A Case for Sistership: The Power of Female Partnerships

A Case For Sistership:

The Power Of Female Partnerships

By Korrin Bishop

September 2, 2014: Korrin to Liz

So, I just got back from my camping trip in Alaska with the fella, and I’m officially hooked on outdoor adventures. He’s heading out in about a week for another canoe trip with some of his bros. They all go on an outdoor adventure together once a year.

Anyway, that got me thinking…it would be super fun to start an outdoor adventures group of ladies! I was thinking it could be a group of about 4-6 and we could go on a backpacking/canoeing/whatever trip together once or twice a year. I was trying to think of which of my lady pals are more of the outdoorsy type, and obviously thought of you! Anyway, let me know what you think, and if you’d be interested in getting a little group going!

Later that day: Liz to Korrin

Sounds soo soo fantastic. More later. But short answer: YES!

September 6, 2014: Korrin to Liz

If you have time in the next week or two, let’s meet up and brainstorm! Yay for Wild Wilderness Women (just trying out a potential team name…ha!)!!!

If I had known back in September 2014 that the name, Wild Wilderness Women (WWW), would, in fact, stick, or if I had known that by the time of writing this, the group would be close to 40 women strong—if I had known that it would bring me to Montana in September 2015 to partake in the Wild Sage Summit, that it would have a web presence, or that it would be run by a board of seven incredible women—if I had known any of this, well, maybe, just maybe, I would have tried to have had a more eloquent email exchange with Liz that I could share here today.

However, back then, I hadn’t yet experienced the full power of female partnerships. I hadn’t been enlightened by Power Through Partnership: How Women Lead Better Together (a book by Betsy Polk and Maggie Ellis Chotas set to come out just months after this email exchange) to pull back the veil on this quiet revolution. I couldn’t have known that this brief and ecstatic exchange would turn into one of the most fulfilling initiatives—and partnerships—toward which I’ve put my time.

Photo by Ashley Barry

Photo by Ashley Barry

Polk and Chotas discuss that while “bromance,” or strong male partnerships, have long been accepted and valued by society, the female equivalent has been far less pronounced—as well as plagued by stereotypes of “catfights,” untrustworthy girlfriends, and a lack of interest in healthy professional competition. They urge a growing movement of what they deem “sistership,” an opportunity for women to collaborate in a way that is both personally and professionally filling. Through the co-founding of WWW with Liz, I personally experienced the vast power of this sistership, and it reached yet another level of strength when we established our all-female board to continue to operate and nourish this growing organization.

Partnering with other women afforded me the opportunities of confronting “impostor syndrome” in a constructive way, avoiding passion project burnout, and leveraging a unique type of strength and creativity that is unapologetically female.

Confronting “Impostor Syndrome”

In the past few years, many powerful, talented women have been bringing a needed voice to impostor syndrome—the feeling of not belonging, or not having earned an accomplishment, coupled with the anxiety of eventually being exposed as a fraud. In my time as a student, a young professional, and a wild wilderness woman, I have not been immune to feeling just that.

There are several facets to why impostor syndrome is something to discuss openly and address meaningfully, but a main one I think about is that WWW may not have come into fruition if impostor syndrome had been given center stage. I would have been too busy doubting the idea’s value, whether anyone would actually be interested, or if I had the skills needed to pull it off to ever get to the work of creating it.

However, there’s a key reason why impostor syndrome wasn’t given that chance to derail this dream—I had Liz. I chose partnership. Polk and Chotas explain why this decision actively works against the lack of confidence that impostor syndrome fuels:

The partnership dynamic plays a powerful role in developing confidence. The process starts with deciding to partner. When you say yes to combining your skills with those of a respected peer, you need to first acknowledge that you’re bringing valuable skills and perspectives to the partnership: after all, your partner is choosing you for good reasons. And, while you may sometimes experience the impostor syndrome yourself, chances are you have faith in the credibility of your partner: a woman may cut herself down, but rarely will she transfer that insecurity to her close colleague. Through the very act of partnering, women learn to assume confidence in themselves because their professional identity is closely tied to that of their partner’s.

In addition to partnership being critical to dismissing the impostor syndrome that could have stopped WWW from ever getting started, it has also given me the occasional loving slap in the face when my self-confidence has waned in unproductive ways. Upon receiving an invitation to speak at a women’s event held by a well-known outdoors company, my immediate reaction to Mia, our board’s VP of Adventure Planning, was along the lines of, “What? They want me to speak? But I know nothing.”

Having Mia in my partnership circle pulled me back from a destructive loop of self-doubt by reminding me of the value I bring to our work. She told me with straightforwardness and kindness, “Korrin, you have built an amazing and strong organization of women who are supporting and empowering one another to push limits and try new things. You know everything.”

Photo by Korrin Bishop

Photo by Korrin Bishop

Avoiding Passion Project Burnout

Passion projects are the fuel of life. They’re filled with the very things that make your heart sing. They’re you taking the time to create something that you genuinely care about. I love passion projects. They keep my eyes wide and my mind dreaming.

For the many of us who juggle these passion projects alongside day jobs and other responsibilities, however, they can also make for a stressful situation. If you’re not careful with your steps, it’s easy to have the very thing that once brought you so much joy turn out to feel like a burden—the shame of not being able to keep up with things that others have come to rely on, the overwhelming feeling of a busy life, the struggle of setting aside time to think strategically about the project as it grows.

Photo by Marlene Haggblade

Photo by Marlene Haggblade

I’ve found that much of the threat of passion project burnout can be avoided by the gift of partnering with another woman. During our founding, both Liz and I were managing heavy loads—applying to business school, work travel, wedding planning, breakups, deadline chasing. We could have burned out quickly on WWW before it even really began if we hadn’t had our partnership.

Partnering allowed for Liz to lean out of the project when she needed to focus on getting her applications in for business school because she knew that I could lean in to carry some of the extra weight of planning our group for that time. When the situations switched, and I needed to lean out to address some personal aspects of my life, I knew I could rely on Liz to make sure our first hike still went off with a bang. There was a mutual accountability that kept the momentum moving forward.

When Liz got accepted into business school and needed to redirect even more of her time toward that channel for a while, we established the all-female board we have today to continue to grow and direct WWW in a meaningful way. I now not only have the gift of having co-founded this group with Liz, but also the support of five other women whose ideas and willingness to move along their own initiatives within the group inspires me to continue to put my time into this effort—and to not burnout.

When it comes to passion projects, it’s ok to ask for help. Partnering with another woman—or a group of women—offers the comfort and understanding that your passion project will continue to flourish even when life steps in and asks you to step out for a little.

Photo by Ashley Barry

Photo by Ashley Barry

When it comes to passion projects, it’s ok to ask for help.

Unapologetically Female

Much of the mainstream talk about breaking the glass ceiling seems to eventually circle back to how women need to rid themselves of the confidence-lacking, emotion-fueled, communally-based “feminine” characteristics holding them back. We need take on more “masculine” traits to be taken seriously and to advance within our fields. Answer assertively. Be aggressive. Take leadership. Don’t express emotion. Don’t be accommodating. Don’t show vulnerability.

And yet, this approach still doesn’t seem to be working. Not only does taking on “masculine” characteristics require women to delicately dance the line of being “too much” of any of these traits and, therefore, somehow, no longer “woman enough,” but, perhaps even more importantly, this strategy can’t work because it ignores the great value these chastised “feminine” characteristics actually bring to the table.

Photo by Ashley Barry

Photo by Ashley Barry

Being communal allows us to share ideas and skills and leverage the best pieces into the most optimal work. Having emotions allows us to shape our projects in ways that affect actual people and promote mission-driven initiatives. Expressing vulnerability gifts us the strength of being able to face our fears and learn to overcome those challenges.

The partnerships I’ve grown with my co-founder and board feel unapologetically female in the most beautiful, empowering, and productive of ways. Outside the bounds of traditionally male-dominated arenas where our skills are under-valued and our steps must be calculated, our strong tribe of sisters is finally given permission to be our full selves.

Polk and Chotas again bring further light to this benefit of female partnership:

In sharp contrast to the entrenched double standards that plague our society, women in partnership have access to the freedom that comes from working with someone who gets it because she has been operating on the same playing field, under the same unspoken rules and societal expectations. This shared understanding can make it easier for a woman to bring her entire self to work, knowing that in the company of a female peer there’s no need to modify, adjust, or apologize for who she really is. Partnership is one of the few professional spheres (perhaps the only one) in which women can comfortably be themselves—brusque, emotional, or otherwise—in contrast to more structured, mixed-gender environments, where women might not feel so at ease.

Empowering women isn’t just about increasing confidence levels and instilling male- oriented methods; it’s also about acknowledging that traditionally female approaches are invaluable. The partnerships that keep WWW functioning have given us the space to be intentional about nurturing just that.

Hey, Let’s Partner!

As soon as I experienced the full power of partnering with other women through WWW, I was hooked. It was like opening the door to infinite potential. I started meeting more and more creative, driven, smart women, and our conversations would naturally evolve into excited strategizing about how to live out our dreams, grow our ideas, and, of course, in what ways we might be able to partner to help each other achieve these goals.

The benefits of female partnerships are vast, allowing for a full appreciation of the feminine and a support system to keep a dream in motion. It is my sincere wish that all women have the chance to uncover and experience the beauty of these partnerships, and the strength and joy they bring to both our personal and professional lives.

In the end, the best way for women to debunk the myths that we are prone to catfights, can’t collaborate professionally, or don’t have the confidence to accomplish big things is to stop listening to that old narrative and start allowing ourselves to explore our untapped potential—together.

So, when that opportunity arises to send an exclamation-point-laden email to a gal pal about an idea you have, or to respond to the one you just received from her, I hope you’ll both land on, “Hey, let’s partner!”

Then, like Polk and Chotas through their book, and like my little attempt here, I hope you’ll find a way to share your partnership story so that even more women can begin to visualize and benefit from the underutilized power of sistership.

Korrin Bishop works full time, co-founded Wild Wilderness Women and writes for her blog “Rough Outlines.”  She’s also a staff writer for the great “Misadventures Mag”. You can find her and WWW through the links below.

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What do you think are the benefits of female partnerships?

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