5 ways women can support each other in our professional relationships
September 17th was National Women’s Friendship Day. For the entire month, we are sharing stories that examine the unique role that friendship plays in women’s lives
Recently, one of my good female friends opened and started managing a sushi restaurant. At around the same time, I was trying to break into the world of restaurant/food writing. I was incredibly inspired as I watched her make her dreams in the restaurant industry a reality. She’s already worked alongside chefs in the kitchen, so she understood different aspects of the business. She was able to apply a unique perspective, focusing on how to make rolls that people with dietary restrictions can safely eat.
I admired her resilience, and I wanted to write about it. We worked together, collaborating and supporting each other until we realized both of our goals — she got promotion for her business, and I was a published food writer.
In the end, our “mutually beneficial” business exchange reminded me that it is not only important to form positive friendships with other women and femmes, but to form positive business relationships with other women as well.
This concept is not new, of course. Organizations and coalitions have been encouraging more women to work together to create a better place for all women, femme folks, and female-identifying individuals in all workplaces. For instance, Girlboss, a community of women creating content, was founded by entrepreneur/Nasty Gal Vintage creator Sophia Amoruso “for women redefining success on their own terms.” Lean In, founded by Sheryl Sandberg, is a women’s nonprofit that launched the campaign Together Women Can, “a public awareness campaign celebrating the power of women supporting each other.”
HelloGiggles itself is geared toward women and covers topics related to them (check out this story on Natalie Alcala, who started an organization to connect working moms in creative industries!)
And yet, it still seems that women are pitted against each other in professional settings.
By supporting one another, we can all easily move up in our respective fields. There’s no need to compete with other women and feed into a patriarchal system that still works against us.
There are many ways in which we can challenge ourselves to become allies to other professional women, rather than compete for opportunities.
1Balance being a leader and a team player.
If you have the opportunity to be a mentor, choose to mentor other women. Be honest and fair. It’s important to offer constructive criticism, but it is also important to acknowledge improvements and offer positivity.
In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg's book, she writes, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
So, encourage your mentees to take risks, to pursue opportunities they might not be 100% qualified for. Encourage them to learn, to ask questions, to voice their opinions unapologetically.
In a similar vein, if you would like to find a mentor, ask a woman to fulfill that role. A 2009 study published in the journal Gender in Management found that “the female workers did not actually want to work for female managers.” Flip this narrative by actively seeking out managers and mentors that are women.
Above all else, make sure you can lead by example; engage with your peers and staff by lending a hand whenever you can.
2Create and/or be a part of a network of women.
Just as it is important to have women friends in your life, it is important to have a network of professional women around you. You can make that happen either by joining an existing network (online or in person) or by creating your own. Encourage each other to share ideas, to exist in safe and nurturing spaces. Always be there for each other, whether you, or someone else, is succeeding or failing — but be there for more than those big moments. Supporting someone during the smaller, everyday occurrences in between those milestones can count the most.
If a woman cannot speak for what she wants in the workplace — whether it be a promotion, a project improvement, a raise — lift her up by highlighting her values. Voice your support of her to coworkers and management.
3Don’t let generational divides, well, divide you.
Forming business relationships and partnerships between junior and senior women in the same field can be incredibly beneficial — but there’s a tendency to generalize or assume expectations about generations we’re not a part of. For instance, some junior women may see senior women as being out of reach in their positions of power. On the flip side, some senior women may assume that new female employees will experience the same challenges and setbacks that they did, and thus can figure it out on their own.
It’s so important for women of all positions and career points to communicate about their experiences, both when starting out and working their way up. Empowerment is important, but so is empathy and understanding. The patriarchal world we live in already expects us to outdo ourselves in every way.
We have to allow for our shortcomings and and encourage each other. Senior women can call out gender biases in hiring, work assignments, compensation and promotions. Junior women can call out gender biases in management evaluations.
4Celebrate each other.
In your workplace, praise great ideas and decisions made by other women. Support them openly and publicly, and make sure their credit and hard work is noted. If other women are interrupted, help bring the attention back to them and what they wanted to say.
On a larger scale, promote art made by women. Promote books made by women. Underline advancements in science and medicine made by women. Support women who have made their careers in the public sector. Be vocal in your celebration. Teach children (all children) about the wonderful things that women have done in history, are doing now, and will continue to do in the future. By normalizing the success of women, by making it a part of daily conversation in the office and outside the office, we are all more likely to have opportunities.
It is incredibly important to celebrate women of color, who do not enjoy the same privileges as their white women coworkers and whose experiences with workplace sexism are even more difficult as they encounter racism simultaneously. White women can be allies to women of color by using their privilege to draw attention to WOC’s work, research, studies, etc. White women also need to listen to women of color when talking about solidarity between women. Instead of undermining the concerns of marginalized women, listen, learn, and work on repairing those problems. This will strengthen the movement for workplace equality overall.
5Stop putting other women down.
In 2011, Kim Elsesser, a research scholar at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, found in a study of 60,000 people that many participants thought their female bosses were “emotional,” “catty,” or “bitchy.”
If you hear someone using gender bias to put down a woman coworker or manager, call them out. Ask if they would say the same thing about their male coworkers or managers. If you do have a problem with a woman coworker or manager, address it directly instead of sharing your concern with the entire office. Conflict and errs in character occur, and it’s 100% valid and necessary to address them. But you don’t have to bring a woman down in order to do so.
Build each other up, help each other up, talk to each other.
We have enough people in the workforce trying to thwart our success.