Thirty-one years ago I began primary school and since then there have been four constants in my life; they go by the names Maria, Michelle, Maureen and Máire. Back then we played with the same toys, held the same interests, wore the same clothes and even formed a girl-group at the age of ten called ‘4M’s-1A’ long before the Spice Girls and ‘girl power’. Today, we are much more about embracing our own unique differences, recognise we can’t sing and work in the fields of diversity, finance, travel, writing and acting.
Last year my mum’s two best friends were very welcome guests at my wedding, they’ve been friends for 60 years. Powerful friendships have been instrumental in both mine and my mother’s lives. So when this week’s guest blogger Claire Millar asked me what I thought about her writing a guest blog on the impact her friends have had on her career, I simply could not have been more on board.
There are many influences in a woman’s life that can help to enhance or hinder her career progression. In particular, the people in our lives play a pivotal role, women and men. I do however feel that a girl’s best friend can play a much bigger role than that portrayed in the movies and my experience has shown me that strong female friendships can affect your work life as well as your personal life.
I have been lucky enough to have phenomenal women at PwC guide and support me thus far in my career as well as some very special women outside of work. Women supporting women in the workplace is often discussed and widely documented. There is much research highlighting the benefits of female support on a woman’s career. However, it is less common to hear of the positive impact the women outside of the workplace can have on our careers.
I have lots of amazing female influences in my personal life; my mother, my sister and not least my best friends. I would rarely make a decision pertaining to my career prior to consulting with my best friends and they have played a hugely influential role in my chosen professional path.
Last September marked 20 years since my mother first put me in my bottle green school uniform and said goodbye at the school gates. It also marked the beginning of many beautiful friendships, the majority of which still hold strong today.
The group comprises a range of careers; nurses, accountants, marketing and media execs, teachers, social workers, finance analysts, a scientist, an air hostess and an architect. Some own houses, some are mothers, others are single. Yet irrespective of our diverse careers and lifestyles, we have the strongest friendship I have ever witnessed and act not only as a support network for each other, but also as advice givers and mentors. There is something incredibly special about having my own personal team of mentors with such a wide range of expertise. We’ve even taken to holding an annual award ceremony recognising the accomplishments of one another.
I told my friends I was writing this blog and asked if they felt this group had encouraged or helped them with regards to their educations and careers. The response was almost immediate and overwhelming. There was not one of us that had not benefited professionally from each other’s support throughout the course of our 20 year long friendship. With many of the group now living overseas to follow their career and travel dreams, there were countless stories of the guidance and support they experienced when making the difficult decision to emigrate and throughout the transition process. Others thanked the group for encouraging them to return to college to further their education, a risk they feel was definitely worth taking.
One friend described the challenge she faced when deciding whether to leave what was described in her own words as a credible job in business banking to go and work as an air hostess for one of the largest airlines in the world. She explained how she faced negative reactions and felt patronised by people when they learned of her decision, yet received nothing but encouragement and honest advice from our group of friends. More than a year on, she feels that for the first time she is doing a job where she feels fulfilled both career wise and personally.
On a personal level, I had what was arguably the most challenging summer of my life last year as I faced the FAE exams, the final step towards becoming a chartered accountant here in Ireland. At times, I struggled to maintain focus but any time when my motivation faltered, I had a full team behind me to encourage and support me at every hurdle. When I got the good news that I had qualified my friends were bursting with pride. More importantly, they made me realise that regardless of the outcome, I would be ok.
These friends have had and continue to have a profound influence on my life both personally and professionally. I would encourage women to discuss career matters with their friends. We often talk about the importance of diversity and sometimes having input from people who work in a completely different business to you and know you personally can be tremendously powerful. As much as our conversations do revolve around the typically girlie topics, just as many involve notes of encouragement and congratulations on everyday achievements like a positive review in work.
Are you experiencing a challenge in work, considering a career move or do you want to tell someone about something you achieved? Take my advice and discuss with a friend!