AnnaMarie Houlis
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Journalist & travel blogger

New research suggests that same-sex relationships with colleagues in the workplace can help women, both professionally and personally.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study explored the link between students’ graduate school social networks and their placements into leadership positions. Following 700 former graduate students from a top-ranked U.S. business school as they were accepted into leadership-level positions, the researchers looked at the size of each person’s social network, the number of same-sex contacts and how strong those network ties were.

The results of the study suggest that the more female contacts a woman has at work, the more likely she is to be successful. Specifically, more than 75 percent of high-ranking women had strong ties to a female-dominated inner circle, or at least strong ties to two or three women with whom they regularly communicated. These women had an expected job placement level that's two and a half times greater than the women who had smaller networks and more male-dominated inner circles.

Ultimately, having "work moms" to support you and advocate for you can lead to increased opportunities. We spoke with five women who've shared how their "work moms" helped them both professionally and personally.

How "work moms" help women in the workplace

1. They lend a trusting ear.

"As an Executive Resume Writer in an almost exclusively virtual business, by business buddy has made being a 'solopreneur' feel so much less solo," says Virginia Franco, founder of Virginia Franco Resumes. "A keynote speaker I heard several years ago stated that one of the best things she did for her business was to find a business buddy. Michelle and I had connected over LinkedIn a few months before, and so I sent her a note asking her to be my buddy. We've connected once a month by phone almost without fail ever since — and I look forward to connecting every year in person at a national conference we both attend. We have each other's backs when it comes to supporting each other's ups and downs, and she lends a trusted ear whenever I need it."

2. They coach.

"I began working at a marketing company immediately after graduating from university, and was taken under the wing by a very professional and supportive lady," says Jennifer Lipsitt-McLean of Mombible.com. "Being in a new environment, I was naturally quite intimidated at first. But she trained me amazingly well, continues to support all of my ambitions and is willing to go the extra mile to help me progress. For instance, she has no issues coaching me on interview tips, and has taken the time to help me strengthen my weaknesses. All of this additional support has definitely helped me improve myself professionally, and I believe it has contributed to me winning a promotion."

3. They teach career and life lessons. 

"I have a work mom  — her name is Lynette Wilkins," says Shanna Battle, a full-time blogger and Outreach Coordinator for her local Parks and Rec Department. "I'd always known her from around the department, but didn't get close to her until I was assigned to work under her for a few years. She was the type of boss you never knew you needed... they made you not just a better employee but a better person. Lynette took me under her wing and taught me how to step outside of my comfort zone, think bigger and work harder. I remember she told me I was going to be the soccer coach. I told her I didn't have a clue about how to coach, and she said, 'Girl, you better Google it!' I love soccer now."

As Battle and Wilkins' professional relationship grows, so does their friendship. When they worked together, Wilkins gave Battle tips on life when they had long days in the office, and she even let Battle vent to her when she had personal issues.

"She was and still is always pushing me out of my comfort zone," Battle says. "When she was moved to another site, she gave me the biggest hug, and told me I would be okay. In part thanks to her, I am. We still talk!"

4. They direct to success. 

"I have a whole work family; however, I am really close with two ladies who do not consider themselves 'old,' so they do not allow me to call them 'work moms,'" says Maxine Teele, a licensed realtor with Keller Williams Realty. "One is my 'work aunt' and the other is my 'work sister.' These relationships have blossomed into us actually considering each other family."

Teele says that she felt like she was determined but lost at work at the beginning of her career, and her female advocates at work would give her pointers on her real estate business. They waited to see if she was coachable, and then proceeded to direct her to success, she says.

"My work sister is the person I call and text before I respond to a professional situation that has annoyed me," she explains. "My work auntie is the person I call or text when I need motivation or just to laugh. I love and cherish them both dearly and, when I make it big, I already promised them there is no way I will forget them!"

5. They advocate.

"My 'work mom' is actually one of my managers — she's always there to help me, even if it means losing me," says Elizabeth Keels, who works in hospital administration. "I've been looking to move up at work, and hopefully I get this promotion that's up for grabs. My work mom has helped me by doing practice interviews with me on our lunch breaks and advocating for me with authorities in our company. She knows that if I get this job, she'll need to fill my role with someone new. But she prioritizes my success, and wants to see me succeed nonetheless. She's amazing."

Tips for "Work Moms"

1. Listen.

Women need people in the workplace willing to listen to their questions, concerns and even their dreams. Work moms can be those people to lend an ear.

2. Share actionable advice.

A wealth of research shows that women don't get the same kind of actionable feedback as men when it comes to work. Work moms can share that kind of criticism, advice and tips for women to actually make changes, hone in on certain skills and, ultimately, achieve success.

3. Advocate.

Studies show that having advocates is one surefire way to move on up the work ladder. Work moms can be those people pushing for other women in the workplace.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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