There is an interview with Vivienne Westwood (aka “the queen of punk”) that looks almost like an episode of Spitting Image.
When questioned about the world’s most famous female group, she launches into an angry attack:
“Those Spice Girls have never had any education, they have never been brought up – they have just been allowed to grow up like animals,” (…) “Their dreadful clothes, their dreadful look and no style. They are just cultivating this attitude that you should push your way to the top – it doesn’t matter if you have talent or not.”
Would a fashion icon make such a statement about other women today? Not likely. We have come a long way.
In 1996, the year Westwood lost it on TV, it was still challenging for female leaders to collaborate or meet. There was no LinkedIn, no Facebook groups and no real concept of a supportive women’s network- why would you even need that if you’re good? Doesn’t it show that you can’t make it to the top on your own?
That was the view of many – even Britain’s first female prime minister Margaret Thatcher famously disliked feminism and did nothing to help other women advance.
While women’s groups already existed in the 1970s, their aim was not to connect but to change politics and campaign for change. There was still too much to fight for. The image of such networks was that they were against, not for something. None of them was exactly buzzing with positivity.
The earliest female corporate networks started around 1986 by a group of women in BT after attending a women’s development course (yes, that’s how they were called back then). Lloyds TSB’s network came as the result of one woman’s efforts in 1999. By then, it was all about “girl power”, not sisterhood. A demanding job left women no time for networking – and was it necessary anyway? We have come so far!
Female communities today are very different. Many of them were founded by women who want to change the game and close deals, not doors. These communities are powerful; CEOs from Sheryl Sandberg to Kara Godin (Hint water) say they are instrumental to their success – Sandberg has even founded her own worldwide female network called “LeanIn”. More than 50,000 women in 184 countries are now a part of it.
But you don’t have to go that big: There are communities for every background and interest, from mums to female engineers. Some of them consist of only a few members, yet their impact on the participants is enormous. Women share their intention for the week and their wins; they root for each other when applying for a new job or changes career. If they struggle, they soon find out others have been in their place too and are happy to lend them a helping hand. These shared experiences created a bond and propelled them forward. These groups don’t follow the 90’s Zeitgeist and sugarcoat feminism; they openly address issues like microaggressions and a lack of diversity in their workplace. At the same time, they are not frustrated by the challenges ahead- they want to tackle them. Female communities are one of the ways to do that. Their size makes it possible to connect faster and share experiences in a safe space. Their desire to outgrow their limits and their belief in the power of female friendship is powerful – but there are even more benefits.
What makes female communities so great?
You find your tribe
Being ambitious can feel lonely. A network of friendly, supportive women can do wonders for your self-esteem and growth- suddenly you are one of many building each other up. Women from all walks of life can inspire each other to think out of the box – if she can live her dream life, maybe I can do it too? It is a great feeling to find people you can genuinely connect with.
You always wanted to work for a specific company but don’t know anyone there? Someone in your group is bound to get you an introduction. Are you looking for new clients? Members will often give you a referral. Life gets easier when you share it with other career-minded people.
It’s all about giving
The adage that women find it easier to support others than ask for help can be advantageous. While mixed networks are often about selling yourself, women’s groups tend to offer more support and allow you to be open about the struggles you’re facing. You will always find someone who had had your problem before and solved it, saving you a lot of time and headache.
They benefit everyone
Women who earn more can pay more tax. They can create new jobs, spend more and give more charity than men (baby boomers give 89% more charity than men their age). It is estimated that equal pay would boost women’s earnings in developing countries by $2 trillion. Playing big makes a difference.
Female networking is not about excluding men- it is about helping to create a new, better reality for everyone out there. Vivienne Westwood included.