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Work women's dinners

(12 Posts)
Sirenetta Wed 12-Oct-16 12:43:47

I work in a posh law firm and we have a "women's initiative" with a budget for nice dinners a few times a year. The status quo is pretty interesting (shall we say). There are 2 women partners in charge, chalk and cheese : one gets up and rambles about how we have to call men on bullshit and things haven't chsnged since the 70s. The other one looks perfect, smiles and says everything's great but her door's always open for any way she can help other women. Oh, and why don't we all go wine tasting or to a spa next time. So look, first off, not a bad problem to have . This is all in the context of insane privilege . But all of us in the younger generation think the talk is wildly out of date and doesn't hit the mark. The sexism we face is way more subtle than the 1970s stories - much more in things like who's put on admin tasks vs leading client discussions . if the group wanted to have honest conversations about this stuff it could, though it's a little hard to picture given that the women span trainees through top management - how much truth could really be told without blowback? I'm fine with going to a spa or whatever but doesn't that reinforce some kind of unhelpful stereotype (the girls are off to get their nails done etc).

Wondering if anyone on here belongs to an officially sanctioned women-only group at work. Is this even a good idea? If it's a good idea, what does it look like that's actually supportive and useful?

LassWiTheDelicateAir Wed 12-Oct-16 13:32:39

It sounds terrible and I think women only professional groups are a pointless idea.

I'm a partner in private practice. I've never been a member of any women only group and would never want to be.

The partnership profile of my firm is just under 50% Apart from the very rare occasion of going out as a group for a meal (once in the last 3 years) and occasionally small groups going to a concert or ballet or similar we don't do any women only activities.

much more in things like who's put on admin tasks vs leading client discussions

Never encountered this problem. Admin tasks are done by admin staff or junior members of the team; client discussions done either by the senior person in charge or the specific fee earner who knows the detail of a specific project.

YetAnotherSpartacus Wed 12-Oct-16 13:57:04

Do you believe the one with the open door?

Have either ever done anything tangible for women collectively or individually, do you know?

I have other thoughts, but I'm curious about these questions first.

SenecaFalls Wed 12-Oct-16 14:03:05

I'm a lawyer in the States. I have been a member of organizations that were for women lawyers, such as the my state association of women lawyers and its local chapter (and found those very helpful especially 20 or so years ago when there were far fewer of us), but I have never and would never want to have a formal group within a law firm. Informal discussions as issues arise, certainly, but I would not want a separate group. And as to wine tasting and spa day, no, no, and no.

scallopsrgreat Wed 12-Oct-16 14:46:09

We have a women's forum at work that I sometimes go to and have found it very useful. It is slightly different as it is organised from the ground up where as the group you are describing seems to be organised from the top down. I'm generally unaware of the women's positions in the organisation. It sounds like a larger organisation than yours though and it could be that I am just wilfully oblivious! My organisation also has a wide range of quite diverse careers, so I wasn't "in competition", managing or being managed by anyone around the table. Which I think makes a difference. And that is possibly why Seneca's suggestion of a forum across organisations may be a better one.

I would definitely say the forum I attend is supportive. It also looks into initiatives to enable women in the workplace such as Athena Swann. One thing I really noticed in my first meeting was how everyone's input was listened to. Genuinely. Anyone who wanted to speak was given time to speak even if they couldn't articulate quite what they meant. Other members didn't immediately jump in and put words in your mouth but would help articulate if necessary.

So having that distance from other members of the group is maybe the thing that is lacking and will possibly be a barrier. Have they laid out any terms of engagement about the group? Such as - everyone's input is valid; what is said between these four walls stays within them unless agreed by the whole group i.e. actions to take to the organisation.

SenecaFalls Wed 12-Oct-16 15:17:06

One of the reasons that the women's associations were important support mechanisms for me was that when I entered the legal profession in the late 1970s, most of the avenues for networking and especially for getting new clients were effectively closed to women. For example, many business clubs not only did not allow women members, they didn't even allow women to have lunch there as guests. Also a lot of networking by lawyers and other businessmen was done on the golf course, again in clubs that did not allow women members.

Much of that has changed, of course, but there are still issues that make the professional associations for women (most of which do allow men to be members, although few join) valuable support resources for women. But for many of the reasons scallops points out, I would not want to have a formal group within a firm, especially a smallish firm.

chunkymum1 Thu 13-Oct-16 11:09:47

I was once a member of a 'women in business' group. I think that the idea behind this was that many networking groups/events whilst not formally closed to women were focussed on things that men were more likely to be interested in (golf days etc) and as they were very male dominated might not be the most comfortable place for woman go to. However, as in your case, in reality this group did nothing to challenge gender stereotypes- events were always spa days, pamper evenings, personal shopper evening etc (the cynic in me couldn't help thinking this put too much focus on women getting together to talk about how to look pretty). Also, unfortunately there were far more men in influential positions than women so if the idea was to allow women access to career enhancing networking opportunities this was a problem. I stopped going when we were 'treated' to a talk about successful networking for women which turned out to be a talk that I had endured earlier in my career- the main message of this was that women should wear make-up to look professional (with handy tips on what items should always be carried in one's handbag).

I also attended a few meetings from an in-house group for women professionals which sounded very promising- we were told that this had been set up to try to understand barriers to women succeeding and to promote equality. I'm pretty sure that this was part of a box ticking exercise as any attempt to bring up actual barriers (eg. attitudes to part time working, fitting work around childcare (and perceptions of those who do this), practical issues (no ladies' loo in the client area, making an area (in a glass walled office) for women to express/breastfeed, mandatory training that required staff to be away from home for weeks even when the day job was office based) were met with reasons why this was not really an equality problem. Eg. men also have children so working around childcare is not a gender problem, examples of one or two women who worked part time hours and were in senior positions therefore this can't be a barrier to promotion etc.

EBearhug Fri 14-Oct-16 01:01:47

I'm part of our women's network. I've learnt more about the company and other departments and what people do than I ever otherwise would have. I've had some mentoring through it, and I'm currently on a secondment with another department which would never gave happened without the women's network. And also, having been the only woman on a department of 40, it was just nice talking to other women and knowing it's not just me!

Before I was involved, I couldn't see the point, but it really has enhanced and supported my career. I probably wouldn't still be in this job without it.

EBearhug Fri 14-Oct-16 01:06:26

Our main focus is professional development. We do allow men, but when I've tried to encourage some, they look horrified - "I'll be the only one!" Unfortunately, they have not had quite enough awareness to realise this has been my experience of the vast majority of work meetings throughout my career. And if I point it out, apparently that's different. confused

There is still much to be done.

erinaceus Fri 14-Oct-16 05:55:56

There is a women's initiative at my employer. I have found much more support by building my own support network of people of both genders who are on my wavelength. Funnily enough, our women's initiative also comes across as top-down although I have no idea of its origins. We are not a "closed shop"/"insane privilege" profession to the extent that law is, though although we have our moments.

LonnyVonnyWilsonFrickett Fri 14-Oct-16 08:51:53

One of my clients has a women's group and it's really successful I believe - but as pps have said, it's run from the bottom up. All the 'officers' are elected from the members and the senior execs are sponsors - so basically their role is to sponsor any initiatives through the various governance levels, provide a level of challenge and an element of personal coaching.

Could you suggest a sub-committee to go and do some research on how women's groups work in other firms and industries? If the will is there, it seems a shame to waste it as good things can come out of employee networks, if they're run properly.

EBearhug Fri 14-Oct-16 15:11:02

We use Catalyst - they have a lot of info on employee resource groups. Some is available to non-members.

Ours is also mostly bottom-up (I am almost bottom of the company hierarchy, but global chair of one of the committees.) It can be a great opportunity for people to get experience they wouldn't in their day job, but it can also be difficult to get people to respond if you don't also have formal hierarchy status. Not all, most are great, but there are still one or two dicks who are in position's where you can't totally ignore them. So it helps to have some senior people who are involved when you need their support, and an executive sponsor or two. And someone in HR with spare budget can be helpful.

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