Girlfriends are rarely on any list of important career development tools. We are more likely to read about women exhibiting jealousy of their girlfriend’s latest promotion or ease of landing a job. In reality our female friendships have always been a valuable support to our careers.
When Jewish immigrants came to the United States in the early part of the 1900s, they formed groups, known in Yiddish as landsmanschaftn.
The landsmans were immigrants from the same region who banded together in this new world to provide assistance to one another. Members paid dues, and in return, the group helped new immigrants find work and places to live, located family members, and assisted with doctor bills or burial costs.In reality our female friendships have always been a valuable support to our careers. Click To Tweet
These groups also helped socially and culturally, teaching English, acclimating newcomers to American ways, and providing friendship for those homesick for the Old Country. The women of these groups bonded together for childcare, extra food when the pantry was empty, and the same emotional support that women today need from their peers.
When the masses of Jewish immigrants declined, so did the organizations. But now more than ever, it’s important for women to find their own landsfroyen (the female form of landsman) to support us as we build and sustain careers and family.
Women need to support women in all facets of their lives.
While some claim some members of the media promote women as competitive with one another, I learned early in my career to turn to my female compatriots.
As an undergraduate at NYU’s film school in the late 1980s, I was one of few female students. Access to equipment is all important when you’re making a movie, and a friend (a male friend, I will needlessly add) promised me the 16 mm camera he owned.
A week later though he reneged because another male film student wanted to use it. When I protested, he merely shrugged and said, “It’s not important for you. You can always sleep your way to the top.” (And let’s be clear, the word he used was not “sleep.”) Hackles raised, I sought out my fellow female filmmakers-to-be and we managed to find equipment elsewhere.
Now as an adult and a work-from-home writer, I cannot begin to count how many times I’ve been assisted by my female friends. In the late 1990s, I was freelancing and hungry, and it was the women—always the women—who steered me to new projects.
When, for fun, I worked on a now-defunct feminist literary ‘zine, I mentioned to the editor that I needed to find full-time paying work for the insurance and the job security. She put down what she was doing, picked up the phone, and put me in touch with her former boss who was hiring writers at the then-fledgling Amazon.com.
In return I have been able to help my friends in ways that were invaluable to them. Because I am at home, my schedule can be more flexible when needed.
On the snow days that are inevitable in my Boston suburb, I watch children whose mothers are unable to enjoy the luxury of a day of no school. When I travel for my work, my children flock to their homes in the evenings; I clean up their résumés and polish business letters.
My lawyer friends have looked over my publishing contracts; I’ve picked up their children when they had a last minute late-night meeting. I’ve seen them through the promotions-that-didn’t-happen, they’ve comforted me when the rejection letters come, and we have laughed and we have drank a lot of bourbon together along the way.
This is why I chose to make female friendships an integral part of my novel, Modern Girls.
The story is one of unwanted pregnancy. Dottie is unmarried and 19 when she discovers she’s carrying the child of a dashing man… who is not her long-standing boyfriend. Her mother, Rose, thought she was done with children—she has four living, and she’s eager to return to the Socialist movement she actively participated in as a younger woman.
However, the novel takes place in 1935. Abortion is illegal. A pregnant woman cannot work. Rose puts aside her own feelings about having yet another child and seeks out an illegal abortion for Dottie.
But to where could she turn? To the same place women have been turning since civilization began: to her friends. Rose’s friends provide her with the name of someone who can take care of the situation. Dottie’s friends give her the wisdom she needs to make the proper choices for herself.
Networking in a business environment is crucial to furthering careers. But equally important are the connections women make amongst themselves outside of the office walls, with the women who will support them and enable them to climb the corporate ranks. Of course not every women has a strong network of other women they can lean on.
In that case, you can begin to build your network by seeking out a mentor through free programs such as Glassbreakers Take the Lead or find peer groups by joining a new moms’ group, a Meetup on a topic of interest to you, a library book club, or a running group at your local running store.
Find your people. Develop your landsfroyen. Be there for each other. You need it not just for your own well being, but for your livelihood.