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The importance of female friendships to Sea to Sky women in business

Madeleine Shaw, a 30-year entrepreneur, shares her views on doing business in new and more compassionate ways.
Madeleine Shaw Squamish
Madeleine Shaw.

February has become synonymous with romantic attachments, but it could also be a month to focus on other relationships, such as friendships. 

Though she has worked for 30 years as an entrepreneur, Madeleine Shaw isn't your typical businesswoman — if there is such a thing. 

She doesn't buy the attempted separation of "professional" and "personal" that can make the suits and boardroom-style of business seem stuffy and intimidating at times. 

Shaw has built a career as a Vancouver-based social entrepreneur, author, speaker, and mentor. She is also the author of The Greater Good: Social Entrepreneurship for Everyday People Who Want to Change the World.

The Squamish Chief sat down over Zoom with Shaw for a wide-ranging conversation about the issues of interest to Sea to Sky businesswomen, particularly the role and importance of female friendships. 

What follows is an edited version of that conversation.

Q: Can you talk to me about female friendships and how they play into business success? 

A: I guess I would start with saying that I think it's really important to examine, or question, this whole notion of "I'm a professional business person" in one dimension of my life, and, "I'm a human being," in the other — and they're kind of separate and different. I personally don't really believe in that.

You might be talking about different things, but the commonality of your values, sense of humour, compassion, and just your humanity, ideally, should permeate your whole life.

I always start a meeting by checking in. "How are you? What's going on?" 

And I mean that on a human level, I don't mean like, "What's on your desk today?"

When people feel relaxed, when they feel comfortable, they feel confident, they feel that their ideas are welcome...their anxiety goes down. That allows them to bring their best self and they're going to share their ideas because they feel like somebody wants to hear them.

This notion of authenticity and humanity is really important to me.

And I would say in my life, my closest relationships have formed from being colleagues.

I would say my business partner is one of my best friends ever in my entire life.

Q: That is sort of the opposite of what our culture — perhaps until the pandemic — teaches us, right? But it makes me wonder how you maintain boundaries then? 

A: I think the word boundaries sometimes can feel a little bit harsh.

Women, in particular, can sometimes feel awkward about creating boundaries even though they're absolutely necessary. 

I ask my friends for business favours. 

I just did it the other day. I think it's knowing when it's appropriate to ask, and if you are the asker, to be super transparent and make it incredibly safe for someone to say no.

I'm a big believer in honesty and in transparency and in not having unrealistic expectations of people and also listening to that intuitive voice. If it feels like this is asking too much of someone, it's probably asking too much.

But on the flip side, if we don't ask for help, that's kind of hurting us too. So, that's why we need to make sure that there's that safety and clarity in communication where if someone says, ‘No’ to you, it doesn't make you mad. It doesn't make you not like someone. It is just like, OK. 

I think sometimes there can be a bit of a negative assumption around, "That person is trying to use me or get something from me," or whatever. And that's why we need to really take time with relationships to build trust — whether it's your kid's roller derby team or a marketing meeting, or you're pitching to someone.

Q: How do you define your friendships? 

A: For me, friendship is a form of love. And so I always go with Joni Mitchell's definition, which is touching souls.

There's something about just witnessing someone else's humanity and just being with it and holding it gently. And then some form of shared experience.

I think, if anything, we need more compassion and more connection right now. So perhaps thinking about relationships in general, as opposed to these are my friends, these are my business colleagues, you know?

Q: There's a lot of young or startup businesses in Squamish, and people have their head down being super busy; they are short-staffed, trying to get their business off the ground. Can you give us some advice on how to nurture relationships as an entrepreneur?

A: I've been an entrepreneur for 30 years; I get that it takes a lot to do these things. But I also really question hustle culture. This idea that if you're starting a venture, you have to go 24/7, and you've got to almost sacrifice your well-being, your sleep, that type of thing because it's just the way it is. That idea has been very reinforced by Silicon Valley culture, which seems to have sort of made its way into the startup of anything. 

I don't think we want people to sacrifice their well-being for economic purposes. And I don't actually think it has to be that way.

In the end, you can burn out; it's not worth it if you come out of it a less healthy person. You really need to prioritize self-care because you can't kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, you know? You have got to make sure that the goose gets a decent amount of sleep and hangs out with her family and all of those things.

Q: You are very extroverted, clearly, but some of us are more introverted, so what about those folks and how they can make friends? 

A: There's something about just practising being happy with you and expressing yourself and other people will come — whether that's another kid's parent you end up talking to or you're in the dog park, and you start talking about the dogs or you whatever, it's like, just, honestly, be yourself.

Q: As much as we talk about women lifting each other up, there can be — especially among young mothers I have talked to — a very competitive edge to it. Can you address that?

A: Motherhood and especially new motherhood is such an incredibly vulnerable time, and every form of judgment that you can imagine is coming at these women.

People project all of their crap onto these people, who are arguably doing the most important job ever. It breaks my heart. And then there are these kinds of mummy wars where they sort of turn on each other with, "My way of parenting my kid is better than your way of parenting or good or whatever." I think it's real. And the problem isn't with these individual women; it's this broader culture that is socializing them.

We live in a hyper-competitive kind of environment, and we don't realize that we're translating competitive values into places where they don't belong, like friendships, like talking about parenting. We just all need to have more compassion. Just because we do things differently doesn't mean that I'm right and you're wrong. It just means that we're different people who are coping as best we can, and doing our best with our own life experience and what we know and don't know. 

Be kind and be compassionate with you, and that's going to help you kind of slow down a little bit when it comes to putting that on other people.

Q: How have female friendships helped you in business, not in a transactional sense, but more generally? 

A: Oh, so many ways. I would say my friends helped me to be a better human being. And when I'm a better human being, I'm more open to new ideas. And I'm more aware of other people's needs that I could meet in creative ways. And I'm more able to achieve things because it's easier to work as a team and be a leader. And when people are invested emotionally, in someone, in my case, me, it makes it easier to get stuff done. And it's more fun. 

Find out more about Shaw and her way of doing business at

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