By Amina Malik
Here’s an interesting yet contradicting question: what are the benefits of women-only networking events?
In some business circles women are still not considered as equals. Studies indicate that throughout Europe there are still informal male dominated networks especially in established industries like medicine, law and accountancy.
Men tend to have more free time to network after hours and thus build strong working relationships. Women on the other hand traditionally had to take care of family and household duties (although some may argue that pattern is changing now). This exclusion from networking blocks women from promotion, career development and is partly to blame for lower salaries.
The reason why many women do not reach high levels of management is due to the fact many have smaller networks than men. Thus women-only networking is an effective method to help women progress in their career, particularly those who work in male dominated industries.
Mixed networking groups have a tendency to be dominated by men which can in turn intimidate women and hinder their ability to network with others. Therefore some women may simply feel more comfortable in an all-female environment. Many women face similar challenges such as balancing family and work life and are more likely to develop an affinity for other women in similar situations.
Women-only networking can also benefit women from certain ethnic backgrounds where they were raised not to mix with the opposite sex. Some women may feel uncomfortable and lack confidence in the presence of male company and are more likely to have a positive networking experience if it is in an all-female environment.
Not only that but there are so few women in business that can be looked up to, so women-only networking provides members with vital role models. It’s inspiring to interact with someone that has undergone similar challenges as a woman and who is willing to share their knowledge in order to empower other women.
So with all these advantages in place, how could women-only networking possibly be wrong ?
The obvious critique is that women-only networking events could be viewed as hypocritical. On one hand we condemn men that only network with other men and protest about how this disempowers women. Yet surely women only networking is the same thing with its basis in exclusion? Isn’t this only serving to reinforce the gender divide rather than integrate it? If people formed groups that excluded, let’s say other races, those groups would be heavily criticised for its discrimination. So why should it be any different for women that only network and socialise professionally with other women?
Networking only with women also portrays a sense of fear with regards to leaving your comfort zone. To progress and advance not just in your career but also in your personal life, you need to be comfortable in a wide variety of situations with different types of people. Therefore women-only networking can actually hinder communication and interpersonal skills.
The broader your network, the more powerful it’s likely to be. It’s not intelligent to cut your audience in half by restricting it just to one gender and this choice can cause a major career disadvantage. There are more men in executive level and frankly there are just more men in the business world. It may not be fair but it certainly is the truth.
Both men and women can learn a lot from each other. It can even be viewed as healthy competition if women regularly deal with men and it’s this kind of competition that propels businesses forward.
What are your opinions? Do you think women’s only networking serves to empower or discriminate?
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