A few of the events I’ve attended have alluded to replacing women’s networks with gender networks, which will see a bringing together of all minorities groups. The premise for this move seems to be that all diverse groups face a similar challenge and a one prong approach can be used to resolve all diversity issues.
I understand why big business may be making this move. From a resource angle, it will save them time and money if they have one pot of money to spend on ALL diversity issues, rather than having different budgets and activities for different groups.
However, as a young black immigrant woman, I don’t see how the challenges I face, and those I’m looking to resolve by championing the rights of women, can be classed the same as that faced by a white LGBT male or female. We may all face discrimination but are our needs the same?
It’s simply apples and pears!
Funnily enough, all the people I’ve heard advocating for one size fits all gender networks are not from minority backgrounds. In trying to be everything to everyone, these networks will end up being nothing to anyone. Or the most dominant vocal demographic will take over the group.
I may be wrong. I may be too close to the subject to see what may be blatantly obvious to others. So, I thought I would ask you what you think.
How do women feel about this? The women I meet through my network at Forward Ladies tell me that they love coming to our events and taking part in our leadership programs because:
Our more junior members tell us they come to our events because they know they will meet other women who are relatable. They are hungry to connect with other women who have been through the same challenges and can offer advice on how they can navigate those same challenges. Some of these challenges involve badly behaving men.
Our more senior women tell us it’s refreshing to be amongst female peers as they tend to work in an environment where they’re usually the only woman. This is how the support networks are built and we all know the value of these networks in helping women make it to the very top.
Exclusion from networks
Some women, particularly those with young children, are actively excluded from other networking events because these events start very early 7:30am or very late 7:30pm and go on well into the evening. They can’t attend these events so they never build the networks needed to be able to facilitate progress within their various roles. We consciously organise our events to start at 9am or 9:30am and finish by 4pm. Even our awards lunches run from 11am-4pm for this same reason. We considered changing our awards to the evening based on feedback from some corporate partners but other feedback from the ladies confirmed that they preferred the lunchtime event.
Our members love the training we deliver and want us to do more because it's tailored to the needs and skills gaps identified by the women themselves.
In an era where everyone is looking for talented women to meet their gender targets. I don’t think you’ll be finding them in the same numbers in gender networks as you would at women’s networks. You simply cannot underestimate the value of being part of a network where you have similar shared experiences and can speak freely without judgement.
I agree that feminism and women’s networks may need a rebrand to make it more relevant to today’s woman. And we need to reinvent ourselves so younger girls have access to a diverse range of female role models. Of course, male role models are needed and certainly have a role to play but we also have to admit that when you have a female problem, usually only a woman can understand and help find a solution!
So what do you think? Like and share if you agree, if not please leave a comment and share your views. Many Thanks.
PS: Our network has never excluded men and indeed we have a handful of supporters and allies who attend our events and training and spread the world about what we do. They are valuable members of Forward Ladies too.
By Griselda Togobo, MD of Forward Ladies
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