Gender gaps in our networks
Then there are nightclubs. When 2016 presidential candidate Carly Fiorina talks about how she overcame her fears, she includes strip clubs among them. Early in her career, a male supervisor booked lunch with clients at a strip club and told her she should stay back at the office. They left for lunch and she realized she was missing more than a meal. She met her colleagues at their lunch despite her apprehension and anxiety, and she still references it today as a pivotal learning moment in business. The shock of this story to me, is not actually that she showed up; it’s that a business lunch at a strip club was ever an acceptable activity.
It’s hard to believe that in 2020, we’re still a long way away from gender parity in almost every industry in the US. But when I look at the power of networks in business, it’s unfortunately not surprising. We’ve been conditioned to think about social activities along gender stereotypes, thus creating gender gaps in our networks.
A recent analysis by Harvard Business Review found that the key reason female-founded start-ups fail is a lack of access to a network, which is bad news for all of us considering female-founded companies in the US on average drive 10% higher cumulative revenue than male-founded businesses. Higher revenue businesses lead to more jobs, which results in a healthier economy.
A new type of networking model
This is why it is deeply encouraging, albeit long overdue, to finally see a new type of networking model designed for, and by, women. Female-founded, female-led networks such as Chief, The Wing, and Women in Innovation in the US, and AllBright in the UK are changing the business landscape for women.
These new female-led networks were born out of the realisation that the culture and mechanism of a networking group needs to be different for women. They are programmed to be more empathetic, designed around connecting with women on a human level, not just a business level. Topics that get discussed include working mum life and imposter syndrome, subjects that are not part of the conversation at your typical male executive club.
Most male-dominated networks don’t encourage displays of vulnerability, instead hailing the person who appears to be succeeding in all areas of life as the ideal. But new women’s groups are creating places for females in business to be vulnerable, introducing an ethos for a different kind of community where women connect and support one another on multiple levels.
As a member of two of these networks, I have been part of conversations around salary transparency, with women sharing personal salary data and offering advice to their female peers on what to ask for in terms of remuneration; crucial support when you consider that women are statistically much less likely to ask for a pay rise than men.