Work wives can make or break your career.
A wealth of research suggests that “work spouses”—a coworker and office friend with whom we have such a strong working relationship that they seem to be our office spouse—are major contributing factors in our career successes — and they can boost our workplace morale. For example, much like a real wife, husband, or partner, a work spouse can offer loyalty, respect, support and trust, which each help us grow both personally and professionally.
A 2015 study of work marriage defined the concept as allowing work wives and husbands to have “high levels of disclosure and support, and mutual trust, honesty, loyalty and respect,” and noted that work wives often share similar traits to one another, like humor, for example, as well. And, according to a survey from digital media company Captivate, 75 percent of business professionals report having or previously having a work spouse.
Take, for example, Georgene Huang and Romy Newman, cofounders of Fairygodboss, a career resource by women for women that shares what companies do (or don’t do) to treat women fairly.
Georgene Huang had a major dilemma on her hands when she was fired at two months pregnant with her second child in 2014. She'd been working as the head of Enterprise Business and Institutional Products at Dow Jones, and when her boss was let go in a management shakeup, she lost her job as well.
Huang still hadn’t disclosed her pregnancy to her friends and family, let alone her employer. And she anticipated that she’d have some difficulty trusting a new employer to treat her with respect as a soon-to-be working mother of two. She didn’t feel comfortable asking interviewers about maternity leave policies or the companies’ work-life balances, since she didn’t want prospective employers to assume she wasn’t commited to her career.
That’s when Huang called up Romy Newman, a former coworker whom she considered her work wife. The pair would go on to create Fairygodboss to crowdsource the answers to those questions about the companies themselves. Newman formerly led digital ad sales at The Wall Street Journal. The pair met at Dow Jones in 2012, and they ultimately combined their expertise to launch their own site in the spring of 2015.
"We reported to the same manager, but worked on very different lines of business — so we rarely interacted professionally," Newman explains of their time at Dow Jones together. "Basically, we knew each other from across the room — and both thought the other was quite impressive."
So they reconnected when Huang was in the early stages of building Fairygodboss, at which point Newman was no longer at Dow Jones and was instead consulting. She was experiencing her own challenges trying to navigate being a mom of young kids alongside a demanding career in the corporate world.
"Our values are in sync, and we’re brave in different ways that complement each other," Newman says of their working relationship. "I think we both recognize and admire each other’s strengths and feel lucky to be in this together. I don’t know how I could have ever done this alone — because it is so nice to have someone to share the experience with — both the highs and the lows."
She adds that, since they both have small children, it’s really helpful that they can help fill in for each other. They both firmly believe in workplace flexibility so that they can deliver the quality time that they want to their families while still excelling at work.
"We’re both fiercely committed to the goal of improving the workplace for women," Huang adds. "Romy’s background is in sales, so she’s focused on revenue and building relationships with our corporate partners (the companies we work with, for whom we do a hybrid of employer branding and recruiting). I focus mainly on product and user growth. While we don’t always agree on every tiny detail or small decision, we push each other in a healthy, constructive way, and completely trust one another with all things related to the business."
By pulling together their unique experiences, they built a database of anonymous employee reviews, an entire maternity leave database, and a work-life balance guide on Fairygodboss. The site also offers a pregnancy week-by-week newsletter that offers expecting moms tips for each stage of their journey, career advice, job listings at companies that prioritize advancing gender equality in the workplace, a salary database, and virtual career fairs.
"I imagine it would feel particularly tough and lonely if I didn’t have a partner by my side to navigate the highs and lows," Huang says of the startup world and Fairygodboss' successes thus far. "It’s critical that you respect and trust your work wife, and that you can understand and appreciate her perspective even when it differs from your own... Having someone whose input you value, and who brings skills and experiences to the table that differ from your own, is critical to the way your business will grow and evolve. Your friends and even your family might not always understand what you’re going through work-wise, so having a business partner is an invaluable form of support."
And thanks to their relationship—work marriage, rather—and support for each other, Fairygodboss now helps a million women each month get the inside scoop from others on tens of thousands of companies.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.