Thanks to all those of you who replied to my original post on women’s networking groups; they were great. I’ve read them all, here, on Twitter and on LinkedIn and this is my reply. Please feel free to comment again!
N.B. What follows is about those women’s business networking groups which do not allow men to attend.
There were, as you might expect, some very robust comments defending the idea of women only networking groups. A few felt they were redundant in this day and age, but not many, and some felt women should do both and attend women only and mixed.
No one really answered this question:
How would we women feel if men only business networks were a growth industry like women only networking groups and blatantly advertised as such?
I am surprised that more men don’t challenge the idea that there are multiple groups across the country meeting to do business which excludes them. Blatantly excludes them by using ‘women’ in the title, it’s rarely subtle. And yes, I know men have been having their old boys networks for years which have excluded women and been a contributing factor to women not progressing at work, and I know they still exist. But should we really be aping something most women have been complaining about for years?
Why Do We Have Women’s Groups?
Why do we have selective groups in the first place? We have them because for some reason what is on offer in the mainstream doesn’t suit, or hasn’t been adapted to meet the needs of a specialist group. For example, there might exist a group for the Chinese community to meet locally in a British town, or a group for people with a particular illness that isn’t understood by the majority, or a professional group that caters for the interests of, say, solicitors.
What these all have in common is that, in terms of the general population they are minority groups. Women are not a minority group, not now. 50 years ago maybe women in business were a minority and I could make an argument for their existence then. Women in very senior positions are in the minority now so maybe a case could be made for specialist executive women groups within an organisation? I’d advise against that (and do frequently if anyone asks me.)
What I would have is a group of people in an organisation or industry who want to see the gender balance changed whatever their sex. I’m with Avivah Wittenberg-Cox on this-if you want to change something you need some of the powerful people, the people with the ability to force change who support your cause, on your side. I know this sounds a bit Catch 22 but let’s be realistic, that’s still mainly men. Which is sort of where we came in!
Don’t we weaken our power base by all these women’s groups springing up? Perhaps it’s time to be really specific about what these groups offer and allow both genders to participate. Perhaps by masking everything under the ubiquitous ‘women’s networking’ title we are positioning ourselves as a minority group in society? Maybe we should be specific as to what it is these groups offer as distinct from traditional networking groups.
Women Network Differently- Be Proud
We do do it differently, (in general) we do it in a women’s way, that’s why so many women told me how much they enjoyed women’s networking groups. It suited them much better than the ‘male’ format which has evolved in many mainstream groups and to which women gradually started attending as more women began to work. Women didn’t like them so set up their own. Fair enough…
But by segregating ourselves in this way are we sending a message that we’re not proud of that feminine angle? What Dr Baron Cohen would call the ‘female brain’ way as opposed to the extreme male way? Shouldn’t we be loud and proud and say ‘we have a networking group that operates according to feminine styles of working to support, discuss, and promote women in business and achieve a better gender balance in business and these are the rule – if you support this you are welcome to attend, whatever your gender?
If we continue to set up on our own aren’t we perpetuating the status quo? Shouldn’t we be trying to change things? You’ve got to be a presence to effect change.
Confidence to challenge is a big issue for women. Lack of confidence is a huge factor for women progressing upwards (almost every survey identifies this) in a way that it isn’t for men. That’s why a lot of what I do with women is around building confidence, the issues are so very different for women wanting to progress at work and my courses and website is aimed at women but there are lots of male supporters who read my blog posts and subscribe to my newsletter.
A common riposte supporting women’s networking events was they build confidence for women to attend others. In which case maybe they need to be called something else? Are they networking training courses? In which case why do they never end…? I work primarily with women. But I have been challenged and have been asked by men why they can’t come on my courses. I’ve explained that the courses are designed to address issues identified as being particular to women at work, but if those issues apply to them they are welcome. I have had one man in one of my all women groups.
It’s a tricky one, I acknowledge that; I have swithered and swayed as I have listened to the arguments. But ultimately my discomfort remains. The plethora of women only business networking groups can make us look weak. I wonder what would happen if all the women only networking groups across the country issued a manifesto as to why they were aimed at women and then offered a welcome to men?
What do you think?
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Posted on July 12th, 2012 by Jane