Women should talk to female friends about career development


I recently had a conversation with a close friend.

We are both professionally ambitious. As such, a large part of our conversation focused on work. However, what struck me the most was what we didn’t discuss: our approaches to professional development. And when I think back to my conversations with other close friends, I can’t recall a single conversation about career development.

A close female friend is someone you can be around, someone you can trust. Women are more likely to refer to their closest friend as one woman of similar age and someone they have known for years. And most women have three or four close friends.

Strong female friendships offer women many advantages: these relationships can open up different perspectives, help in stressful situations and even prolong life expectancy by women.

That’s according to a recent survey 1 of 2 Women describe themselves as very ambitious. For women, however, managing their professional development is often more nuanced than simply seeking opportunities or building relationships with potential mentors and sponsors.

For example, women with caring responsibilities need to figure out how to balance their time between family responsibilities and career opportunities. Compared to male employees, female employees receive less support from managers and have less access to managers.

In addition, female employees are offered less visible, mission-critical roles and international experience. A report by the Society for Human Resource Management showed that there are fewer women in leadership positions, leading to a lack of female role models in the workplace.

Reports show that female employees:

Women of color often face micro-aggression, prejudice and discrimination that can negatively impact their lives Perceptions of an organization’s culture and its development opportunities.

Why female support is needed

Given the challenges women face in securing career development opportunities, they may benefit from additional support and advice. Getting advice from friends who are at a similar stage in life can be beneficial for their career development.

The concept of women using friendships to organize their careers is not new. Almost a decade ago, a forbes Article encouraged women to do what men have been doing for a long time: combine business and pleasure.

Here are five approaches women can use to discuss development opportunities with their close friends:

1. Provide personal examples and recommendations.

Women can share examples of development experiences they have had in the workplace. Because professional development can come in a variety of ways (e.g., high-profile projects, mentoring, going back to school), women can benefit from having their girlfriends talk about what kind of development they have received and what experiences have been useful for their careers at the most helpful were .

2. Offer advice on making requests.

Women can counsel each other on when and how to apply for workplace development experiences. In particular, women were able to discuss approaches they have used in discussions with managers and executives. For example, a woman could share how she applied for a foreign assignment.

3. Talk about what to avoid.

Women could share examples of development experiences that were less useful. For example, those that require administrative duties and offer limited visibility with senior executives tend to be less beneficial to female employees.

4. Discuss how you can overcome barriers.

Women can share the techniques they have used to deal with barriers while participating in career development opportunities. Examples might include: responding to employees who question their authority, balancing time between work and non-work responsibilities, and addressing prejudice and discrimination.

5. Share successes.

Women can make sure they update resumes and LinkedIn profiles after completing their professional development. They can consult with female friends on how to document new skills they have developed and measurable goals they have achieved as a result of participating in professional development.

Women who have career development experiences can overcome obstacles that impede their success. Having a trusted source to talk to about professional development experiences can support their overall career.

Kyra Leigh Sutton, Ph.D., is Research Director of the Center for Women in Business and Assistant Professor of Human Resources Management at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations.


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