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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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Featured image by Shutterstock.
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Zoe Hunter is the writer, speaker, and creator behind the women empowerment brand DEAR QUEENS. She uses vulnerability, storytelling, and spiritual development to empower women toward healthy decision-making. Stay connected to Zoe's work by visiting DEARQUEENS.com or following her on Twitter @zDEARQUEENS.
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Victoria Monét has had an incredible year. Thanks to the success of the widely popular “On My Mama” that went viral, the singer/ songwriter’s Jaguar II album debuted in the top 10 of Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart. She also went on to headline her own sold-out tour. So, when the MTV VMAs happened in September, everyone was surprised to learn that Victoria’s team was told that it was “too early” for the “Smoke” artist to perform at the award show. However, a couple of months later, the mom of one received seven Grammy nominations, including “Best R&B Album” and “Record Of The Year.”
Victoria is currently in London and stopped by The Dotty Show on Apple Music and shared how she feels “validated” after being dismissed by the VMAs.
“It really does feel nice and validating because, in my head, the reason why I wanted to be a performer at the VMAs or award ceremonies like that is because I felt like I am at the place where I should. I would work really hard to put on the best show that I could, and I was excited to do so,” she said.
“And I guess the best way to describe it for me is like when you're like on a sports team, and the coach is like, ‘No, you gotta sit this one out.’ When they finally put you in, and then you score all these points, and it feels like that feeling. You're like, yes, I knew it wasn't tripping, but I knew I worked hard for this, and so it's been super validating to just have these accolades come after a moment like that, and I know the fans feel vindicated for me.
While her fans called the VMAs out on their decision, the “Moment” singer kept it cute and is still open to performing at the iconic award show. “I feel no ill towards them because it's just maybe that's just truly how they felt at the time, but I hope their mind has changed,” she admitted.
Feature image by Amy Sussman/WireImage for Parkwood