girl on girl action… networking for fierce women

Look away now if you are of a sensitive disposition, but I consider myself a feminist.  Brought up in an all-female, intelligent, self-sufficient household, this was only going one way.  It’s something I’m proud of.

But here’s the rub.  I have always instinctively shied away from any women-for-women type groups.  I think that it’s because I’ve never personally encountered any barriers to career progression or missed out on opportunities just because I’m a woman.  Or it’s because I can’t stand Loose Women.  One of the two.

That’s not to say that I can’t score a full house in City-boy chauvinist bingo.  Been eyed up when I’ve walked into a meeting room full of guys?  Yep.  Been bought champagne and inappropriate presents by clients when my male colleagues got diddly squat?  Yep.  Been complimented on my outfit/shoes, whilst they have a good gawp at my arse/legs.  Yep.  Been the only girl in meetings with male investment bankers taking turns to peacock (deliberate emphasis) and talking about strippers?  Bingo.

In spite of all that nonsense, I’ve always preferred to work with men.  I’ve found the dynamic more straight-forward, less loaded, less-mercurial.  I’ve felt freer to say what I think and to challenge decisions.  And my own experience has been that I’ve been encouraged, my abilities trusted and my contribution hugely recognised.

In contrast, I (and many of my friends) have had difficult working relationships with other women.  I’ve encountered pettiness, barbed put-downs and being undermined in front of colleagues and clients.  Friends have been held back from long-overdue promotions, been wickedly out-manoeuvred by colleagues they thought of as friends, and been given career-stunting appraisals from female bosses threatened by their talent.  It’s pure, childish playground ganging-up and the few rare times that I have cried at work have been because one of the other girls has been mean to me.

So every time I read something that says that we need more women on boards of companies or that it’s a disgrace that the pay gap still hasn’t shrunk, I whole-heartedly agree.  But I also know that we cannot lay the blame any more on the old boys’ network.  Because at least the boys, in the main, are promoting one another.

mean girls

What makes me sad (and it really does upset me), is that women are still holding other women back.  All the bloody time.  And it’s got to stop, ladies.  Because if we’re not helping one another, encouraging one another to succeed and supporting one another, then we sure as hell can’t whinge when the guys don’t do it for us.

I don’t get it.  It’s hard enough as it is, with the potent nature and nurture cocktail that women get of self-doubt, perfectionism, self-sacrifice and that feeling that we’re doing a terrible job of even pretending that we’re holding it together.  Why do we make it harder for one another?  Why do we make it so competitive, so unpleasant, so destructive?

My sister blames the Daily Mail.  It spews a constant stream of sanctimonious bile and judgment against women – at least any woman over a size 6. Denouncing single mothers as the root of all evil, working mothers as the cause of society’s demise, and voluntarily childless women as selfish freaks of nature.  And it has Liz Jones as its female figurehead.  A woman who has single-handedly done more to erode the advancement of womankind than any other person in my lifetime.  Thank you Daily Hell.  For nothing.

I don’t want it to be like this.  I don’t want to feel that in order to succeed I need to show that I have bigger balls than the guys.  I don’t want to perpetuate the sort of macho bullshit posturing that so many people (men and women) seem to think is ok in business.

I want to run a business surrounded by people I respect and who (hopefully) respect me.  I want to work with people who are smarter than me, because a wise man once told me that the only way your business gets better is if you hire people who are more talented than you.  I want to stay a normal human being and be nice and kind to people.  Because that’s how I am in the rest of my life, so why should I be any different at work?

bizzie birds

So… because I get that the only way to bring about change is to stop mithering and do something about it, I have decided, against my instincts, to join some women-focused business groups.  And I’ll admit to finding it difficult.  The Mack calls it my “bizzie birds” stuff.  It makes me want to punch him in the face.

I have contributed an article to a website called Women Unlimited which provides advice and support to female small business owners.  I had to check myself when I noticed that I was dumbing it down, in case the little women couldn’t understand the message.  Please take a look at their website, it is really accessible and encouraging

I went to a networking event hosted by The Next Women magazine.  It was a pitch evening for female co-founders to present their businesses to a panel of angel investors.  The keynote speakers were brilliant.  The investors were the real deal.  The ideas pitched were pretty much the same as at every other event I’ve been to recently, which made me quietly despair.  But the biggest revelation for me was that I realised I felt much more uncomfortable networking in a roomful of women than if it had been a mixed group or mostly guys.  I couldn’t help myself comparing shoes…

Shame on me.

Clearly, I still have some way to go.  I met a couple of great people and we have agreed to be cheerleaders for one another.  I’m going to stick with it, because I find it hilarious that even though women have an evolutionary advantage when it comes to making connections and being supportive, we are hideously bad at networking in business.

I think part of it is a feeling that we shouldn’t be asking for anyone’s help if we can’t offer something in return.  Men don’t have this insecurity.  I’ll give you an example.  The Mack went to a work thing recently where Chris Boardman (Olympic cyclist) was giving a speech.  The Mack thought nothing of collaring Chris afterwards and chewing his ear off.  The result, they’ve swapped contact details and I know that The Mack won’t hesitate to contact Chris in the future if he needs advice on the best bicycle clips.

I think we girls just need more practice.  Because the more that we all share our expertise and contacts and experience and wealth, the easier it will become for all of us.  And if it means that we have to be fierce (in a nice, Beyonce sort of way) and fearless about it, then fine – just give me a minute to get my best shoes on, and I’ll be right with you, sisters.

Just don’t make me watch Loose Women.

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