I’ll ask you the same question Betsy Polk and Maggie Ellis Chotas ask readers at the beginning of their book: Who comes to mind when you think of male partnerships? Surely you’ll think of successful duos like Ben and Jerry, Lewis and Clark, Penn and Teller, Watson and Crick, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the list goes on and on.
But what about famous female partnerships? Personally I can come up with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, Mary Kate and Ashley, Abbi Jacobsen and Ilana Glazer from Broad City, and….I’m out. In Power Through Partnership: How Women Lead Better Together, Polk and Chotas investigate the lack of female power duos, and demolish many of the myths that keep women from going into business together. Drawing from their own 12-year partnership and interviews with 125 female business partners, Polk and Chotas prove that women can and do work together successfully. Female partnerships, in fact, are an underutilized and effective tool for female power. Here’s why.
Considering that 66 percent of family caregivers are female, most women need workplace flexibility in a unique way. “Whether it’s balancing a job share, adjusting dynamics in a client meeting, or filling in for each other when a sick child is at home, women in partnership know how to step up or step back depending on what’s needed in the moment,” Polk and Chotas write.
As experienced leadership coaches, Polk and Chotas have studied self-doubt and the dreaded imposter syndrome up close, and know that they tend to affect women more deeply than their male counterparts. They think that female partnership can be the antidote: “When you say yes to combining your skills with those of a respected peer, you need to first acknowledge that you’re bringing valuable skills and perspectives to the partnership: after all, your partner is choosing you for good reasons.” Even by deciding to partner, you’re beginning to build confidence.
By this, Polk and Chotas mean the freedom that comes from being allowed to bring all aspects of yourself to work. By partnering with a woman, there’s less pressure to act a certain way: namely, not too harsh that you’re at risk of being called a B, but not too emotional, God forbid. You can simply be yourself.
“Support, the secret sauce of partnership, is often difficult to ask for,” Pol and Chotas write. “This can be especially true for women, who may feel that by needing to ask for help, they are falling short of the giant expectations they’ve set for themselves.” Sound familiar? Me too. “But the beauty of a partnership is that reciprocal support must exist for the partnership to work. Partners know that to achieve their goals, they must be there for each other, each of them giving and receiving support.”
5. Mutual Accountability
The only way I ever started a project early in school was if I had a friend depending on me: wanting to work on it together, asking me for help, or otherwise motivating me to get going. Partnership means having that accountability to fall back on when you don’t feel like doing something or are simply tired. You may not do it for yourself, but you’re certainly not going to let your partner down.
It’s so heartening to read that one of the most consistently cited benefits of partnership is the happiness that comes from the partners’ personal relationship. “We’ve found in our interviews that it’s the relationship at the center of women’s collaborations that makes them tick,” Polk and Chotas write. “When the connection between the partners is healthy, the overall entity is healthy; and when the relationship is suffering, results often suffer as well. Generally speaking, the same is not true for male partners, who tend to measure success by revenue and results.”
Convinced that female partnership works? Pick up a copy of Power Through Partnership for more fascinating information on finding the right partner, preparing for risk, dealing with conflict, and most importantly, to watch Polk and Chotas destroy those ridiculous myths about women working together.
Photo: Theo Wargo / Getty Images; Courtesy of Laura Lacy