Yes, it’s inspiring to hang with other women at the top of their game. But science says it actually may boost your own chances for success, too. (So schedule that lunch date already!)

By Lexi Walters Wright
June 14, 2019

You likely already know the transformative power of a well-timed get-together with your girlfriends. After a catchup session over coffee or an indulgent getaway together, you feel more relaxed, aware and grounded. (And science says your body is even stronger for it.)

But it’s not just your physical health and mental wellbeing that are improved by time spent with beloved gal pals. A recent study confirms that, indeed, female birds of a feather may flock together…right into job opportunities and leadership promotions.

Credit: Matt Armendariz

Science Says Ladies Lift Up Other Ladies

Researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Notre Dame looked at the social networks and correspondence patterns of than 700 male and female graduate students who accepted leadership positions after graduation. What they found among them was that women who had large social networks and inner circles comprised mainly of other women were 2.5 times more likely to have been hired than those who had smaller networks and ones dominated by men.

In fact, according to a report put out by Northwestern University, “more than 75 percent of high-ranking women maintained a female-dominated inner circle or strong ties to two or three women with whom they communicated frequently.” (Unsurprisingly, the report didn’t comment on just how colorful or frequent the late-night text exchanges were by those women.)

But communication with female friends doesn’t even need to be about career paths to lead to beneficial work outcomes. “Such an inner circle can provide trustworthy, gender-relevant information about job cultures and social support, which are very important to women in male-dominated settings,” says Yang Yang, a research assistant professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and co-author of the study.

In other words, it doesn’t matter why you remain connected to the women in your life, how, or even what you communicate about: Just by having a small, tight-knit female inner circle (in real life or online), your chances of professional success is higher.

Putting It Into Practice

But this research doesn’t suggest that only high-profile connections portend later accomplishments. In fact, a release about the study notes, “women are not likely to benefit from adding the best-connected person to their network.” So you don’t need to “friend” the head of the PTO or the leader of your regional professional organization to reap the rewards of female connectivity. 

Stay in touch with the women in your world however that feels most authentic to you. That may be by sending the occasional funny postcard to your former cubicle mate, hosting a chocolate tasting for the ladies in your neighborhood, or tagging a college bestie in a (flattering) Throwback Thursday photo online. But it also can mean making new friends around shared interests. 

When Lisa Papademetriou of Northampton, Massachusetts, was beginning her writing career, she attended a large writing retreat. Listening to one of the speakers, Papademetriou found herself appreciating their delivery and sense of humor. “I thought, ‘I want to be in a writing group with her,’” she recalls.

When Papademetriou later mustered the courage to ask the writer if she’d be interested, to her surprise, she said yes. For the next 10 years, the two met regularly with several other accomplished authors, Caldecott Winners and National Book Award Finalists among them.

“I knew they were all above my level. But they never seemed to think that was true,” says Papademetriou. “They were honest and experienced. They showed me that a writing career is a long game, and there are always setbacks.

“Even these incredibly talented writers had experienced them. And the way they got through it was really helpful modeling for me," says Papademetriou. “When they were doing well, it inspired me to keep going.”

Now having published more than 15 books for young readers, Papademetriou is still in several writing groups with other female writers. In fact, they’re all supportive as Papademetriou ventures into a new career path, launching an online tool called Bookflow for writers like those in her original and current groups.

"I hope to be the person for someone someday that those women have been for me," she says. Even science confirms that that likely will come true.


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