The Sweetest Taboo

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox’s blog post on the Harvard Business Review, (HBR) in June, 2013 argued that female networks actually created barriers in more instance’s than they worked to break them down. Cox’s post did not completely oppose the idea of them but she made a clear differentiation between the limiting and tactless way she thought businesses approached gender balance internally in the workplace compared to the contribution she felt external women’s networks could provide, or as she put it ” vital purposes including lobbying, information sharing, education, and mentoring”. Her argument as she saw it was that inadvertently (or manipulatively, depending on the company) [they] marginalise women into a separate group from the one currently in power”. 

Melanie Bryan OBE DL, however see’s no limit’s or room for parity, inequality or in fact shortcomings of any kind that support the exchange of knowledge in a women only network. In fact quite the opposite, and the results speak for themselves. Bryan’s Northwest Women in Enterprise day, on Friday 15th November, 2013; sponsored by Cheshire East Council, Beever and Struthers Chartered Accountants, Why Not Change – Personal Growth Coaches, Natwest, Hill Dickinson -International Law Firm, Business Growth Hub, MMU Centre for Enterprise and Cheshire West and Cheshire  Council said a resounding YES! to it. The event saw north of 270 business women from web designers to shipping agents, and architects to industry manufacturers attend the all female event. Often a mixed reception meets any kind of indication that an event is pro – women, particularly those who have already had to fight for those very limited and opportune openings at the boardroom table. Fear of being recognised as a feminist always strangely outweighing the respect of those that are in support of helping a fellow female with a hand to the top, or even the space, encouragement, creativity and confidence to dream that they will get there. 

Well dreams were certainly nurtured, (my entrepreneurial capability topping out at 96/100!) throughout the many seminars, workshops and conversations held. Often I am guilty myself of thinking events like the Northwest Women in Enterprise Day are just going to be full of a bunch of light touch cliche, “confidence, get- up and go -get- it! talks” but I was actually pleasantly surprised that the whole day was framed around the individual being a business person or person interested in business first and a female second. 

Lord Young’s  report, May 2013; ‘Growing Your Business: A report on growing micro – businesses‘ remarked that the biggest thing needed to support new and established SMEs amongst other things was “face-to-face and interactive specialist help for businesses”. Young’s words have definitely not fallen on deaf ear’s, my companies presence at today’s event overwhelmingly received in excess of 150 pro- active and responsive business women, seeking out opportunity to act on their success and continue to grow their businesses. In turn, many of the women I spoke to today were able to make a friend, an influential contact or a potential business lead which to me define’s exactly why women only networks work. It wasn’t that barriers were being built, in fact inside those walls I saw quite the opposite. I recognised unity and strength, inspiration, determination and support, and I can’t say I’m surprised – what must it take to not only find the legs to stand alone in business but to rebuild after the crisis. No what I saw was certainly not a barrier being built, but in the eternal words of Bob Marley “the small axe”, cutting down the big tree!


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