When the Tide Rises: How Women are Hard-Wired for Collaboration

When the Tide Rises: How Women are Hard-Wired for Collaboration

By Nikki Stern and Melissa Camilleri

When we set out to share our thoughts about how women are hard-wired for collaboration, we knew we wanted to co-author this article. Before we became friends, we both were in stressful places in our lives– a little lost, a little isolated, and not our best selves. We believe that the timing of our friendship, and what has transpired after is no accident or coincidence. It was biological.

Before: Nikki’s Story

Around this time last year I was hiding my new little business in a small (but totally cute) office space hoping clients would just fall out of the sky, walk through the front door of the building and magically weave their way to my corner to be empowered around their health.

Truth was: I was terrified. I make an excellent student and it turns out that does not automatically make me excellent at starting a business. I was sitting idly on some very helpful information. People were missing opportunities to get healthy and live because I was so scared. I wanted to empower people but was not feeling all that empowered myself.

Turns out I wasn’t just scared of being a business owner (though this is never where I thought I would land), I was mostly afraid to be seen. I became a health coach after living in the trenches of new motherhood in a city away from family with a colicky baby and postpartum depression I tried to heal with wine and cookies.

I knew deep down this was my path. I also felt like I was about to walk off of a cliff because it was unlike anything I’d ever done. It was almost as if I was afraid that this felt SO right. I was close, but something was missing.

Isolation didn’t help. I didn’t know if my blog made sense, how to tackle the beast of social media or how to collaborate with anyone. I had no sounding board outside of my husband and family, who loving agreed with every word and idea I had.

I needed more. I had to do my work, in order for others to do their work, invest in myself so others would invest in themselves. Humans were never meant to be isolated beings – we’re social animals. So I joined Marie Forleo’s B-School and found thousands of women feeling the same way: isolated, overwhelmed, and unsure but were also smart, innovative and capable and hungry for community.

Before: Melissa’s Story

For years I had been a doer. A mover. A shaker. A people pleaser. I gave my everything to every thing and kept pushing on. I was a high school English teacher and believed I could save the world, if not single-handedly, pretty dang close. But 2012 knocked me down. In July, my husband and I split up after seven years of marriage. I moved. I started a new job. In August, I lost my aunt. In September, I lost my grandfather. In November, I lost my godfather. In 100 days. So much change and so much loss left me feeling so far away from my self.

Grief is a heavy blanket. For months, I slept on my new couch in my new apartment because the TV kept me company through the night. I woke up a zombie, went to work, came home, and slept the rest of the day away. The holidays flew past and my whole family was numb. I was living asleep.

But in the way that new years often urge, I decided I couldn’t keep going like I was going. I was tired of being sad and so disconnected from my vibrant spirit. So, I started to create and build the business I hadn’t put much effort into during the previous year. Little by little I found sparks of joy again. A feeling of isolation still lingered, though. Through all the change, many of my friendships changed and my supportive family were all going through their own grief processing. A need to connect was a big part of why I joined B-School– a business community that provided me with support. This is where my story and Nikki’s story intersect.

When the Tide Rises

It’s Biological

For years we’ve been taught the theory of “fight or flight” in how our body and mind respond to stress. More recently we are learning that old school response is what happened when our ancestors were chased by wild animals and it is not experienced much differently when we’re caught up in road rage.

That stress is affecting us, but it might not be the same for everyone.

Recent studies are pointing to gender differences because it turns out most women aren’t wanting to fight or flee when they’re stressed.

It makes sense too. The term for it is “tend and befriend.”

Scientists at UCLA found that when women are faced with stress they soothe themselves by tending, which is a very motherly instinct. We want to help out to ease our stress.

Or we befriend. Even in cavewoman days we have been community builders. Children were raised together by groups of women. We still get together in mom’s groups to help each other out. If you’ve ever participated you have reaped the stress fighting benefits. Consider how many times we pick up the phone to call our sister or best girlfriend? It’s not fuzzy and cute, it’s biological. So women naturally want to ease their stress and fear states by banding together.

The crux of this is that it’s not what we’ve really been taught. We are a new breed of women. We work outside the home, we’re breadwinners, we run big and small companies yet we still have children and girls’ nights out. The message is to be more competitive and less emotional. We do it in business and we even do it as mothers. I remember thinking I had to prove I could raise a baby without much help and make it look easy.

Maybe it’s to our advantage that we use this innate female tendency and see where it takes us.

Actually, that is exactly what we have done.

Where we are now…

When the Tide Rises

We attribute the opportunities and doors that opened for us in our respective businesses to the support we have found when we joined forces. We are in two very different industries and yet six months ago, we moved in to a beautiful, sunny, co-working space where we see clients and work on design projects. This cooperative, collaborative friendship, founded in a time of great personal stress, has given way to allowing us even to grow our own local collaborative mastermind of business women that leaves us in awe and endlessly grateful.

We believe in the old adage, “when the tide rises, it lifts all ships.” And we feel the tide is turning in society as a whole. It’s a quiet movement, but it’s happening, and women are at the forefront. We are banding together, tending and befriending, and creating even more goodness than we could ever do alone. We leave “fighting and flighting” to the boys.


Melissa Camilleri is the Founder and Creative Director of Compliment, a brand that believes that words matter. Melissa believes every woman, because of the unique gifts she offers the world, is beautiful. Just by being. She seeks to honor that beauty through the personalized hand-stamped compliments that accompany every piece from her shop. She lives, plays and prays in Northern California. To join the feel-good movement, visit www.shopcompliment.com.

Nikki Stern is an AADP Certified Holistic Health Coach + mindfulness maven, but really she’s a hippie soul searcher, food-lover and a former sugar addict. In her practice she creates a safe space for women to have ninja-like breakthroughs + clarity about what it means to be healthy and be happy. She’s your mindful mom, lifestyle mastermind and veggie-pusher. You can find her over at www.nikki-stern.com.

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