The Power of (Work) Friendship

The room, filled with more than 400 female business executives, hummed with electricity. There was clinking of silverware and the occasional burst of laughter. The event was Inforum Michigan’s 56th Annual Meeting at the Marriott in Troy. Women from the Detroit area gathered to celebrate the power of female friendships and how they influence our professional lives.

A panel of extraordinary women led the charge: Kayleen Schaefer, journalist and author; Sylvia Acevedo, CEO of Girl Scouts; Janice Cosby, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer, Ascension Health; and Rhonda Walker, Anchor WDIV Local 4 / ClickOnDetroit. These women candidly explored the impact of friendships on personal and professional growth. Sylvia Acevedo stressed how important it is for girls to develop leadership skills and strong friendships. The Girls Scouts have their own research institute to study how girls learn at different stages and to explore important topics, like dealing with bullying. Parents have a ready resource of information within the Raising Awesome Girls section of the Girl Scout website. If these skill sets are built early in life, girls can more easily transition into womanhood with the ability to celebrate their unique traits with confidence.

As women and men move into their careers, the lines of separation between work and life tend to blur. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Data proves that work friends can improve performance and productivity. A Gallup study recently found that those who had a best friend in the office were 43% more likely to receive praise for their work. A separate study found that 46% of professionals around the world believe work friends are central to their overall happiness.

Kayleen Schaefer covered the history of female friendships in her book, Text Me When You Get Home. Women have always seemed to move through the world together. In the mid-twentieth century, poorer, working-class women depended on their large network of friends to help with childcare, finding jobs, and general companionship. It was essential to their way of life and survival. Kayleen’s book chronicles female work friendships as beacons of support. Kayleen herself spoke extensively of her work relationship with one of her closest friends, Ruthie, and how this was the catalyst for developing a tribe of women who became her true source of support.

As the world becomes increasingly more technology-driven, it becomes necessary to actively foster strong relationships. When friends work and collaborate together, they become committed to one another’s success. Big companies, like Google and Facebook, realized this early and set up areas for “playing” and eating together in order to better foster relationship building.

Here are some suggestions for cultivating friendships around the office:

  • Find avenues to discuss the importance of relationships and friendships at the office. Leverage the numerous studies and published data to drive home the value.
  • Actively welcome new team members and get to know them on a personal level. In the Isobar Detroit office, we have a welcoming committee to ensure a smooth transition for new employees, allowing them to get a jump on developing relationships.
  • Encourage a group of individuals to plan events, whether they are inside or outside the office that foster conversation and connection.

At the conclusion of Inforum Michigan’s 56thAnnual Meeting, Sylvia Acevado polled the room: “How many women in the audience were Brownies or Girl Scouts?” Immediately, 80% of the women in the room raised their hands and broke into the Girl Scout song, “Make new friends, but keep the old – one is silver and the other is gold.” An anthem we should all strive to live by, both personally and professionally.