“A rising tide lifts all boats”: Three principles for fostering healthy, powerful business partnerships between women

Why do women have so much trouble working together?

Well, that’s the stereotype. 

When it comes to their careers, men are ‘competitive’ and women are ‘catty’. Men have ‘boys clubs’ and women form ‘cliques’. Men may have enemies but only women refer to each other as ‘frenemies’.

Men compete with open, often friendly aggression, where women — conditioned from childhood that it’s not okay to fight in the playground — end up undermining each other more subtly. There are few aspirational pictures of healthy woman-to-woman business relationships.

In non-business roles, stereotypes indicate women are soft, vulnerable and caring. Women are seen as emotionally intelligent and sensitive to the needs of others. Friendships between women run deep and there’s a concept of ‘sisterhood’. So instead of fearing these qualities as ‘weaknesses’ in a business context, shouldn’t we be leveraging them as strengths?

As an entrepreneur with a passion for women-led businesses, I’ve always been interested in the dynamics of women working together.

I’ve had both men and women as business partners. Contrary to the stereotype, my current partnership with Tamara Loehr at Gutsii is one of the most fruitful, fulfilling and friendly business relationships I’ve ever had.

When we lean into our strengths as women, instead of devolving into cattiness and envy, we’re a force to be reckoned with. Here are three principles for a healthy business partnership between women.

1. Start with values

Before you dive into business with somebody, you need to make sure your values match or complement each other. Having a few areas of conflict will create a healthy sizzle and drive the business forward as you challenge each other’s blind spots. But overall, your view of what’s important needs to be aligned.

When I met Tamara, I was impressed by her openness to learn and enjoy the journey, her ability to define what she wanted and her willingness to keep extending her comfort zone. She was looking for a business partner who shared similar ethics and passions. We quickly knew we were a good fit.

Recently I had the opposite experience, where I ended a working relationship with somebody because I could tell our values didn’t match. They tried to talk me out of it, as though my values were up for negotiation. From my point of view, it was nothing personal, I just knew we had to honour our differences before we got into a regrettable situation.

If you notice a red flag, rise above the temptation to ‘mansplain’ your values to them, as that other person did to me. Just recognise she values different things to you, respect her right to do so, and move on.

2. Be friends first

Many people are cautious of going into business with friends, in case things go south and ruin the friendship. But if you can’t handle doing business together, maybe it wasn’t a very solid friendship to begin with!

It makes perfect sense to form business associations with people you already like, admire and understand. I love and respect my current partner enormously as a friend, so I trust her to have my back when it comes to business.

Relating well in business requires the same skill set as relating well personally. Women tend to be enormously gifted at connecting, communicating and resolving interpersonal conflict. If the dynamic in your friendship is healthy and evolved, you can carry those patterns of relating over to your business partnership.

Drop the cattiness, and use your relational gifts to bring out the best in other women.

3. Make long-distance work

I recently decided to relocate from Australia to LA, while my business partner remained based in Brisbane, Australia. Tamara spends much of her time travelling between Australian cities and the United States. All this movement makes our partnership more interesting and grows our trust and bond.

To deal with long-distance business relationships, cultivate a ‘tribe over territory’ mindset. Focus on connecting with people who are like-minded rather than on the people who happen to share your geography. Technology makes it increasingly easy to seek out and maintain quality relationships with people across the globe.

Staying in touch with each other’s day-to-day is equally important as having intentional conversations about the business. WhatsApp is the new water cooler! I chat to my tribe all day long with quick pictures and short messages when we think of each other.

A long-distance business partnership is like a long-distance relationship, in that it relies on trust, vulnerability and open communication.

While men often keep their conversations more transactional, women can leverage our tendency to ‘chat’ in order to keep a business relationship strong in the face of different cities and time zones.

There’s a place for healthy competition in business, but it’s time for women to build a culture of collaboration over cattiness. A rising tide lifts all boats. With more of those ships steered by woman co-captains, we can set a course to take over the world.

NOW READ: Awkward questions and untapped potential: Female founders share how they overcome bias in business

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