Teressa Moore Griffin and I have facilitated dozens of women’s leadership workshops. A few years ago, we began to notice something: the session had ended, but the workshop wasn’t over. The women who had participated had stayed after and were making plans to keep meeting.
In fact, one group of women who attended this workshop ten years ago still meets twice a year, even though they live all over the United States. They host each other in their communities, do service projects together, and even help each other out in times of illness and crisis. And this group was not an anomaly, so Teressa and I began to ask ourselves, “What is going on? What’s driving this behavior?”
Empowerment conferences for women are on the rise throughout the United States and internationally. Could it be that this surge is related to the pattern we observed at the end of our workshops? What need is being met by these conferences? Sure, women attend for the professional networking, but I think these conferences, and our workshop experiences, highlight something else. Women are missing community with other women. Consider these statistics:
Additionally, many women still find themselves having to fit into workplace cultures where only masculine norms of behavior are valued. This could mean that they may feel like outsiders at work and are hungry to be with others who share their experiences as women in the workplace.
Barbara Berg, a historian and the author of Sexism in America,
references the empowerment conferences when she says:
These meetings give us the sense that we’re communicating and connecting at a time when I think so many of us have felt so isolated. I think these conferences have capitalized on a yearning to be part of something.
Getting Creative about Creating Community
I remember when, because I was traveling a lot for work, I realized that I didn’t have enough “girlfriend” time in my life. I had a great relationship with a lovely man, but I really missed having time with women friends to talk and share and laugh with and to get that special kind of support you can only get from other women. My travel schedule meant that I could not be part of a regular group because I was rarely in town, so I had to get creative. Here’s what has worked for me:
- I really wanted to have a diverse group of women friends, so an African-American friend and I (I am white) founded a black and white women’s support group. We are eight women who live all over the United States and meet twice a year in each other’s homes for a long weekend—and we cook and shop and laugh and have deep conversations late into the night. We have been meeting for more than 20 years, and, although we have had some changes in membership, we have been able to develop deep and caring relationships.
- I am also part of a different support group with two other women. We live in different cities and we talk monthly on the phone for one hour to encourage each other in accomplishing our goals. We have been doing this for more than 20 years. Since we have been meeting, one of us completed a fine arts graduate degree and is a practicing photographer, the other completed a fine arts graduate degree and has written two novels, and I completed my doctorate and presented my research in my new book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together. We set goals for what we will accomplish by our next call and we hold each other accountable. I would not have been able to accomplish the big goals in my life things without their support.
- I also joined a women’s leadership collaborative that met for five years to learn about women’s dynamics in community. After the five years were over, many of the women continued meeting, but I left to work on my doctorate and write my book. I recently rejoined the group, which meets once a year for a week. I really missed being in this community and I am so glad to be back.
- Additionally, one of my neighbors and I have been meeting at the gym and working out together with a trainer twice a week for more than 12 years—when I am in town. We do not see each other outside of the gym, but we look forward to catching up during our workouts and keeping track of the important moments in each other’s lives. And, of course, our workouts seem effortless because we enjoy each other’s company so much. I would really miss her if our shared workout time came to an end.
So, this is what works for me. How do you build community with other women? What has worked for you? I look forward to hearing from you.]]>