We are the change

Are women only communities and networks necessary?

Ok, nothing like challenging our whole premise for an online website, but we might as well start as we mean to go on. The Up For Debate feature, is all about challenging preconceptions and taking nothing for granted. So feel free to tell us how you really feel, we want to know!

I recently came across an interesting article on the smallbusiness.co.uk website on Women and funding. The article includes interviews with very successful business women who had the following to say about women’s only networks…

Sahar Hashemi, co-founder of Coffee Republic and now managing director of healthy confectionery venture Skinny Candy, it’s disempowering to linger on these factual inequalities: ‘I’ve never come across any gender difference when it comes to entrepreneurship. All we have to do for future generations is remove these mental barriers, as the idea that gender remains an issue is so outdated.


Susanna Simpson, managing director of Limelight PR, believes the debate about gender can be something of a red herring. ‘I don’t understand why there are groups for women in business. I hate the clubs that are out there as I think they almost reinforce a separation into two groups.

‘In my view, if you’re good at business and passionate about growing a company, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. I don’t want to spend my time meeting women in business, I just want to meet people who are good at business.’

Both of these women have created very successful businesses and have done very well by not playing the gender game.

What do you think? Are you a member of a women’s networking group? Do you think that there is a place for women only networking or communities? What works about it? Do we need it? Why do we need it.

On this website we are defining debate as “An informal and spirited but civil discussion of opposing views”, so please be respectful but offer your opinion liberally.

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  1. Georgina Lester says

    As Chair of a Women’s network I would of course have to say that they absolutely do have a role to play. MONEW – Monmouthshire Enterprising Women is defined by its membership and was set up to help women get work, set up and run businesses by mutually supporting each other and their specific needs. We may not think that there are differences between the genders but there are differences in the average lifestyles.

    For the most part women choose to work from home, or set up in business for very specific reasons that are not catered for in every work place. Many women do have families with school runs, kids having time off school with sickness and never mind the school holidays which has its own set of consequences.

    Men have had their clubs for centuries. So have women. They have always been very different in their structure and have catered the needs for the era in which they exist. Whilst men are doing the macho club thing – be it the pub or the Masons, the women have had their friendship networks built on WI, home keeping, and the school social networks.

    These days the different groups can still cater for the various needs that men and women have. For MONEW is it totally about helping women to maintain a positive work/life balance. We may have a strong ‘inner man’ who is very out there in pro-active business activities but we also have the ‘inner woman’ who needs to remember her femininity. Yes I know that men have their ‘inner woman’ too but the poor boys do like to weep behind closed doors on the shoulders of other men. Don’t they? Swiftly followed by a tribal roar of masculinity in a good old male bonding session of course!

    Here in Wales, culturally high profile jobs are, for the most part taken by men. In November last year a regional magazine listed the 100 top most influential people in Wales. The number of women included in the list – only TEN -a ridiculously small proportion. Women’s networks help to redress that imbalance.
    If you want to read about what I had to say about it at the time and how I felt that we should be using women’s networks – read more here!

  2. Jason Holden says

    WOW, what a question, and no doubt I will loose any argument here just like I do with my wife 🙂

    I think the answer to: Are women only communities and networks necessary? is Yes and No.

    I depends on the woman, who they are and what they want, as well as who they have gone to for advise before.

    From reading your site it can be as much about reinforcing a ‘You CAN do it’ attitude, which I totally agree some professional (male) advisers may well be the last person these ladies should go and see. However, there are also female advisers out there who are just as intolerant.

    However, if they choose the right adviser then I don’t see what the sex has to do with it, we have many female entrepreneurs and to be honest I would love a practice full of them, even if they only want what is these days labeled a ‘life style business’.

    Why would I like a practice full of them? Well easy to answer, they can certainly be more pleasant to deal with, they are usually keen to be organised and listen when we offer advise on how to achieve this (read as men ‘I don’t do paper work’), in the main they seem to be more realistic about what they want, and when they say they will do something they actually do it!

    So is there a need, like I said at the start, Yes and No, but this need is not because ‘men have had their ‘clubs’ for years’.

    Just my two pennies worth, as an accountant and business consultant.


  3. Julie Hall - Editor says

    Thanks Georgina and Jason, two very interesting perspectives. I recently posted a request for contributors on a major UK Business forum and there was a some support for the website, but there was also a lot of detractors. Some of the comments have really surprised me, so I want to share them here and put them up for discussion.

    “I have no doubt that women will join and enjoy your website, but ultimately I personally worry that if the arguments and experiences become too one sided then is that a realistic representation of the real business world and will that only serve to prolong the demise of the equality workplace?”

    And will that only serve to prolong the demise of the equality workplace?!?!? Wow, this is a strong statement. Maybe by exploring and developing how we do business together we can do the opposite of this and address some of the inequalities that have existed for centuries and turn things around.

    “I’m struggling to understand why being a man or a woman has anything to do with business and success.
    Why limit your client base?
    Why do women need a site like this as opposed to one that doesn’t have sex restrictions?”

    This website is not only about business and success, it’s about women owning businesses. It is about work life balance, dealing with childcare when you run your own business, what happens when you go through the menopause, how to look after yourself when you’re working from 9pm – 12pm because that’s the only free time you have. These aren’t just excuses for women owned businesses, they are a reality.

    The numbers vary depending on which sources are cited, but only about 17% of small businesses are owned by women – WHY? Lack of confidence is frequently listed, but I think it’s more complicated than that, fear, friends and naysayers, lack of awareness, self-esteem and self belief are just a few of the motivational reasons.

    “Why subdivide us, we are all humans? All you are doing is reinforcing stereotypes that I have to kick in the balls every day with my size 3 boots. Sorry to say, count me in with the men group, here.”

    This one came from Ling of Lings Cars. Ling has done some amazing things, not least of which was advertising her business on the side of a rocket. She apologises to no-one for the way she does business, but perhaps she doesn’t appear to realise that we’re all not just like her, though no doubt, most of us could learn a thing or to from her.

    What do you think? Do men and women do things differently? Is there a need for women only websites, networking and communities? Share your thoughts.

  4. Jen Tiller says

    I’ll work with anyone who has a product or service I need, or who wants the therapy or training I offer, and I network broadly. More and more today there are co-operative approaches to business that make the old barriers less of a drama. HOWEVER, on average I simply prefer working with women. Whether it’s a culturally ingrained behaviour or a natural tendency to nurturing that goes with a lack of testosterone, I find that understanding and communication is simpler with other women.

    I know the men I’ve discussed this issue with tend to get quite irritated by all-women groups, but so far none of them have wanted to join them either!

    The simple fact of a majority of women bearing children, and generally spending some time out of the workforce, has to have an impact on the way we do business, our career paths, and our financial resources. Women can and do build powerful business empires, and find their creative spirit unleashed within their own enterprises – but more often in a state of happy self-employment and in small-scale joint ventures.

    I belong to WiRE (Women in Rural Enterprise) as well as Ecademy and have done a stint in BNI. They are all valuable, and give me different forms of support and opportunities to expand my business. Fortunately, there is no requirement that we do only one form of networking! So enjoy it all, notice why you like what you like, and also what is uncomfortable. Is it the system? Is it a belief? Is it ok anyway?


  5. Detta Darnell says

    Why not for women only? Sometimes women need the gentle support and understanding that isn’t always available in a mixed group. Having been a serial entrepreneur for over 30 years and mostly dealing with women workers, and men in postions of decison making I can fully understand how many women would be ‘put off’ or ‘intimidated’ by the boys brigade. Perhaps only intially to begin with but put off none the less. Personally as a woman who works with women in business start-ups and women who are just ‘daring to dream’ kindly support and gentle encouragement is needed to get them off the ground. Dealing with men in business requires tenacity and courage and if women who don’t always have that to start with, can grab it from a support group of other women – I’m all for it…..choice is good and you do have one!

    Women can support each other in many many ways given the chance…see what fits!

    Detta Darnell

  6. Andrew Sansom says

    I’ve just found this site via a link on one of Georgina’s sites (first comment in the thread).

    Having done a lot of networking in Berkshire I would have to say thatthey do serve two very useful purposes:

    – I have seen women new to business and networking be absolutely terrifed at the “stand up and do one minute” type breakfasts. Several have then been taken off to local women only groups, and a few months later have returned, far more confident. I’m not sure how or why they helped, but the evidence is there.

    – the other reason is to aovid a certain type of male networker. It seems very easy these days for people to get offended hence the preponderance of PC behaviour and language. However I have several female networking friends who have felt uncomfortable, and sometimes slightly threatened, by the behaviour of some of us males. Hopefully the fact they can confide in me means I haven’t had that effect on anyone.

    There is definitely a place for these groups, so long as those attending remember they are only networking with half the available business connections.


  7. Penelope Herbert says

    The age old debate!

    Maybe I’m a bit late to contribute as I’ve only just joined. But, I have often wondered about the veracity of having women’s only groups. I don’t care if men have them, they can do what they want. But do women need them? Do women want them? Clearly they want them becase there are so many around with many many members. But I haven’t come across a women’s group that disallows men. Most women’s groups that I know of – and I’m talking business groups – welcome men.

    As the Editor of a businesswomen’s section of a business magazine, I interview hundreds of women annually and I receive invitations to a plethora of women’s functions. 99% of the business women I interview are very happy to work, mix, network and engage with men. And every women’s group with whom I have come in to contact welcomes men. Not just as a visitor but also as a member.

    Maybe I just meet very confident women because I don’t meet women who remain intimidated by men. I do meet a few men intimidated by women. The feminist pendulum had to swing far and wide to gain attention for the women’s movement. But I’m an equalatist – and most people I meet are gender blind. They will do good business with reliable people who have credible products and services. In a networking environment they can choose who they talk to. In a meeting environment they can join in – because if a woman won’t speak up in front of a man then chances are she may also be reticent in front of a woman.

    Stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.

  8. Jane Manby says

    hi there all
    I am a child of the sixties, educated in a single sex school by well educated, mostly women teachers, in an environment of expectation. There was the expectation we would and could do well, the expectation we had the world at our feet. Consequently I have never felt intimidated by men nor have I felt unequal to them.
    However there is a big difference in the practicals support the world gives working women.
    I’m not talking about childcare or cleaning but money, loans, contracts and business respect. Women have to work so much harder to receive all these.
    Women’s networks can help with this by offering practical advice and contacts.