The Remarkable Power of the Female ‘Huddle’
As a journalist during the last two decades, I’ve had the privilege of meeting presidents and interviewing first ladies, members of Congress, scientists, teachers, nurses, astronauts, actors, rock stars, and ordinary Americans in extraordinary circumstances—from surviving mass shootings to hurricanes to COVID-19. But the women I’ve interviewed these last two years for my book (Huddle: How Women Unlock Their Collective Power) have changed my life in a way I wasn’t expecting.
Let me back up: My unofficial book journey began a few years ago when I was out covering the 2016 presidential campaign. I was crisscrossing the country noticing women showing up in ways I’d never seen before. American women of all ages, races, and backgrounds were up to something special. They were—and still are—“huddling” or leaning on one another to provide support, empowerment, inspiration, and the strength to solve problems or enact meaningful change. Whether they are facing adversity (like workplace inequity or a global pandemic) or organizing to make the world a better place, women are a highly potent resource for one another.
To be clear: I’ve always had amazing singular girlfriends, but I truly learned to huddle these last two years thanks to the women I interviewed for my book. This education made me a better advocate for myself and my fellow sisters; it’s encouraged me to use my platform to amplify more women; it has sharpened my senses to hear the voices of women, to really see their struggles and victories; it has made me a better student of the history of women’s contributions in America and beyond; it has made me a more supportive and collaborative colleague; and it has made me a more present, vulnerable, and supportive friend.
I experienced many growing pains as I explored the power of huddling. It wasn’t always easy for me to lean on others or speak up—or dedicate time and effort to friendships. Not to mention I know what the depth of loneliness feels like—not just in my younger years but certainly still today. Also there is still a global pandemic affecting our ability to gather and be present for one another. But fortunately, I learned that huddling transcends physical proximity. Being together in person is not required, but keeping each other in mind is. Setting intentions to accept and give help are priorities. Trusting and uplifting each other are paramount. Huddling is not just a gathering; it’s a mindset.
Regardless of where you live, how old you are, or how alone you might feel, there are ways you can access this incredible resource right in your own workplace, community, or friend group. Allow me to share with you my list of 10 ways to find your huddle.
1. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.
You deserve to have a huddle, and there are huddles out there that need you. If you’re finding it hard to put yourself out there, I feel you, more than you know. After all the time I spent in my 20s lonely, moving for my career to places where I had no good friends or family, I know what it is to wish for deeper friendships. I know how it is to feel shy or reluctant to put myself out there. Even if you are uncomfortable or feel like you have a lot to learn, believe in yourself. Your voice deserves to be heard. And other women need you.
2. MAKE AN INTENTIONAL CHOICE TO BE A HUDDLER.
Be deliberate about prioritizing your huddles, whether this is the group of colleagues you make a point to have a Zoom lunch with once a month, an organization you give your time to on a regular basis, or just checking in by text with your personal friends. It’s hard to believe that I was nearly 39 years old the first time I got all my closest girlfriends together in the same place! That helped me see that I needed to set an intention to make this happen way more often. So far a number of us have kept that promise, because we see the inherent value in maintaining our huddle.
3. FIND A HUDDLE THAT SHARES YOUR PASSIONS.
Even if you feel alone, you are not. There are others out there who care about the same things. Even if online. Find them. One of the best ways to deepen your connection and friendship with other women is to work toward a common cause together. Whether you’re passionate about a political movement or you have a hobby you like to rock—there are other women out there who share your beliefs and interests. It can be incredibly sustaining and motivating to find them and link arms with them, virtually or IRL. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.
4. NURTURE YOUR FEMALE FRIENDSHIPS.
Tend to your female friendships just as carefully as you tend to your bonds with your significant others or family members. Friendships can sustain us, keep us honest with each other, and challenge us to contribute more to the world. And just like any relationship, you have to put the time in on a regular basis. For example, after I helped bring my friend group together a few years ago, we started a text chain to make the huddle more official. Nothing is off-limits. I trust these ladies and they trust me. So many women I interviewed for my book told me they schedule weekly phone calls with each other. And almost every huddle I spoke with had a hilariously heated text chain. The huddle of U.S. congresswomen I interviewed told me their text chain is called The Badasses, and they assured me that their texting is a critical component of their daily communications. I know it sounds obvious: Friendship is great! You already knew that. But are you really making it a regular priority in your life? Are you making yourself a daily resource to your closest friends?
5. DO HARD THINGS WITH YOUR HUDDLE.
Find a huddle with whom you can push yourself—whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or intellectually. Thank you, Glennon Doyle, for reminding us that women can and must do hard things in order to grow. Furthermore, I learned from writing this book that when women do hard things together, they improve their skills, self-esteem, courage, and connections with each other. There is something about having a partner or a whole crew of other women that helps stoke your bravery. When I got the crazy idea to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, I called my friend Allison: “Hey, do you want to climb the tallest mountain in Africa with me? We’ll bunk together in a tent and won’t be showering for seven days. Interested?!” It was the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life, and there is no way I could have done it without her. She might’ve talked me out of getting a tattoo after our epic climb, but she is now one quarter of my closest friend huddle. We have proved to ourselves, time and time again, that we can do hard things—together.
6. FUCK SHARP ELBOWS.
Shirley Chisholm famously said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” But some of the women I met for this book suggested we should just build our own damn table. With a bigger table and a new model for uplifting each other, we don’t have to sharpen our elbows and push each other out of the way. So many women in my book told me they got where they are because they subscribe to the abundance mentality: that there is room for all of us to succeed. Women from all industries—politics, sports, food, business, and media—echoed this mandate to stick together.
7. BE VULNERABLE.
So often we’re in cutthroat environments, and we’re so often compared to each other. This can make us want to appear perfect—at work, at school, or on Instagram. Sometimes we don’t want to allow even our close friends to see us cry. It can be difficult to admit when we are clueless or inexperienced. But I am here to tell you that you don’t have to always be in control of your emotions. And you don’t have to know everything or get everything right on the first try to be successful. You just have to be willing to ask for help. I’ve learned this lesson at work, many times over. Sometimes the best resource is in the office right next to you where a female colleague is ready to help if you are willing to open up and keep it real.
8. AMPLIFY EACH OTHER.
Amplifying can take many forms. It can mean complimenting another woman or giving a much-needed shout-out to a coworker whose accomplishments haven’t been adequately credited. It can mean celebrating the roles women have played in history or shining a light on women whose struggles have been erased. It can mean simply showing up for women, rooting for them, or merely allowing them to be their real unvarnished selves. It’s one of the easiest things we can do for each other. If you have a platform, use it to uplift other women. If you have reached great heights, throw down your ladder (a great phrase I’m borrowing from Megan Rapinoe).
9. HUDDLE WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE DIFFERENT FROM YOU.
I’ll never forget the sage advice from rapper and activist Killer Mike when I was first interviewing him in the wake of Ferguson: “Make sure you have plenty of friends who don’t look like you.” It is so important to form real relationships with people of different races, religions, ages, abilities, cultures, classes, and backgrounds. Yes, America is riddled with injustice and we are deeply divided, but I’ve seen with my own eyes—through thousands of conversations on my show—how people can grow and learn by listening to perspectives that are vastly different from their own. Look around at your huddle: If everyone in your friend group looks like you and believes like you, ask yourself how you can open up your circle.
10. SHOW THE EFF UP.
Whatever you put into your huddle, you will get out of it. Yes, it really is that simple. If you join a collective of activists and continue to put the time in; if you nurture that text chain among friends and never allow it to go cold; if you keep your office cubicle warm and inviting to others; if you make space for other women’s struggles, then fellow huddlers will do the same for you.
This essay has been adapted from Brooke Baldwin’s book Huddle: How Women Unlock Their Collective Power, just published by Harper Business, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.