Are Friendships Necessary for Career Success?

You bet! Women with a tight-knit inner circle of friends may rise higher.

Posted Apr 22, 2019

When you have friends who have your back when you falter or clap you on your back when you succeed, you’re more likely to attain higher levels of career success. In a research study released earlier this year, as a joint project from the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University, the connection between the having a tight “women’s only” friendship circle and professional success, in terms of job acquisition, for women was revealed (Yang, Chawla, & Uzzi, 2019).

Friendscape your Way to the Top

Findings suggested that women who stick together and support one another are likely to reap higher levels of professional success. Not only will you be more successful in your efforts to attain higher level positions if you have a tight inner circle of "Best Buds," who can offer the emotional support that you need along the way, but also want to establish a larger circle of connections, made up of any gender, who can provide more instrumental support along the career path. Women need to have healthy inner circles and wider circles of connections in order to attain higher levels of leadership; if they don't have that core group of good friends, they are simply not going to attain the higher level position that other women do. Yang et al. (2019) found that “women only” friendship groups helped one another navigate gender-related issues or influences on the career track. Wider-level networks served as a resource for more general concerns related to the profession or workplace.

While it’s no surprise that social networking is important for success, it was revealing to see that women who had not developed a strong inner circle of support, even if their larger connection groups were equivalent to other women, were less likely to attain the same level of professional placement. Whether it was due to a lack of social skills, personal qualities, or some other explanation, these individuals faced challenges in getting top-level positions.

It’s Not "Who You Know" that Matters, It's Who You Let Know You

Yang et al. (2019) also discovered that being connected to the “right person” isn’t as important as being connected to people who are “right” for you. When you’re trying to network your way to the top, you seldom take time to build authentic relationships with the people you’re hoping will help you climb the ladder. You’re adding names to a virtual Rolodex, maybe, but you’re not adding valuable relationships to your friendscape or careerscape.

How do Friends Differ from Contacts?

While business contacts may be willing to answer a question or two as we bump up the career ladder, our friends will also let us be vulnerable about what we really don't know.

Friends Let Us Ask Dumb Questions

They let us ask dumb questions and, even if they poke fun at us, they give us the answers we need.

Friends don't Secretly Gloat When You Fail

Friends don’t gloat when you fail -- either in front of your face or behind your back. They won't try to make you feel worse or begin plotting to profit from your loss.

Friends Know How to Tell You What You Need to Know

Friends know when it's important to give you the honest truth when you ask for it and how to do it gently, if kid gloves are needed.

8 Ways to Avoid Self-Sabotage

Our inner circle of trusted allies can only take us so far, though. Once we land the "primo position" that we've been working towards, it’s up to each of us to ensure that we avoid self-sabotage. If you're able to gather a tight-knit group of friends, they'll help make sure you avoid getting in your own way. In a qualitative study that explored women’s perspectives on what helped them succeed in the workplace, they shared eight suggestions to help women succeed in their careers. Here are their suggestions that also offer support to women’s commitment to showing up 100% in all that they do:

  1. Listen to your close friends and believe their feedback. You need people who aren't afraid to give you the honest truth -- once you cultivate your friendscape, trust them so that they will trust you, too.
  2. Be confident in your skills and abilities. Confidence is a powerful quality that attracts strong people to one another.
  3. Speak up and refuse to keep silent when you know what needs to be done and how to do it. Whether it’s speaking up for yourself, your colleagues, your ideas, or what is right – don’t hesitate to state your truth and to state it with conviction.
  4. Do not be afraid to own the spotlight. When what you’re doing right receives notice or acclaim, don’t look down or step to the side. There’s no shame in taking credit for your work or being proud of what you’ve accomplished.
  5. Let go of the need to be perfect in all that you do. Learn to believe that when you do your best, you have done enough. And keep telling yourself that your “best” does not have to be “perfect.” Reshma Saujani noted in TED talk that women are raised to be perfect while we teach our sons to be risk takers and aim for the top. If you spend too much time trying to perfect any one thing, you are missing multiple opportunities to achieve other things or to discover other skills you possess.
  6. Remind yourself that you wouldn’t be where you are if you were the “imposter” you fear yourself to be. When we are expecting perfection from our delightfully imperfect selves, we are absolutely setting ourselves up to fail. Being a leader who is able to acknowledge her strengths while also acknowledging and working to develop her weaknesses is actually about as “perfect” a leader as anyone can ever hope to follow.
  7. Learn to trust yourself and to speak up when you see something that needs to be addressed.
  8. Stop getting in your own way. Until you believe in yourself and trust you have what you need to succeed, you’ll be battling obstacles that you’re putting into your own path.

Support your colleagues and build your network of close friends and helpful allies. Women thrive when they are able to build healthy friendships with other women and strong networks with others, regardless of gender. Take time to stay connected with your BFFs no matter how high you rise -- it's rumored to be lonely at the top, and you'll be grateful that you have a group of friends who know you for who you are, not just who your title says you are.


Yang Yang, Nitesh V. Chawla, and Brian Uzzi. (2019). A network’s gender composition and communication pattern predict women’s leadership success. PNAS, 2019 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1721438116