The Continued Importance of Women Supporting Women in Business (and in life generally!)
Several weeks ago I shared a blog post I had written for an all-female networking group on my social media pages. This was liked and shared by a few of my contacts and one of the comments I saw really surprised me. It was from a man who claimed that organisations like the one I had written for are sexist and entirely unnecessary in this day and age. I had never considered that the existence of all-female groups could cause offence in this way and it got me thinking about why I (and all the members of this group and others like it) feel it is beneficial to seek out other women in similar situations.
It is not that I don’t like men or enjoy working with them. My client base is a good mix of men and women and I would not wish to change that. I work from home most of the time and do not have to tolerate sexism in the work place. And yet I feel empowered, reassured and energised by being part of an all-female group and I don’t think I would feel the same about a mixed group. The question is, why?
Many of the women I know, both socially and through the networking group, are juggling family life, work life, hobbies and household commitments, whilst simultaneously trying to retain at least a little bit of valuable me-time. Hectic lives are not the sole preserve of women, but I do feel that modern life has gifted women the flexibility to do so much more with their lives, but does not provide us with any additional time in which to do it!
So many women unrealistically expect that they can be successful at work, be the perfect mother, look after their appearance, keep up two or three hobbies, keep their home clean and tidy and give back to society in some way or another. In the majority of cases women do not live up to at least one of these expectations. Whether this is a calculated, such as deciding not to have children in order to focus on a career or a passion for travel and self-improvement, or a result of trying and failing to have it all, the over-whelming feeling that unites the majority of women is guilt and the feeling that we are being judged by the rest of the world.
I have a close friend who is a wonderful mother to three healthy, happy children, but every time we meet she talks about feeling bad for not going back to work. I know other women who are successful at work, volunteer for charitable organisations and train successfully for long distance running events, but keenly feel the societal pressure to start a family. I think that one of the key elements cementing an all-female networking group or an all-female business like Wild & Fine, is the understanding that, whilst we are hugely privileged to live in a country where we can have it all, it is perfectly ok to pick and choose and to not to do it all at once!
Enriching and not Bitching
Many portrayals of female groups in our culture have a negative focus. There is the inevitable meanness of popular girl gangs in every high school romantic comedy ever made. There is the silent, curtain-twitching judgement of suburban housewives and the school gate rivalry of ultra-competitive mothers.
Our confidence in finding solace and support in other women is consistently undermined by these stereotypes and the expectation that, as soon as our backs are turned, we will be gossiped about and judged. Whilst this can and does happen, in the majority of cases most women are just looking for a safe environment to talk about their weaknesses and challenges and to find help, which is where well-run networking groups and all-female businesses can really come into their own.
Confidence to Thrive
Opportunities for women have increased hugely in recent decades, but inequality continues to prevail and women are often paid less for doing exactly the same roles as their male counterparts. Figures released earlier this year suggest eight in ten UK firms pay men on average 9.6% more than women for the same role. Consistently under-valuing women in this way has an distinct effect on their psyche and career breaks for sabbatical, maternity leave, redundancy, ill health or similar leave them lacking confidence to return to the work place.
Addressing this confidence gap was the driving force that led Joy Foster to set up her company, TechPixies, which aims to give women a digital skill set that will help them succeed in the work place following a break.
“I set up TechPixies because I wanted to close the confidence gap women have around technology that impacts their wider ability to get well-paid work following a career break. It is the biggest stumbling block and needs to be addressed; not only by up-skilling women digitally so they’re ready for the workplace – which is crucial - but also by giving women life skills so they can take this digital know-how and use it to better their job satisfaction and ultimately increase their earning power.” - Joy Foster, TechPixies
The TechPixies Confidence Gap report reveals the following statistics:
· 45% of women who have taken a break feel it has damaged their career.
· 24% of women say lack of confidence is their greatest stumbling block to returning to work.
· 42% of women returning to work are earning less than they were before.
· 29% feel undervalued and side-lined.
The issue of negative self-perception, exacerbated by societal bias and perpetuated by our unrealistic expectations of ourselves, finds remedy in enterprises like Tech Pixies, supportive all-female networking groups and forward-thinking employers, who value our skills and are happy to offer the flexibility that many women returning to work need in order to successfully juggle all their commitments.
It is perfectly reasonable to say that positive discrimination should not be necessary in this day and age, but as modern life is far from utopian, please excuse us while we look for spaces outside the patriarchy to encourage and support each other.