This Is Why We Still Need Women’s Networking Groups
By Robin Buckley, PhD
No, all-women’s networking groups don’t exist for the purpose of exclusion: They provide an opportunity for personal growth, professional development and societal change.
All-women’s networking groups have existed for many decades, but over the past decade, there has been a surge in the numbers of these groups. Technology, the #MeToo movement and the pandemic have all contributed to the growth of all-women networking groups. A common criticism of these groups, however, is how all-women’s networking groups fit in, as society adopts the concept of more inclusivity.
The simple answer is that these groups allow a historically disenfranchised population a place to regroup. After centuries of being considered property, second-class citizens or simply irrelevant, women are embracing opportunities to break away from stereotypes and standards that have held them back. In order to do this, having safe, supportive environments to process their experiences and create plans for progress is not only important, but also necessary. It is not about excluding non-women; instead, it is about having a place to focus energy with peers who experience the same or similar experiences. Consider the specific ways all-women’s networking groups foster the growth of women as individuals and as instruments for societal change.
All-women groups normalize experiences
The isolation many women feel is broken down in these groups. As members realize other women feel, think and encounter the same in their own lives, they no longer see themselves as the “only one.” When women are in same-sex networking groups, their personal and professional experiences are normalized. They can have conversations about their fears and negative experiences in environments that are not only safe, but also supportive because everyone in the room has felt it, thought it or faced it. Women have that “ah-ha” moment that they are not abnormal, weak or alone when surrounded by their peers.
By being with other women, group members can also have frank discussions about work-life balance, a common concern for women. Determining how to be a spouse or partner, mom, caregiver and professional are only the initial roles women juggle. Societal expectations to “do it all” and meet the Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram standards put significant pressure on women. It is within the security of these specific networking groups that women can be vulnerable and authentic. Women establish their commonalities, regardless of age, race, ethnicity or sexuality, and it leads to faster, genuine connections based on shared experiences. All-women networking groups are not solely focused on business, but instead support the whole woman, personally and professionally.
All-women groups support and promote the members
One regular part of all-women’s networking groups is the concept of giving back. This is often done in two ways. Many groups build in a charity component, often including nonprofit organizations in their efforts and finding ways to support the work of the NPOs represented. It allows women to do what often comes naturally: using their skills to offer support.
The other way all-women groups give back is in their focus on growing business for others. Unlike other networking groups that might focus on “how can I use this group to build my own business,” all-women’s groups typically embrace the idea of how to build other women’s businesses. It is this idea of give-and-get or ask-and-provide that changes the dynamics in these groups. Members look for ways to promote their peers’ goals through referrals and connections, knowing that their peers are doing the same for them.
All-women groups work to empower women
At the current rate, research reveals it will take 61 years in North America to close the gender pay gap; however, that does not take into account the detrimental effects the pandemic has had on women’s careers. When this variable is calculated in, some estimates suggest the gender pay gap will remain in place for another 135 years. Women’s networking groups can help accelarate the closure of that gap.
All-women’s networking groups allow women to connect with mentors. Women who have accomplished certain milestones and are willing to help other women accomplish their specific goals are in these groups. They are there to help others be successful by offering their experience, connections and support. Moreover, all-women groups offer a space for younger women to identify female mentors who can help the next generation of leaders navigate professional mazes.
Additionally, all-women’s groups provide the space for women to gain confidence. This does not occur simply through support. It also happens because the members of these groups do not allow each other to be hindered or stuck by societal or personal obstacles. Group members help each other break down cognitive fallacies and challenge each other to strive for what they want in a non-judgmental space. While members help each other, they also learn how to ask for what they want. When surrounded by supportive peers, women break down the misconception that asking for what they want is selfish. They realize that asking for what they want is not about putting themselves first, but rather about establishing themselves as an equal priority alongside their networking peers.
All-women groups work to equalize societal roles for women
Most importantly, these groups become the places where women can not only facilitate each other’s professional goals, but also promote each other to positions of power, helping women become the leaders of their businesses and embrace opportunities to become industry and societal leaders as well. It is in those positions that women’s voices will take on more power as change agents. All-women networking groups don’t exist to be exclusive: They strive for inclusivity by offering women safe spaces to develop skills, strengthen their voices and access opportunities — making a more balanced society a reality.