Men the missing link in quest for equality

Everywhere you look at the moment, women in business are getting together – championing each other’s causes, discussing the big issues such as gender diversity, the pay gap and juggling business with babies. Women’s networking groups have been on the rise for some time, and are more popular than ever – take Business Chicks, Like Minded B*tches Drinking Wine or LBD Group as some high profile examples. There’s just one thing missing – men. Now don’t get me wrong – as a feminist, single mum and small business owner I am all for women’s empowerment and an even playing field. But are attending events exclusively for women going to get us the outcome we want?

In discussing this question with several contacts of mine recently, both men and women, some interesting points were raised. One point from a male peer – how does only interacting with other women improve their negotiation skills, or networking skills – when in the ‘real world’ workforce men make up over half? Another point raised was that as women are still vastly underrepresented in executive positions, wouldn’t only networking with other women mean they are less likely to get in front of the decision makers responsible for their next promotion or big business deal?

The research shows that as usual, there are some very interesting differences in how men and women network, but also what their objectives are when attending networking events. According to a study by and McKinsey & Co across 30,000 employees, women are 15% less likely to achieve career advancement than their male peers – but the way they network could be a key obstacle. Women tend to seek deeper relationships with people that share their values, and can support them in their professional and personal pursuits. In contrast, men are less concerned with a shared value system, and more concerned with a value exchange – in other words, what they are going to get out of the relationship. As a result, men tend to have larger, more diverse networks, increasing their odds of finding the right advocate or sponsor for their career success.

In my view, the main point of these women’s only networking groups is to encourage and support women to get in the driver’s seat of their business success, whether that be in the corporate or entrepreneurial area. Having access to inspiring role models and mentors is particularly important for women, and arguably this is one of the key reasons event-focused organisations like Business Chicks are thriving – and not just in Australia, but on a global scale. Women are embracing entrepreneurship at a faster rate than any other time in history, with 34% of the small businesses in Australia now being owned by women, which represents a staggering 46% increase in the last decade. One could argue just that statistic alone is enough to justify the rise of women’s only networking groups in this country.

Regardless of the differences in how men and women do business, one thing is for sure – we need to engage men on the journey to gender equality. Yes, we need to encourage women in the ways we know work for them, and continue to drive discussion and visibility around these issues in a way that makes it clear that gender is not a ‘women’s issue’ – it is something that affects all of us. While women’s only networking groups have a valuable part to play in the women do business, I would encourage women to reach out and not remain solely in gender specific networking groups. There are some amazing business networking groups where both sexes are represented, and these can play an equally important role in building contacts and confidence.

Lanna Hill is a business coach, speaker & MC, media commentator and mum of two. She is the founder of One Small Step Business Coaching. Originally published in The West Australian, April 2018. 

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