Now this is a bit counter-intuitive, coming as it does from someone who runs a site and blog for women, coaches women, runs courses aimed at women, and sends out a newsletter written primarily for women, but actually I am a bit uncomfortable about women’s networking groups…
There, I’ve said it! Bang go all my invitations to speak at women’s groups across the country! And on the day that a woman, Julia Hobsbawm, is appointed the first ever Professor of Networking.
In my defence perhaps I should explain further.
First, I hate it that women only events still seem like a good idea, are still necessary. Women’s networking groups are springing up all over the place; I even attend a few from time to time. I go because I like the camaraderie, supportive atmosphere, and because I run courses for women so obviously I need to let women know that I run courses for, er..women! A group of women in one place is a good place for me to raise my visibility (although actually as my clients come from all over the world, this is less significant than it used to be). Presumably all the other women go for similar reasons; they are business women so why would they willingly limit their market and networking by going somewhere without half (maybe more) of the working population?
The answer to that conundrum reveals itself when I make a rare appearance at other networking events, usually at the behest of someone who thinks it would be great for me. I am not shy or retiring at all and I have a healthy ego and don’t lack in self confidence. But I tend not to like most of these groups because they feel so, well, full of men in suits.
Women and Men Networks
Now I like men in suits as a rule, but there is something that seems to happen collectively at these events that is a real turn off for me. I know opinions very widely on this (and please share yours in comments below) but usually there is a strong whiff of testosterone and competitiveness at play which just doesn’t suit me. Yes, they’ll be a few women present but always in the miniority.
But men shouldn’t have to change their preferred style, and women shouldn’t have to behave like the men to get the best out of the group. Can we co exist? (generalising wildly, I know – there are some men who would much prefer to be at an all women event and vice versa).
Yet not networking effectively has been identified as one reason why women don’t progress in organisations (L.S.E literature review).
Networking Questions to Ponder
- If men still hold more powerful positions than women, and we know they do, is a woman’s networking group the best place for an ambitious woman to go? Are we losing out on a powerful source of promotion (self or job)?
- Does having women only networking groups weaken us in the eyes of our male counterparts: are we placing ourself at an automatic disadvantage, like a minority group that needs something different from the majority of the population? We’re not a minority group, we’re half the population.
- How would we feel if men only networks were a growth industry like women only networking groups?
- If women only networking groups didn’t exist would we converge en masse on the male dominated variety and make them less testosterone fuelled and more gender neutral? Would they become places which served both men and women well?
- Do we still need women only groups because women’s issues are not addressed in mainstream groups?
- What do you look for in a networking group?
Please do comment below; I’d love to know what you think!
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Posted on June 27th, 2012 by Jane