As a result, women often feel as though they can only talk to other women about these particular problems, making it crucial that they have a separate network of other women for support.
In fact, a 2019 study from researchers at the University of California, Irvine revealed why women need two different networks — one that includes men, and one that is female-only.
From their male network, according to the study, women learn how to climb the corporate ladder and glean insights from male mentors. From their female network, especially with an inner circle of two to four women, women have a forum to talk about issues they might feel uncomfortable sharing with a man, like how a man stepped over them in a conversation, for example.
The study also found that women need a source of empathy and the ability to ideate off of that empathy with other women.
There's power in seeing an example of how another woman succeeded
When women actually get to know other women who have forged their way into leadership positions, it helps them understand how they can achieve that as well.
A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology backs this up. Women who saw images of successful, powerful women, like Hillary Clinton, before giving a speech outperformed their peers.
Jennifer DaSilva, president of the creative agency Berlin Cameron, has spent the last 15 years managing key accounts like Coca-Cola, Heineken, Lexus and Capital One. When she read about the research that pointed to the power of a female-only network, she was inspired and saw an opportunity to create a constellation of connected women.
DaSilva wanted to create a community of women where they could experience that effect. So in March 2019, she made it a goal to connect four women each day in the hopes creating lasting connections and collaborations. Other women were inspired and joined in. The initiative became known as Connect4Women, and the community is open to anyone globally.
That year, DaSilva connected more than 500 women, she tells me, which led to countless partnerships, business deals, new jobs and friendships. It has been a surprising source of joy for her, especially during the throes of the pandemic, when the need for connection and community have become more profound.
WIE, an influential membership network and platform for women leaders, is another great example of the power of female networks. Founded by women's advocate Dee Poku in 2010, WIE Symposium was one of the early modern women's conferences — created partly in response to the lack of diversity at traditional business forums.
The platform has attracted numerous business and cultural leaders to its global gatherings, including Melinda Gates, Arianna Huffington, Diane von Furstenberg, Nancy Pelosi, Jill Biden, Katie Couric, Tyra Banks and Christy Turlington.
'If you make a person feel seen, it does wonders'
From its initial spark of getting some of the biggest females in business together, WIE's mission transformed into a simpler cause of honing in on women and their careers, and how they could learn from one another.
And it all came back to that mission of helping women feel seen.
"If you make a person feel seen, it does wonders. It doesn't matter who they are. They could be the most successful person in the world or a junior intern. If you make people feel seen, they will jump over rivers for you," Poku tells me.
For WIE and for many other powerful networks like it, the strength of the community isn't really about the job titles, the bank accounts or the companies that these women represent — it all boils down to the power of human authenticity, of shining a light on each other and offering a means to show up and be seen.
And this is the constellation effect in action, too. When women come together in this way — through a constellation of supportive backers — they can not only cocreate and solve the problems they came to achieve, but they can also elevate and amplify other women by their leadership and by displaying their power for other women to emulate.
Susan McPherson is a relationships expert and founder and CEO of McPherson Strategies, a communications firm focused on the intersection of brands and social impact. She is also the author of "The Lost Art of Connecting: The Gather, Ask, Do Method for Building Meaningful Relationships." Susan's work has appeared in Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, NPR, The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, Forbes and CNN. Follow her on Twitter @susanmcp1.
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