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What Little Girls Know that Big Girls Forget

5 tips for developing strong and positive partnerships with other women

Remember your best friend in elementary school? You know, the one who was who was always there for you. You knew you could count on her for just about anything – from sharing a pencil when you forgot yours to never telling anyone the deep dark secrets you whispered to each other.

Now recall the friends who were just a phone call away or showed up at the critical times in your life, supporting you through life’s ups and downs. Whether it’s making sense of a tough time at work, sorting out family woes, or dealing with a parent’s illness, the women in your life have been there for you. So why isn’t this the norm for women in business as well? Why is there still resistance for women to come together as partners to to drive business success?

The National Women’s Business Council found that firms with more than one owner make more money, yet 89 percent of women-owned businesses have only a single owner. Partnerships can help women succeed.

Additionally, partnerships are a way of making work more enriching and satisfying. Betsy Polk and Maggie Ellis Chotas, authors of the newly released Power Through Partnership: How Women Lead Better Together, found that their work life improved after they co-founded The Mulberry Partners consulting firm in 2003 and that life itself became saner.

“Our combined strengths led to a business boon once Maggie and I joined forces,” Polk says. “We had a growing client list and a roster of fulfilling projects. At the core of it all was a genuine happiness that often eludes other women in the workforce. The 125 other successful women partners we interviewed for our book have realized many of the same benefits.”

Unfortunately, Polk and Chotas say, falsehoods surrounding women working together have proliferated throughout history. After years of hearing myths about queen bees and catfights among women who collaborate, many women might lose an empowering opportunity by dismissing partnership altogether. Furthermore, while notable male duos from the Wright Brothers to Siskel and Ebert abound in the popular consciousness, women in partnership have often existed under the radar.

“The downside is that there aren’t many high profile female partner role models for women to emulate,” Chotas says. “We’ve found partnership to be a wonderful way to work for women who are searching for greater flexibility, more support, and a chance to share dreams and the accountability inherent in business. This model works too well to remain a secret. It needs to be celebrated.”

If you’re interested in exploring your own professional partnership, Polk and Chotas recommend you consider these five tips:

  1. Assess what baggage you will bring to the partnership. Consider the beliefs and assumptions you hold about partnerships and how that will affect your judgments going forward. Then together, openly share your hopes, assumptions, expectations, memories, experiences and reservations. Create and share your visions of what life will look like when you are successful. If you eventually need to break up, consider what that might look like as well.
  2. Remember the big three. Successful women in partnership often share three traits: complementary skills, talents and interests; shared values; and compatibility. Spend time doing what each other enjoys as well as talking about how well you are matched.
  3. Look around you. Potential partners are everywhere. There’s no one right way to find a partner. At work, walk around and talk to people. If you are planning your own business, be curious when talking to women at the gym or public events. A potential partner is just a conversation away.
  4. Toss out the word “perfect.” There’s no such thing as the perfect partner. You’re looking for the right partner. Then, as in any relationship, you need constant, honest communication to keep the partnership strong.
  5. Avoid the what-if trap. Of course you have to prepare for risks. But don’t let fear keep you from joining forces and realizing untold achievements and fulfillment. If you have the same same dreams and drive, you can face the challenges together.

Power Through Partnership is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound.

Teaser image - personal photo of master coaches and colleagues DJ Mitsch and Harriett Salinger.


Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, coaches leaders and top talent to succeed and enjoy themselves in the process. She is the author of three books including Wander Woman: High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction and her latest Amazon bestseller, The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs. You can read more at