Thelma and Louise in the Workplace: The Psychology of a Different Type of Female Friendship



Thelma and Louise in the Workplace: The Psychology of a Different Type of Female Friendship



The workplace and in day-to-day life there are many labeled types of “unconventional” yet conventional relationships.  We have the Will and Grace relationship-types that exist in day-to-day life and in the work world that are now immortalized in the Smithsonian’s Museum of History.  You also have bromances like that between Brad Pit and George Clooney , as well as Matt and Ben (do I even have to say their last names) that seemed to get their start back with the original televised series “The Odd Couple”. You have the Office Wife and Office Husband; a concept that started taking root in the American consciousness in the 1930s. In 2006, a marketplace survey (Oldman, 2006) found that 32% of workers said they had an “office husband” or “office wife”.  I would guess to venture that percentage has increased dramatically over the last few years.  A smart division of labor and confidante in the workplace is needed more so these days as expected productivity with dwindling resources continues to rise.  Then you have the frenemy who holds a special place in one’s life since it is a key example of our fractured self-concepts. We hold someone in our lives as a friend although they are more like an enemy.  Modern day life is rife with relationships that represent a missing part of ourselves. Where would Seinfeld be without his Newman?



You know what you do not hear much about? Friendships between women in the workplace. You often hear about the sabotaging or lack of mentorship that exists between women in the work world.  The “Devil Wears Prada” came from someone’s reality at one place and time, no? It’s kind of where that image of catty women broke into the mainstream. A couple of years back Forbes wrote an article about the role of women in the workplace. The title was: Women leading women: Supporters or saboteurs?  I myself have seen and written about the mean girls in the workplace.  However, not all female relationships in the workplace are mean-spirited, catty or backstabbing.  Further, not all “good” female relationships in the workplace are about mentoring either. It is that duality of being either mean or a mentor (a guide) that is put on in popular culture. There is another option.



There are the Thelma and Louise workplace relationships. Yes, I am not alluding to a type of friendship that is built on women who get together and exact revenge on all men. That is just a bit too psychotic for me. I am talking about those friendships where women have each other’s back when they decide to take risks and even have some workplace fun.  Thelma and Louise completed each other. One was timid and one was more upfront. One shot and killed a man to protect her friend; the other went and learned to commit a robbery to replace their stolen money. They went on an adventure and learned from each other along the way and pulled on each other’s strengths. They laughed, they cried and they went flying off the cliff together hand-in-hand.  Why can’t those qualities take root in the workplace?


I have been lucky that at various times I’ve had a Thelma and Louise workplace friendship. I have had that “sidekick” that dared to do my crazy idea and that dared me to in turn to take on new challenges. We weren’t happy staying with the status quo and we encouraged each other to go for it. No bits of jealousy. There is just support and laughter along with shared bouts of righteous anger. I wouldn’t be blogging today if it weren’t for the urging of such a supportive fellow workplace female.



A Thelma and Louise type relationship can arise when each of the women actually has different strengths and can leave their ego at the door. They each want the other to madly succeed but because it involves different skillsets (flair with statistics versus gift of gab) or interests there is no competition. Furthermore, there is the element of straight-up craziness. It is the type of friendship where you can be on a business trip and say “hey, let’s get in a car and drive and see what happens.”  You have to be free of scripted expectations and be willing to just go for it. It is a blending of artful mindfulness and living for the moment. For example, you got to be able to go with the flow of suddenly declaring Wednesdays to be “Reisling Wednesday” and get that glass of Hoffman Gewürztraminer and not worry that it is not a Reisling or that you are drinking in the middle of the day. That type of friendship allows for creativity to rise and not be stifled in the workplace.  Of course, there needs to be certain points in common in order for the friendship to rise. I have found that one point of commonality is the ability to have a bit of a twisted sense of humor in order to break through the fog of workplace inertia and mean-spiritedness.
All hail Thelma and Louise



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5 replies »

  1. I had a Thelma & Louise workplace friendship that got WAY too close and went pear shaped ! We were so synced to one another we became like a little old married couple, my salt to her pepper, our affinity was like a teenage friendship. It was great until she became so obsessed with our friendship that she wanted to car pool with me, pick me up for work etc etc. I started to feel guilty if I wanted to go lunch on my own ! Eventually I quit my job and when I told here she said “how could you do this to me ?!”. She finished it off with one of the strangest things a workplace friend could ever say … “I feel like I’ve been married, without the sex, and now I’ve been dumped !”. O.Kaaaaaaaaay… Workplace friendship, kindred amongst women gone waaaay too far !


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