The old boys club, that unwavering informal social network of male friendship, is something many of us know exists. But what we did not know is how exactly the network works and what impact it has on the members and to us.
Sceptical about women squads
All that became clearer, as we watched the late Safaricom CEO, Bob Collymore circle of intimate and high profile friends, celebrate him. The former CEO’s ‘boys club’ was made up of businessman Ally Khan Satchu, Radio Africa Group CEO Patrick Quarcoo, politician Peter Kenneth, Citizen TV News Anchor Jeff Koinange, Scangroup CEO Bharat Thakrar, British High Commissioner Nic Hailey and Kenya Commercial Bank CEO Joshua Oigara.
And as the ‘boys’ eulogised their departed friend, we were awed by the deep connections and the influence they wielded on each other. Social media was on overdrive as we all made sense of what this signified. Some of us asked ourselves the hard questions; who will be there standing when we take the final bow? Have the friends we have made become ‘family?’, or are they just good weather ones? Is it time we started or joined a close network? The banter went on and on.
Let talk about Girl Clubs. What about them?
“Such groupings can’t work,” one woman declared. “You can’t have just one group of girlfriends to take you through everything,” another offered.
Another one who was part of a group that broke-up because of ‘small, small’ conflicts and the individual’s change in marital status, is sceptical about women ‘squads’. “Once married, men dissuade their women from the group,” she says.
Research shows that women bonds are way too beneficial to be ignored. A study by University of Norte Dame, US, links our overall health to our close-knit friends. If they smoke, eat junk or diet regularly, our lifestyle will be similar.
Your inner circle of girls will also nurture, validate, support and allow you to be yourself devoid of external pressures. These are women you can laugh, cry, throw a tantrum and be totally lost with, without judgement whatsoever.
Some women are taking note
“I need to seriously create my ‘Girls Club’ for real,” says Wanja on her Facebook wall. “The type that will have my back, will never gossip about me and will stand by me in sickness and in health and we will get to discuss serious investment stuff. We may never become CEOs of blue-chip companies but we have to learn something from Bob,” she wrote on her learnings.
We went in search of existing girl clubs and we found three groups of women who have managed to stick together, grow and learn from each other. Here’s how they do it;
Last weekend, four women; Patience Nyange, Betsy Namisi, Caren Wakoli and Rita Maingi took a trip out of Nairobi to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their sisterhood.
“The celebration was deliberate and we cried thinking how far we’ve come,” narrates Patience Nyange.
During this getaway, the four who met at the University of Nairobi 10 years ago while pursuing their Masters in International Relations, also asked themselves some hard questions.
“Rita who is the most sober person of the group asked us, ‘Do we still add value to each other’s lives? Do we still want us to continue or should we kiss and say goodbye? This opened us to a very sober conversation after which we resolved to stick together,” Patience narrates.
For Patience, it only makes sense that she holds on to the people who were right there with her during the hardest moments in her life.
“My lowest moment was when I lost my father in 2014. My friends came to Taita and stayed with me way past the funeral period. Betsy and Rita also lost their fathers so we share Caren's father. We are family,” she says,
Betsy is the group’s spokesperson. When I begin talking to her, I find out why. They are of varied ages—35-45—and of diverse personalities.
“Patience is the youngest and the most argumentative. She will always have strong opinions on things. Caren is the philosopher while Rita is the rational one, always looking to keep the peace. I am the planner, I plan events and meet ups and make sure that everyone attends,” explains Betsy.
Like sisters, they do not always agree on everything. They sometimes fight, have disagreements, tell each other off, but they make sure to move on.
Time is there biggest constraint. They call, text and email each other frequently and make a point of meeting physically at least every three months.
“At times we meet in other social meet ups. Rita and I have children and we organise play dates together and we get to meet this way,” she says.
Since they all travel quite often for work, the rule is that that if you travel, then you must inform the others in advance.
They travel together, they eat, and they drink and dance. Most important, they take care of each other.
“Rita had travelled for work and her son was sitting his KCSE. We all made sure to step in. We visited often and constantly encouraged him while his mother was away,” she recalls.
Caren is the founder and executive director of Emerging Leaders foundation an organisation that trains young leaders to be agents of change in their communities. As a way of supporting her, the clique attends all and sometimes speak at her leadership forums.
Over the last decade, this friendship has grown beyond them. They know each other’s partners, children, parents and siblings.
“We are close like that,” Betsy sums it up.
It’s like a marriage
“It’s like a marriage,” is the phrase Elizabeth Njoroge chooses to describe the friendship she shares with five of her girlfriends.
How so? “Tunavumiliana.” (We accommodate each other’s quirks)
The six; Elizabeth Njoroge, Helen Jean Okeyo, Harriet Okeyo, Dr. Winny, Evelyn Adeny Nyamika and Lillian Ochieng Omondi have known each other from way back during their high school days and have watched each other grow up, have jobs and businesses, get married and have children.
How does a HR practitioner, a scientist, a fashion designer, a banker, a company administrator and an entrepreneur blend so well? One wonders.
It has not been without hiccups.
One would imagine it is the hard times when a friendship like this is tested but Elizabeth shares that it was a wedding celebration that had them all on each other’s nerves.
“Lillian had her 15-year wedding anniversary last year and we were all in the line-up. We all had our different ideas, we all kept changing our minds, the bride of course knew what she wanted, and she wouldn’t budge. Everyone was angry at everyone.”
Eventually, they agreed to disagree for the sake of Lillian.
Then age gap—32-39— and their personalities also poses a challenge.
“Evelyn is quiet, she is the thinker. Jean is fun loving. She is the one that will call you up one morning and announce that you are going to Naivasha. Winnie is logical. Things need to make sense for her. Lillian is the warm one, she wants to know that everyone is comfortable and I’m the fun one,” Elizabeth explains.
So how do they do it? “We meet once a month for celebrations. On this day, we will celebrate birthdays, baby showers, and anniversaries,” Elizabeth explains.
Every two months, they meet to talk about money and discuss investment opportunities. “We come up with personal goals for each of us. Then we hold each other accountable. We also give each other work referrals. I am a fashion designer and if any of us hears of a call for one, they put me on the list.”
They also have a WhatsApp group where they are in touch. Here, they will raise anything that might be bugging one of them be it financial difficulties or difficulty getting a job or just being unable to whip up a meal that they watched on YouTube.
From girls, with a liking for one another, the group, has grown to include their larger families.
“Our partners now have a boys-club of their own. They also get together to bond,” Elizabeth says.
The women are also godmothers to each other’s children.
“I am a member of another women’s group, an investment group. We are now seven from a group of 30. What I have learnt from both groups is that it will work if all of you just focus on the bigger goal. Ours is a lifelong friendship that grows all of us and where we can get support for all areas of our lives. The rest is just noise.”
Thirty-one-year-old Esther Munyi found the sisters she never had in her two close friends Edna Opana, 30 and Betty Ngome, also 30.
“We are all Seventh Day Adventists, we met in a church almost three years ago,” she narrates how it all began.
We do not compete
Initially, they came together to form a prayer group which would meet for two hours every Thursday. It took just a few weeks for them to realize that they had a deeper connection and for this to morph into something deeper.
Now, they make a conscious effort to see each other on a weekly basis usually on the weekends. They will go out and have a meal or meet up at one of their houses. Every so often, they will have a sleep over.
“The most memorable event was last December when we went on a Christian mission to Makueni and spent every waking moment together. We got to know each other more intimately. Betty is an orphan and Edna and I come from backgrounds where there is a history of alcoholism. Baring our hard truths brought us even closer.”
They all have their quirks. While Esther is the talkative one who will have you laughing even during stressful moments, Edna is an introvert. Betty on the other hand is ‘the counselor’ she is the one that thinks things through.
What is the secret to a thriving girls club? “Do not compete. We agreed early on to just be ourselves. We are all in different places, for instance, I am a mother but the other two are not,” Esther says.
Of course, like any other relationship, issues will come up and when they do, they talk them through together.
“The biggest challenge keeping this up has been time as life can get busy.”