Women's Networks Get Mixed Reviews From Female MBAs, Young Professionals

Posted by: Lindsey Gerdes on July 14

I’ve always had mixed feelings about women’s organizations. On one hand, they’re undeniably effective networking tools and experienced female mentors can provide a valuable source of information and advice when you’re starting out in your career.

On the other hand, I’ve always worried about being pigeonholed or limited by basing my identity on gender first.

I guess a lot depends on the structure and objectives of the group. For instance, one recent MBA grad chose not to join her school's women's association, partially because she doesn't agree with the concept--and also because she cringed at some of the events. "There's a group of us that thought it was really silly in this day and age...I consider myself a business school student, not necessarily a woman that needs some kind of leg up or something."

It didn't help that the group's first event was a spa day. "That kind of stuff just really turns me off," she admits. She did, however, say that female CEOs also came in to speak and she found their talks on issues like work-life balance informative and helpful and does agree that women deal with different challenges in these areas.

I recently decided to give women's group another chance when I was invited to join a group called Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits, organized by a close college friend and another young woman, mostly because I was honored tobe asked to this small organization of successful 30-ish year old women...and also because I liked the name. But I definitely still had my reservations, which were quickly put to rest when I actually interacted with these women and found myself really enjoying their company and finding their feedback and advice extremely valuable.

I still don't know how I feel about the whole idea of women's networks in general though. Were I to go back to b-school, I can honestly say I don't know if I'd join.

There was one MBA women's event recently in New York, for instance, and one of the forum topics had the B word in its title, and the discussion revolved around the whole B-word stereotype women can fall prey to when they're trying to "overcompensate" to appear more masculine. It immediately turned me off. I know men and women who are both big Bs because, well, that's just who they are. And I feel that focusing on a gross generalization like that only perpetuates the stereotype. One thing's for certain. These networks seem to create a sharp divide among women, at least from what I've heard.

One thing's for certain. When it comes to women's networks, there seems to be a fine balance between perpetuating stereotypes and helping women to become the next business leaders.


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Read daily reports and special features from BusinessWeek editors and reporters Lindsey Gerdes and Louis Lavelle about companies, careers, and other topics of interest to young professionals.

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