Is a network of girlfriends the key to career success?

by Feb 17, 20132 comments

Women can be professional and have fun!

Brussels Mini-Mentoring Event 2012

Brussels Mini-Mentoring Event 2012

There’s a lot of support out there for women, such as in women’s networks, coaching and mentoring. That clearly shows we women are insecure and immature, right? Not being able to cope by ourselves, not able to handle a bit of pressure, it’s a sign of weakness and we are certainly not fit for more responsibility. Why else would we need this sort of support? These are the sort of things men seem to think. We are told we haven’t got what it takes. Or worse even, we are made fun of by the guys, for going to our “women’s group” for a gossip. “Surely no business gets done there”, they think and roll their eyes.

But, typically we women do that. We love to gossip and vent and get a friendly response or unmitigated support from another human being in return. Is it really that bad? Should we stop doing it? Should we just grow up and be serious and professional?

No! The opposite is true. We need our girlfriends, they are essential for our health and well-being. Let me show you why, and how you can make it work for you to help your career.

Girlfriends are essential – they keep us stable and healthy

Personally, I never gave my girlfriends, networks and gossip a second thought. I love it, so what if I am being made fun of? However I changed my mind after reading this fantastic article re-published on Bonnie by Bonnie Marcus.  The article references a class at Stanford taught by the head of psychiatry, and it instantly hit a nerve with me.

“Women connect with each other differently and provide support systems that help each other to deal with stress and difficult life experiences. Physically this quality ‘girlfriend time’ helps us to create more serotonin–a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression and can create a general feeling of well being.  

 Women share feelings whereas men often form relationships around activities. They rarely sit down with a buddy and talk about how they feel about certain things or how their personal lives are going.  Jobs? Yes.   Sports? Yes.  Cars? Yes. Fishing, hunting, golf?  Yes.  But their feelings?–rarely.”

Women need their girlfriends for support, their health and wellbeing and their careers!

Women need their girlfriends for support, their health and wellbeing and their careers!

Women do it all of the time. We share from our souls with our sisters, and evidently that is very good for our health.  He said that spending time with a friend is just as important to our general health as jogging or working out at a gym.

The Doctor when on to  explained that one of the best things that a man could do for his health is to be married to a woman whereas for a woman, one of the best things she could do for her health was to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends. At first everyone laughed, but he was serious.”

After reading this, I realised how essential my female friends are for me. Spending time with them is not wasting my time. It really is like “exercising”. When we exercise, we are doing something good for our bodies, and it’s the same when we are hanging out with female friends.

So I started doing it more deliberately, and it has hugely boosted my confidence and creativity.

Building your circle of girl friends to help your career

So what does this mean for you? What do you need to do and, more importantly, what can you do to make it work for your career?

  • Make sure you vent, gossip and share your feelings in a safe place: Yes, you do need to vent gossip, and share your feelings, no need to be ashamed of it, it’s for your health and it helps you feel secure. But keep it to yourself, and be careful not to do it in the office. You wouldn’t do a fitness work-out in the office would you? There’s a time and a place for everything. This advice particularly applies if you work in a male-dominated industry. Similarly it applies if you work at – or aspire to work at – a more senior level, dominated by males. So do remember that the first thing you need to do is to find a safe place before sharing your feelings.
  • Consciously build a support system : Perhaps you have a good group of friends, which is great, but you want to check if they can really help with your career. If you find this is not the case, you need to start building your own support system.

You could join a women’s network, just try a few and see which one resonates with you. To get you started you can find a good list of off-line and on line networks here on my website.

If you are looking for more space to reflect, in an intimate environment, you might like to consider joining a Creative Solution Group. If that is not what you need, and you can’t find the support you like.

Then just start your own network or Linked In Group.

Or, if you are more of a 1-to-1 person, why not organise a monthly chat over lunch with a peer, a ‘sparring partner’. I know about a group of female heads of schools. They get together bi-monthly to share with other female heads of schools. This helps them feel understood, motivated and inspired, giving them the power to be a strong leader at work.

You can also look for a more formal way to create similar support. A coach can have this role, or a mentor. Someone who can show you that yes, you are normal, and no you are not alone in feeling like this. Someone who can show you that you can do something about the issues you are struggling with and can help you learn.

  • Don’t be afraid to chat and share while networking with women : Networking groups are often seen as a place to build business contacts, and eventually sell. Yes, this is indeed what you need to do while out networking. But a networking group that you visit regularly can also become a great place to find support. A place where you can find someone who listens, someone that recognises your issues, and helps you feel motivated and inspired. So don’t worry if you haven’t been sharply focused on business opportunities at your last network meeting, perhaps it was a good work-out for your mental health instead. That’s important too. Do make time and space for it.
  • Remember, network for your career too, with men! : So yes, it is good to network for support, but you also need to network for career opportunities. It can be helpful to find a sponsor or mentor who can help you with that. For this sort of support you do not have to turn to other women. You need someone that can champion your cause, and help you get ahead. Men might even be better placed for that, as they might have a different or wider network. Want to know more about mentoring, check out this article on 3Plus Mentoring Programs or sign up for a 3Plus Mini-Mentoring Event. 
  • Similar considerations apply when networking. You will be more likely to find the support you need in a women’s group, but you might be more likely to find business opportunities in a mixed group. After all, men tend to be in more powerful positions than women, and are often in better placed to give something away.

Your first step, is to find a few minutes to reflect. Do you have sufficient support? Check if you feel regularly frustrated, with no place to go. Or perhaps you bore your husband with work feelings, or worse even, burst out in slightly inappropriate rants to a random colleague.

If you do, it’s time to start building your network if girlfriends. It calms you down, slows your heart rate, gives you a feeling of security, and gets you ready for calm, mature behaviour.

I would love to hear what you think. What do you do to build a network of career-supporters? Do you have a girlfriend or group of girlfriends you use for this purpose?

How does it work for you?





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Inge Woudstra, is a working women’s expert, tutor and researcher. Inge runs MC Services. Their flagship portal Mum & Career .
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