“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” 
― Sheryl Sandberg

Shine Theory: The Magic of Powerful Women Supporting Women

Shine Theory: The Magic of Powerful Women Supporting Women

Written by Leslie Cox


If society teaches us anything, it’s that the world out there is often girl-eat-girl. Even in elementary school, young girls are taught to compete against one another for attention—to always stand out amongst their peers. Far too often, high schools actually look like scenes from “Mean Girls.” College sororities teach women to compete against one another in order to get a bid to be a sister. And then, in the workplace, women are still seen as token hires, and forced to compete against one another for promotions.

The end result is that, even though we might not notice it, we are taught to resent other women who are experiencing personal or professional achievements. This competition stops us from becoming allies with one another. It is tearing us apart. Who else would you want to vent about your 60-hour week with (while on your period) than another female who has been there herself?

The reality is this: We need each other.

“Shine Theory” was coined by journalist Ann Friedman, who is currently one of the co-hosts of the Call Your Girlfriend podcast. Shine Theory is about breaking all the traditional rules by adopting one simple principle: If you don’t shine, I don’t shine. Shine Theory is about befriending the women we're taught to resent or compete against.

"When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her,” Friedman says. “Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn't make you look worse by comparison. It makes you look better.”

The first time I heard about Shine Theory, I knew it was something I wanted to test out in my own life. I had just launched a blog project, and my own insecurities felt like the loudest voice in the room. I knew that something needed to change. So, I decided to give Shine Theory an honest try. For a year, I followed Friedman’s guiding principles to the best of my abilities. Each week, I spent time reflecting and journaling the experiment. Here are five of the most important things I learned:

1. Success is shared.

Individual success is shared success. While it’s a simple concept in theory, it’s an absolute game-changer. When we start genuinely celebrating the women around us, we’re changing the unspoken rules within our culture. We’re fostering the spirit of collaboration over competition. When your co-worker gets a promotion, when your roommate launches a creative project, or when you finally get around to doing the laundry: celebrate.

In my inner circle, we’re constantly in celebration. We’re always ready to support and affirm each other over the slightest breakthroughs or successes. We’ve learned there are enough opportunities out there for each of us, and enough champagne for us to truly celebrate one another’s successes. One woman breaking the glass ceiling is a huge success for all of us collectively.

2. Confidence is contagious.

If you’re someone who struggles to self-promote your work or pitch new ideas within your work environment, it’s time to surround yourself with some fierce women. Just as insecurities are contagious, it turns out positivity and confidence are, too. I didn’t learn to trust my voice or product until I started surrounding myself with confident women who knew their worth. Invest in your relationships. Trust me: your newly found confidence will thank you.

3. Be a cheerleader.

Within the workforce, women are no stranger to gender inequality, and proving your worth is exhausting. Women of color are still working twice as hard to earn half as much as their white male coworkers. At some point, each of us will need a cheerleader to help us keep pushing. Listen to these women, and make sure you’re ready to affirm, encourage, and empower your female coworkers whenever they need it.

4. Pass it on.

Referrals. Recently, I’ve learned to say “yes” to the projects that excite me and “no” to the things I don’t have experience or time for. With each “no,” I make sure to refer the job to a women I admire. While we each have arenas of expertise, no woman can do all the things. It feels really good to pass on referrals, especially when my calendar is filled to the brim. In doing this, I’ve learned these moments don’t represent a missed opportunity for me. Instead, they’re an opportunity to help someone else. 

5. Support younger women.

We all have to start somewhere. When you find yourself getting ahead, it’s time to remember where you started. Be intentional with your schedule and make time to support younger women who are just starting out. I’ve been so thankful for the women who have blazed on ahead and still made time for me. If you're a babe who has experienced success, please make time for women who are newer to the game.

Ultimately, Shine Theory offers important life lessons for every hustling babe. For me, my year-long experiment helped me push through my insecurities. I needed the fierce support from the most affirming and talented group of goddesses I could find. When my self-doubt or fear got in the way of productivity and creativity (which happened almost daily, at first), I had my own group of cheerleaders ready to love me through my mess and challenge me to keep pushing ahead. I honestly believe Shine Theory can help us all foster life-giving relationship with the women we’ve always been taught to be in competition with.

If you don’t shine, I don’t shine.


Leslie Cox curates Love Les - a home for queer stories. She’s a grad student at Columbia Theological Seminary studying the intersection of faith, justice, and sexuality. When she’s not in class or protesting at the Capital, you can find her fueling her caffeine addiction, orchestrating photo shoots, or exploring ATL with her girlfriend. 

Check out Love Les or follow her on Instagram.

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