What might be a little unique, though, is that my circle of women friends happen to be part of C200, a leadership organization for women in business that I’m incredibly proud to be a part of.
The women in this group collectively control $1.4 trillion in revenues, sit on 68 Fortune 500 corporate boards, and employ 2.5 million people. Talk about inspiring.
That’s not to say that my friendships with these women are all business—there’s never been a parenting challenge or a family disagreement that these ladies couldn’t help me overcome. But in my opinion, there are some special advantages any woman (business leader or not) can get from having a tight-knit group of female friends. There’s a unique kind of warmth, vulnerability, and emotional intimacy in women’s friendships that men just don’t seem as likely to cultivate with their friends.
Maybe that’s because as women, we’re often all too aware of our shared struggles—sexism in the workplace, for example—and that makes us more inclined to support each other. Or maybe, as studies have shown, women are biologically inclined to reach out to others, rather than retreat inward, when dealing with a challenge.
Whatever the reason, I know my women friends have made me a better business leader—and a better person. They make me stronger, smarter, and braver, to paraphrase Jane Fonda in one of my favorite TED talks, in which she and Lily Tomlin offer a take on female friendship that is both hilarious and profound.
Fonda also explains that her women friends let her know when she’s “in need of course-correcting”—and let me tell you, I know the feeling. Part of what’s so great about women’s friendships is there’s a mutual loyalty and support that enables flaws and mistakes to be discussed openly. My women friends want to help me be happy, not judge me for my weaknesses.
But is vulnerability really an advantage in business? In my experience, absolutely. A great example is one’s willingness to accept feedback. If you’re closed off to the idea that you have flaws, your growth as a business leader and as a person is going to be inhibited, to say the least. Having a group of women friends who won’t hesitate to call you out on your mistakes—and offer generous praise for your achievements—can help you become comfortable with vulnerability. That helps you accept yourself as a well-rounded person with both strengths and weaknesses, creating a path for your growth.
And once I became CEO of a company, that support system was more important than ever. As the saying goes, it’s lonely at the top, and business leaders at the highest levels often find they lack a strong network of trusted friends to reach out to in a challenge. That’s a bad situation to be sure, but what’s even worse is when the isolating nature of leadership becomes a deterrent to achievement.
With my group of women friends, I can discuss not only whatever business issue I’m facing, but also the emotional component of my decisions. Chances are, by the end of the conversation, I’ll have the perspective I need to move forward confidently. And, of course, the next time my friends need constructive feedback—or just someone to listen—I’ll be there to do the same for them.