Ladies, did you know over 40 percent of women in the U.S. are the household breadwinners? We have so much to be proud of, as we run businesses (women make up 30 percent of privately owned businesses), serve as solid ground for our families, educate our children, support our partners and empower our friends. We're doing great work.
This doesn't mean, however, that we must be perfect at "doing it all." That is an unfair expectation, and I hope women continue to let go of feeling the pressure to be the perfect wife, sister, friend, employee, business owner, sexual goddess, mother, mother-in-law, house cleaner, chef and inspired female of the world.
Females tend to be raised with a competition mentality. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote in her book "We Should All Be Feminists," “We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men."
When you are raised to compete with other females, you naturally start to wonder — and at shockingly young ages — Is she prettier than me? Am I skinnier than her? Does she speak with more elegance than I do? Why don't I laugh so cutely like her? Why am I not as delicate as her? What is wrong with me that she can land a partner and I can't? Does she make more money than me? Is she smarter?
These thoughts can eat away at your power and it certainly doesn't support or encourage the female you're thinking about.
As go-getter females, how can we better support, empower, encourage our fellow go-getter females and let go of the competitive mentality? How does one even start that conversation?
Here are 9 questions you can ask another female that will let her know you've noticed her efforts and you're inspired by her, in support of her, and proud to stand beside her as a fellow female.
1. What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
This question opens the door for your female friend to discuss any desires for change, responsibilities or dynamics. Discussing work with your female friends allows for strategizing which can help your friend visualize, assess priorities and clarify her intentions in the work place.
2. Is there anything I can do to help you be more connected or inspired in your work?
We all have different contacts, especially if we're working in different fields. But fields successfully cross-pollinate all of the time, and reaching out to offer "I have someone you should talk to about that" or "I know someone who is an expert on this" can help empower your female friends' knowledge but also kickstart new business for the both of you.
3. What ideas have you been pondering lately?
This open-ended question allows your female friend to choose which territory she'd like to navigate: work, family, future dreams, current challenges, secret worries. It creates the opportunity for you to be an active listener, which your female friend may desperately need.
4. What are you feeling insecure about right now?
This question can be difficult because it puts you into vulnerable territory, but being bold and asking may be what your female friend needs to clearly understand what could be holding her back. Is she nervous about a big presentation? Is she scared to sign the paperwork on a business loan because she doesn't think she can do it? Is she worried her family will suffer if she takes the job offer? Listening to her fears can help her vocalize those fears and more clearly approach a major decision in her life.
5. What do you need right now or what more are you wanting right now?
This question is direct and to the point. In order to accomplish big things, humans need solid ground and often times, women serve as solid ground for others. But stepping up to ask, "How can I be solid ground for you right now during this transition?" will open up discussion for her to be more successful. May I bring you a cooked meal tomorrow night? May I fold laundry for you? May I take the next five phone calls for you? May I respond to that email? May I pick up your daughter from ballet? May I help set up the work party for you? Stepping in to be extra hands and eyes and feet can relieve some of the pressure and free her up to rest or achieve even more.
6. Where do you feel full in your life?
Positivity is powerful and contagious. Asking your female friend what parts of life feel abundant will quietly remind her how awesome she is and how awesome she's got it. Good friends remind us of these things.
7. What would you like to do more of this month?
Check in with your girlfriends. Life gets bogged down easily, and we forget to make time for the activities that we love. Does she want to try to make yoga once a week? Would she like to read a book? How about one glass of wine a week sitting in a bubble bath? Or a 3-mile run while listening to Brazilian Soul on Pandora? Once you know what she feels is missing and what her interests are, you can help achieve these goals even if it's as simple as dropping off a book on her desk with a coffee gift card tucked inside.
8. What inspired you lately?
Keep your female friends sharp and seeking inspiration by asking them what they've observed, read or heard. What shook their world up? This is a great way to stay close with your girlfriend and also share thoughts and inspiration. Perhaps she read a book that would be perfect for you to read next month. Or a TED Talk that opened up her eyes to environmental needs? Discuss, ladies. Discuss.
9. What is next for you?
Always keep an eye on the horizon with your girlfriends so that you're there with them on their goals. You serve as a navigator, a co-conspirator, a co-strategist, cheerleader and dear supporter.
Understanding the intricacies of how our friends receive support can help you better support your female friends. Do they need space? Do they need advice or just to be heard? Do they enjoy small surprises or empowering sticky notes left on their desk or in their inbox? We want to be the best supporters we can be, so understanding the playing field is better for both parties.
Your female friends need support and you need support. Together, women will rise. When we stop worrying about who is prettier, smarter or making the most money or having the cutest family, we can get down to what makes us tick. We can tap into the power that is WOMEN.
For further reading and to help women collect data on the lives of fellow females, take the survey at: http://thebreadwinnersproject.com/