I recently met with the Director of Career Services for Barnard, the all-women’s college at Columbia University and my alma mater. He asked me a question: “What is the universal piece of advice you would give to a young career woman?” Create your own Girl Squad with Squad Goals.
Yes, I am borrowing from Taylor Swift, who in recent years has changed the conversation from whom is she dating to whom is she empowering. My Girl Squad fuels my success, reminds me to have faith in myself, and helps allay my fears.
I didn’t wake up one morning and try to start a sorority for women in the workplace. Instead, I was fortunate to meet women who are more than the typical mentors or sponsors that so many self-help articles suggest women have. These women and I enjoy strong relationships based on mutual admiration.
The first real estate company I worked for did not have women in power positions. I am a girlie girl at heart, and the job felt soulless without having strong women surrounding me. When I switched to a new company, I was pleasantly surprised to see this 40-something dynamo at the top of the leader board, far above everyone else in terms of deal-making transactions. For the first year I worked with her, I watched her in awe. Was she really a robot? What was the secret to her success? Occasional glimpses showed me her human side: she shuffled through her mountains of paperwork when she presented and wasn’t always the most organized; she laughed at herself; and she was honest, often saying, “I don’t know,” rather than flubbing her way through. Watching her made me forget that in many companies there is a glass ceiling. When I was considered for a lateral move in the company, she was the person who told me to go for it. She was my biggest cheerleader when I made my first Gucci deal. She was the person who told me when I was wrong and then showed me a different way.
Many years after meeting her, she led me into the conference room and pointed to the leader board. I had surpassed her and was at the top. I knew it was a blip in time—a lucky month for me—but she was proud of my success and shared in my joy. That is what a member of the Girl Squad does.
In 2009, that same company was acquired, and I went to visit a new friend of mine. I wanted to start my own consulting firm. Was I being too bold? Could I do it? Some men that I had spoken to said I should have a back up plan and to have enough in savings. They meant well but planted seeds of doubt. But she invited me to her home and made this decision personal for both of us. She banished negative talk. We made a list of all the possibilities. She not only championed my idea, she helped me create a plan of action with milestones.
I am lucky to have strong women in my life, as they want to see me shine, and in turn, I want nothing but amazing achievements for them.
Girl Squad members help you prepare for an important interview, as another friend of mine and I recently did for someone in our group. We read her essays, sent her articles about the company, spouted words of inspiration, and of course, asked her what she was going to wear. And when she didn’t get the job, we told her that it was a terrible position anyway and started to brainstorm on what could be next.
Another member of the Squad has struggled to have parity in her large company where women always are second to the men. After the tears and passionate retellings of the horror stories, we get smart and strategic. Regular check-ins, regrouping from tough moments, and staying focused on the goal led to her long-deserved and fought-for title. Now she pays it forward.
Membership is filled with benefits: the inner circle will tell you about a great assignment that you should pursue, send you a beautiful scarf before you walk into the big meeting, help you negotiate a contract, or assist on a confounding math equation. Squad Girls answer their phones at 9:30pm on a Friday night, celebrate your promotion or birthday, cry with you when your personal life is awry, and push you to your next level.
Ultimately, the common thread among these women is that they are all compassionate human beings. Success — and on all levels — comes more easily when surrounded by these women because Girl Squad members possess a lot of heart. My Girl Squad embodies the best of friendship and sisterhood, reminds me of all of the possibilities, and is the essence of women empowerment. And those are Squad Goals worth embracing.