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Here's Why You Should Be More Intentional About Developing Work Friendships

There's this inconceivable beauty created by forging meaningful friendships with co-workers.

Workin' Girl

It was in 2010 when I realized that establishing work friendships was important. I had started working at my second internship which was—at that point in my life—the closest to full-time work I had experienced. The office was preparing to launch a major initiative that my coworker and I were hired to coordinate. Both of us were college students. Neither of us had any experience doing something like this.

While he and I grew closer, I found myself retreating to an older black woman to help me process and handle the hardships of the project: the poor instruction, the lack of guidance, the dysfunctional leadership, and ultimately, the challenges on the day of. She became a sounding board for me during difficult times, and when I decided it was time for me to move on, she was there as well; supporting me boldly and covering for me as my attitude became reflective of my unhappiness.

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Despite the popular belief that work is no place to make friends, I have always believed in the power of work friendships. I thought that, if nothing else, those friendships could certainly help pass the time. They could make the darkest day a little brighter and add humor to the dullest work meetings.

But it wasn't until I experienced the love of an older black woman in a toxic workspace that I realized that work friendships were not only important for my enjoyment of a role but that they are critical to my progress and success as a young professional black woman. Here's why:

Building Positive Relationships At Work

Find your "work auntie", find your champion.

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That's what I call them—work aunties. A term of endearment for only the most well-intentioned, supportive, nurturing female co-workers.

At every job that I'd had for more than a year, there's been an older black woman (or two) who's been willing to go to war for—and with—me. Women who knew how to support me in the throes of a trying work culture. Women whose prayers have revived and re-centered me when I was preparing to jump off the deep end.

They will lift you up time and time again.

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They've helped me navigate difficult breakups and made themselves available to me during mid-work breakdowns. They've told me about myself when my personal life was impeding on my work performance—and would cover me just the same when I couldn't muster up the strength to focus on improving it.

Wonderful black (and some, white) women who affirmed me when impostor syndrome and self-doubt set in. Women who knew my worth and made sure others knew it as well. Women who petitioned for me for promotions, special projects, and raises. Women who didn't have to do any of that but chose to anyway.

See, as a young 20-something-year-old, those relationships were critical to my professional growth—especially as a woman of color. And that shared responsibility of love and support in the workplace wasn't foreign to me either.

In return, you can be a bomb af "work niece". 

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Offering love and support to the women who felt stuck and unfulfilled. I added a bit of laughter and intercession to the women who spent all day supporting others. I provided a millennial perspective to those who had children my age and added a drop of understanding to their parenthood.

There's so much untapped value in cultivating tight-knit friendships in the place you spend most of your waking hours. There's comfort in being able to confide in people who know exactly what you mean when you discuss colleagues, the demands of your job, or the toxic work culture. There's beauty in being able to walk into a co-worker's office, close their door, and cry to keep yourself from quitting. Beyond just professional benefits—references, a network, and growth opportunities—there's this inconceivable beauty created by forging meaningful friendships with co-workers.

Developing positive work relationships is the gift that keeps on giving if you allow it.

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While I've never started a job hoping to make friends, some of the most meaningful friendships I've had have been cultivated through work. They've been nurtured by break room vent sessions; honored by "I'm running late, cover for me" text messages; and protected by "let's get this done together" project collaborations.

We've formed prayer groups during our lunch hour and started walking groups for the sake of mental health and physical fitness. We've celebrated each other's promotions and supported each other's personal work.

And while I know work relationships like this are rare, I also know that they are possible. I merely suggest that, instead of shying away from them, women begin to pursue and embrace them. I pray that women find work aunties and become them, too. And largely, I hope that these relationships begin to help you just as much as they've helped me.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

3 Compelling Reasons To Make Friends With Women You Work With

5 Ways To Get Taken More Seriously At Work

What Happened When I Tried Being More Assertive At Work

9 Lessons I Learned After Working 9 Internships

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

This article is in partnership with Staples.

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