Women gain new allies in the battle for business equality every day. But even with their efforts—and all the powerful women in business proving women have what it takes—overall progress remains slow.
The World Economic Forum reported that the gender gap had closed by 68.1% in 2022. That sounds great, except that the same report estimated it will take another 132 years to close it completely. How morbid, to think that no women fighting to break through barriers today will be around to see the other side.
Would we even like what we find there? The solution to the imbalance between men and women might not be equality in the current system. Perhaps it’s an entirely new template for business owners.
In their book Work Wife: The Power of Female Friendship to Drive Successful Businesses, startup cofounders Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur share how their work wife partnership was their secret to success.
They suggest that women entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity to become heralds of disruption—but only together.
What is a “work wife”?
The term “work wife” (or sometimes “office wife”) emerged decades ago, though it originally referred to the (female) secretaries upon whom (male) bosses depended. Nowadays, the terms “work wife” and “work husband” refer to anyone who serves as your go-to, can’t-live-without partner in the workplace. The work spouse relationship is not a real marriage, but a platonic partnership with powerful potential for innovation.
Cerulo and Mazur cite anecdotes and interviews with work wife pairs in an array of industries: fashion, film, sports, law, venture capital, and even a marijuana dispensary. But the point is not that successful women entrepreneurs can be found in any field—we already know that. The point is that the innovative relationship dynamic of work wives brings new solutions to old problems.
“When women partner together in the workplace . . . progressive shifts happen naturally,” say Cerulo and Mazur.
Dismantling Male Dominance to Make Way for Woman Entrepreneurs
Traditional corporate culture promotes a dog-eat-dog atmosphere in which coworkers see each other as rivals. In the past few decades, however, huge shifts in teamwork and leadership philosophy are signaling a new—and by some measure more feminine—approach.
“Slow but steady progress toward dismantling male dominance at the office,” say Cerulo and Mazur, “has carved out space for women to collaborate instead of compete professionally. That’s set the stage for change.”
Among the many aspects of forming a healthy partnership, Work Wife highlights how balancing responsibilities supports individual “superpowers.”
According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, women have a stronger tendency toward cooperation than men, particularly in startup culture. The new business reality built through work wife collaboration isn’t about making everyone the same. It’s about supporting individual strengths toward a common goal—on a professional and emotional level.
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Committing to each other as business partners who are also friends introduces a whole new level of accountability to everyday actions.Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur, Cofounders of Of a Kind
Embracing the Work Wife Balance
In a post-pandemic business landscape, future business leaders are shifting their focus to not only online alternatives, but also to new career philosophies. COVID-19 laid bare many unnecessary pain points, from soul-crushing commutes and long office hours to time wasted in meetings that no one really needed to attend synchronously.
But it also created new issues we’ll need to face, such as work-life imbalance when your office doubles as your living room.
Work Wife was written long before the pandemic, but even Cerulo and Mazur noted the work-life balance conundrum. “There are fewer and fewer jobs in the world that allow for a clear delineation between work and life,” they say. Avoiding burnout as the lines blur will call for innovating our whole working culture in favor of soft skills like empathy over traditional, stereotypical values. Work wives are demonstrating that this is possible in myriad ways.
“The mix of openness, support, and shared grunt work that’s required in [work wife] partnerships . . . creates a safe-space environment for professional—and personal—growth,” say Cerulo and Mazur. “It’s an approach that upends so many of the closed-off, competitive, and every-man-for-himself beliefs and characteristics that have driven corporate culture for so long. That’s part of what makes it so great.”
Work Wife “is advocating for a reimagining of work.” If women in business can find their perfect business partner, it will not only help them realize their own career goals, but perhaps disrupt the greater business world for the better.