behind a higher level position, pay and respect than someone with her experience would normally achieve. Because of what she accomplished while here, she has a reputation of awesomeness. So when she had an opportunity to take some time of work recently, she suggested coming back on a temporary contract basis for a number of weeks.
I was going to go into the more personal reasons, that I suspect the significant cut in pay she took is hurting her. That the money she could make here could potentially be a lot more, maybe even more if they'd pay her the money they offered her when she tried to leave. But maybe all that's irrelevant.
The problem is me, and my attitude. I feel like in order to get half the level of pay and respect she got I've had to work twice as hard. I've been with the company a lot longer and really had to force my way into positions and demand higher pay while she was sort of guided into a higher level role. So despite the fact that we got along well when she was here, I now resent the fact that she's coming back. That my company would make the exceptions to get her a whole lot of extra money while I struggle to get paid the same as entry level engineers with far less experience. It's tough because I don't want to discourage another woman engineer. But I feel like I've finally staked out my space in the time she's been gone, and her reputation and how well-liked she was could outshine me in a matter of weeks. Even if it was a permanent move, it could undo all the prestige I've been working away to earn in the last year. I could be pushed back to a lower rung on the ladder while the higher level tasks get handed back to her. And it doesn't help that the powers that be would probably never give another female engineer the same chance they gave her. Just because they made her the token female engineer isn't her fault even if it does hurt me and even if her coming back hurts me.
I wonder if it's the attitude of male superiors and the token-ism that really contributes to this idea that women don't get along. We're lucky to get one seat at the table, and then we're expected to compete over it because we won't get any more seats than that. It'd be easier for me personally to rail against this behavior if it was a guy they were doing this for. I wouldn't feel like I'm sabotaging myself when I rage against the differential treatment.