Analysts have voiced concerns about the broadening impact of the pandemic on workplace equity for women. Prior to 2020, studies assessing integrated leadership concluded that gender-diverse boards of directors and leadership teams improved performance, retention, and other key “organizational health” metrics.
While perspectives of results vary, most leaders today affirm that gender diversity promotes significant workplace benefits. As leaders now regroup and cast vision for the future of their mission and culture, highlighting gender collaboration may provide a critical next step for organizations to thrive.
Why we must cultivate strong female friendships in the workplace
My experience as a woman climbing the financial corporate ladder made it clear that advancement was not predicated on me being as good as my male peers. Advancement required me to demonstrate how I was substantially better.
Today, if less than one-third of top leaders are female, then the primary competition for women aspiring to ascend the corporate ranks becomes other women. For many professionals, direct competition for advancement makes it difficult to form congenial bonds with female coworkers vying for the same few positions. And as women grow in their careers, many struggle to find a community of like-minded women who understand their workplace dynamics and daily challenges.
In order to flourish in the whole of life, men and women must learn to cultivate strong relationships with female allies in our circles of influence, including the workplace.
Whether we are seasoned in our current role or forging a new path forward after a two-year pandemic shakeup, a new season emerges with fresh opportunities to develop these critical bonds. And to clarify, forming workplace allies is not a strategy for drawing people close in order to climb over them later. Rather, aligning purpose and extending mutual assistance promotes God’s plan for work: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. . . . A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 12).
With this in mind, let’s turn to areas of focus and areas of restraint we can all practice to cultivate female allies.
The don’ts: How to grow via restraint
1. Don’t compare
Comparing ourselves to others, male or female, destroys happiness and joy. Our world and social feeds are full of poster people we wish we could be—success stories who are smarter, wealthier, more glamorous, more fun. Prodigies who tout what we desire most.
But comparing ourselves to others ignites the fire of envy which kills friendships and allies. Comparison prevents authenticity and hinders our ability to develop relationships without agenda. Comparison opens a trap of discontentment, disparaging gossip, and isolation.
2. Don’t compete
Many workplaces breed no-mercy competition. Success and advancement may require aggression and no-holds-barred tactics. Without warning, the road between “excellence for the glory of God” and “self-ambition for our own glory” morphs into quicksand.
Regardless of the kind of work we do, Jesus asks us to put him in the top spot day by day (Colossians 2:17, 23). And while some competition brings healthy interaction and good results, unhealthy competition breeds anger, bitterness, and a desire to excel at the cost of others. Unhealthy competition never glorifies God.
3. Don’t condemn
For honesty’s sake, we must admit that some people wear us down. When we want to move fast and pivot quickly, carrying the excess weight of others can defeat our momentum—especially at work.
We make assumptions about why people say or do certain things. But rarely do we know the underlying backstory of coworkers. Their reactions may be symptomatic of hidden pain and struggles.
So if a spirit of condemnation takes root in your heart, hit pause and remember Jesus’ words on judging others. With the condemning measure we use to judge others, we too will be judged (Matthew 7:1–5). Conversely, with the forgiveness we share freely with others, we too will be forgiven (Matthew 6:12).
These three areas of restraint––don’t compare, don’t compete, don’t condemn––highlight our thoughts, actions, and reactions to others. Now let’s turn to relationship-building areas of focus for forming female allies at work.
The dos: How to form female allies at work
1. Do care
We may hesitate to get too close to coworkers, especially if they actively practice the three don’ts. But approaching women with a “prayer and care” mindset opens doors to deeper conversations.
If we drop strategic agendas and instead desire to get to know someone––truly know them for who they are, right where they are––our words, tone, and demeanor change. Through prayer (praying for them) and care (simple words or acts of kindness), the love of Christ shines in and through us to our colleagues on a regular basis.
Prayer and care will change our heart, and it can soften theirs, leading to new opportunities for building rapport, common goals, and even friendship.
2. Do extend compassion
The more we learn about others as we get to know them, the more we can see what it feels like to walk in their shoes. Understanding becomes a first step to extending compassion. Compassion is not pity or feeling sorry for someone. Compassion is rolling up our sleeves and entering with someone into their real life.
Think for a moment about difficult times you have experienced. Now think about the kind of friend you needed to walk through those hard spaces with you. Whether or not you had a good friend to help you then, you can be that kind of support and encouragement now to someone you know. Extending compassion to others means being the kind of friend or coworker you want surrounding you (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).
3. Do grow community
God created us to flourish in community as we walk the journey of life together. Research affirms that our happiness increases when we experience strong relationships with others. So promote authentic community (with women and men; with Christians and non-Christians) by asking thoughtful questions and being willing to share about your life story.
Find ways to creatively get to know coworkers. Share lunch, grab coffee, or plan a casual happy hour. Go for a powerwalk and burn off stress as you bond. Explore common interests. And pray about how you might be able to grow a community of two or three colleagues who can gather regularly to encourage and support one another.
Knowing that someone else stands in our corner battling life’s challenges with us fortifies our strength.
The dos and don’ts of cultivating female allies at work
- Care, don’t compare.
- Extend compassion, not competition.
- Grow community, not condemnation.
Cultivating relationships built on respect and trust takes time. And it requires risk. I know this firsthand.
But I have also experienced the incredible rewards. Some of my dearest friends today are women I met decades ago through work.
So within your circles of influence, be courageous in Christ. We need one another.
And God will pave the way to forming strong female allies at your work.