By Chris Olsen
When I was in the midst of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer several years ago, I insisted on working when I probably should have been on medical leave. This came as a surprise to no one, especially my coworker Austine. She was more than a colleague. We spent our break time together, formed our own subcommittees to solve the organization’s problems, and spent happy hours at a pub near the office commiserating. We even created a book club with just the two of us (I wanted to invite others, but Austine insisted on keeping it small). We were each other’s support system in a dysfunctional workplace.
We were also both members of the organization’s leadership team. During one particularly grueling team meeting in a packed conference room, I began to feel queasy. I wasn’t one to walk out of a meeting in progress to use the restroom and secretly judged those who did (control your coffee intake or your bladder, people). But the side effects from chemo were no joke. I got up from the conference table to make a beeline for the bathroom. Austine jolted up behind me.
Though it all happened very quickly, I wondered why she was following so closely. In an instant, I felt her tug at my dress, which had been tucked inside the waistband of my sheer tights. I’m not sure how long I’d been walking around the office with my dress all tangled up in my hosiery. But before anyone in the room even noticed my bare ass beneath my see-through tights, she rectified the situation. She followed me out of the room and asked if I needed anything. Our eyes locked for a second. Mine said, “I have no idea what just happened, but thank you.” Hers said, “I got you.”
Today, like many small business owners, I spend a fair amount of time alone. It’s far from easy. Not everyone is supportive. I’ve seen many variations of a meme that says, “Be the woman who fixes another woman’s crooked crown without saying a word.” But here’s the thing: A crooked crown is nothing. As a matter of fact, if I actually owned a crown, I’d probably wear it with a little tilt on purpose. If you ask me, what’s far more important is to be the kind of woman who prevents another woman from mooning an entire board room full of stuffy higher-ups. Someone who doesn’t hesitate to disrupt an important meeting to follow another woman to the restroom because you literally have her back.
Here are a few simple ways to be the kind of woman who shows unconditional support to other women in business:
Learn about her business. You aren’t going to feel closely connected to the products or services every business offers. Nevertheless, making an effort to learn about and share the basics of what a friend or family member does for a living is a simple way of showing you care. It can be a bit surreal when a friend introduces you to someone new and describes your business in their own words. I often find myself thinking, “Hey, that’s the thing I created that she’s talking about! How cool!”
Give her encouragement. The small business owners I know are pretty tuned into the fact that not everyone wants to hear about the trials and tribulations of running a business. I’ve made a practice of not talking about my business to everyone all the time. But I get giddy when people ask me about it. Encouraging entrepreneurial friends and family members means a lot to them. Even just an email or text that says, “Thinking of you!” or “Hope everything is going well!” goes a long way.
Help if you can. Many women tend to think we can (or should be able to) do it all. On our own. Without asking for help. But sometimes we don’t know our dress is tucked inside of our tights. And the truth is that we need each other. Saying, “I got you!” even through a small simple action can have a big impact. Connect a business owner to someone in your network who might be useful. Share her business news on your social media. If you’re a fellow entrepreneur, ask about bartering for products or services.
What are some ways you show support to other women in business? I’d love to hear about them!
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support womxn-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story as a platform for doing so.