Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work. That means we invest most of our time in work relationships: figuring out how to best communicate and collaborate, how to succeed, and how to recover from failure. Work With Me is a deep dive into those dynamics.
Like any successful marriage, a work-wife relationship has its ups and downs—but these women will tell you it’s the secret sauce that keeps their businesses running.
It all began on a group chat of sorority sisters at Syracuse University in 2015. Emma Diamond and Julie Kramer were undergrads in the same sorority house who shared an obsession with the Kardashian family.
Diamond and Kramer would chat all day long about the social-media comings, goings, and comments of Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, and the rest of the clan. Two years later, they decided to start an Instagram account together—the friendship equivalent of asking someone to go steady. The account, Comments by Celebs, curated the comments that celebrities left on other celebrities’ Instagram accounts.
When they began the project in April 2017 it was just a hobby, not even a side hustle. But it turns out Comments by Celebs was exactly what the internet and the entertainment press had been missing. Two years later that little hobby is now big business—with more than 1 million followers on Instagram and a wildly successful podcast, both of which earn revenue through brand partnerships.
These days Diamond and Kramer are co-founders, entrepreneurs—and work wives.
Yes, work wives. It’s a relatively new moniker for something women have been doing for as long as women have been doing work.
The definition of a “work wife,” according to Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur, the founders of e-commerce fashion site Of a Kind and the co-authors of Work Wife: The Power of Female Friendship to Drive Successful Businesses, is as follows: “A woman with whom you share a professional and personal bond. She’s someone you’re equally comfortable talking to about the challenges of a big work presentation and a struggle you’re dealing with at home—and she has your back on all fronts.”
Diamond and Kramer’s evolution from friends to work wives felt natural and necessary. Their friendship and their business (they work out of WeWork locations in New York City) have become one and the same.
“I know it sounds wildly inefficient, but we both kind of do everything. We are both just so involved in the creative process of each individual asset. Julie and I have very aligned senses of humor, so we’re always bouncing ideas off one other,” Diamond says. “We really are looking at the big picture, what’s best for the business and not what’s best individually.”
It’s called a work wife and not a work bestie because marriage is a more apt comparison than friendship for the gravity of this kind of partnership. Marriage isn’t always fun and games and frozen margaritas after work, and a work wife is there to offer support and solace during the bad times as well as the good.
“Early on we had a lot of trouble raising money [for Of a Kind],” Cerulo says. “We had just been in Silicon Valley and it was torture, and we came back empty-handed. And I remember Claire turning to me and saying, ‘Do you want to quit?’ I didn’t. But if it had been me alone it would have been a lot harder to pick myself back up and keep going.”
Cerulo and Mazur also met in college and then founded a successful business together. The women were introduced at the University of Chicago by a mutual friend because they had something in common—they’d both dated basketball players. That flimsy excuse for a burgeoning friendship aside, the pair instantly hit it off. They were eight years into their friendship by the time they founded Of a Kind, with Cerulo handling content and Mazur the visual aspects of the business. By that point, the women had logged enough hours together to know exactly what they were getting into.
“We’d always shared a similar work ethic, high standards, and ambition—we’d seen that in each other early on in our college days when we both assumed leadership positions in extracurricular activities that we took way too seriously. When we came up with the idea for Of a Kind it felt like a no-brainer to do it together,” Mazur says. “We each understood how the other thought about the types of challenges we’d be facing, and we were also comfortable enough with each other to be our passionate, emotional, vulnerable selves—all of which come out in full force when starting a business.”
As with an actual marriage, most work wives say that choosing a work wife is a process. Not every woman you meet will be your work wife, but like a marriage, when you know, you know.
A few years back Doree Shafrir and Kate Spencer, writers in Los Angeles, began meeting up to share drafts of their work.
“I was self-conscious about my work, but Doree really created a space that was safe and warm. And her feedback and thoughts were invaluable,” Spencer recalls. Those meeting eventually grew into a partnership on the successful podcast Forever 35—currently on its 112th episode—about self-care, friendship, marriage, kids, fertility, and questionable beauty treatments.
Spencer says that she and Shafrir balance each other out. “Doree gets sh*t done! If I were going at this alone, I’d probably still be sitting in my living room, dreaming about making a podcast,” she says.
Shafrir may get stuff done, but Spencer is way more diplomatic. “She’s nicer than I am, so she handles anything where we need to be diplomatic and makes sure that I don’t say or do anything super jerky,” Shafrir says. “I’m more direct—some might say confrontational—so I handle most of the awkward conversations.”
Work wives often spend more time together than they do with their actual spouses. Joycelyn Mate and Rachael Corson, co-founders of U.K.-based natural-hair-care company Afrocenchix and members at WeWork 70 Wilson St in London, both got married after they started their company. “We noticed that our business partnership was the second most important human relationship in our lives so we take time to invest in working well together,” Mate says.
Mate and Corson met as students at the University of Birmingham and started researching their first products in 2009. By 2015 they began to sell their wares in retail shops and started winning awards, including, last year, a WeWork Creator Award. But none of that would have been possible if they weren’t completely committed to one another.
“Without a good relationship between us, our company doesn’t work and our team won’t work,” Mate says. “Afrocenchix is dependent upon us working well together so when there are glitches in our relationship, usually due to miscommunication, we take time to work on them. The company is beneficial to our relationship because it gives us a shared purpose.”
Like Afrocenchix, O.G. work wives Cerulo and Mazur have had the benefit of time to perfect their years-long partnership. “At various points while growing the business one of us always ends up thinking, ‘Wow, I never get to do any of the interesting projects, and I’m feeling bored and uninspired and a little like the sidekick,’” Cerulo says. “In the early years we both tended to bottle that up, but we learned over time that we had to bring it up if we wanted to fix things.”
It’s been nine years since the duo launched Of a Kind. These days, when asked about their proudest business accomplishment, they say, without any reservation, “It’s us.”
How to be a good work wife, from the authors of Work Wife
Make time for your friendship and your business partnership. “For the longest time Erica and I moved seamlessly between the two,” Mazur says. “Nine years in, it helps a lot to institutionalize these things. Now we have a weekly check-in for work. When we gift each other experiences for birthdays or holidays we have a chance to just be friends. It’s really helped to have a divide between those two.”
Learn to communicate early on. “Disagreements and points of contention do come up,” Cerulo says. “There’s often a tendency not to want to make something uncomfortable. But it’s important to learn to talk about those things early on so you cultivate those skills.”
Use your personal history to inform your professional presence. You know each other well—in multiple contexts—so use that to strengthen communication. “For example, if you’re having a disagreement on finances, think back to what you know about your work wife personally,” Mazur says. “Why does she feel a certain way about finances? Is there something in her past that informs that? Use what you know. The fact that you have a personal understanding of the woman you’re working with will only help your work relationship.”