« Wake up and smell the 21st century…please | Main | Everything a Woman Graduate Needs to Know (But No One is Telling Her) »

15 April 2010

Do women’s networks speak to younger women?

Bonjour all!


As mentioned in last week’s blog, I first connected with today’s guest writer, Dr. Elisabeth Kelan on LinkedIn due to our shared groups on the site and mutual interest in gender diversity.  I then saw her speak at the World Diversity Leadership Summit in Vienna on a panel which discussed age diversity in the workplace and managing young talent.  Elisabeth was in Brussels recently for a meeting and we had dinner together while she was in town. 


Our introduction to each other was punctuated by the usual ambiguity of working in an international environment.  How do you say hello?  Do you kiss once, twice, or three times?  Do you shake hands?  Whose cultural ‘norm’ takes precedence?  Does it matter that I come from an American background where kissing in any professional environment is at best odd and at worst illegal?  Well, as it turned out we did a sort of one-and-a-half cheek-kiss greeting and then laughingly discussed the fact that in a globalized world, you just have to…play it by ear.  Elisabeth and I had an enthusiastic conversation over dinner about how the gender debate has progressed and what the future holds.


One of the issues I have been keenly intrigued by is the lack of focus on younger women in corporate gender initiatives and dearth of research in the field.  After all, the pipeline starts with new joiners – this is the population we must focus on in order to develop the right skills and experiences so that they are primed for leadership roles later in their career.  Due to demographic changes, young professionals make up an enormous cohort of our workforce and young men as well as young women have very different world views and expectations than those of previous generations. 


In many cases, some of the roadblocks that women experience later in their career – for example the ability to travel frequently, or participate in a time-intensive leadership program, or even a secondment – don’t exist for younger women, who are often unhampered by the considerations that having one’s own family can understandably create (although this is slowly changing, the bulk of domestic labour still falls upon women).  And I wonder too whether young women – who have come from a university environment where they comprise more than half of the population, are even aware of the fact that women still constitute a vast minority of leaders in the corporate sphere and earn less than their male counterparts in every country in the world. 


Could women’s networks play a role in educating younger women – early – on the Unwritten Rules that will help prepare them for success in the longer-term?  Or do shifting social realities and perceptions mean that it’s time for the conversation to change altogether?


This enlightening piece of research from The London Business School (written by Elisabeth and her colleagues), entitled: The Reflexive Generation: Young Professionals’ Perspectives on Work, Career and Gender probes the intersection of gender and generation at work; if you have an interest in gender, generational issues, human capital, employee engagement, or talent management, I would highly recommend reading it for insight and strategy tips.    


Below, Dr. Elisabeth Kelan discusses findings from her research about what women’s networks and gender diversity mean to younger women.  And indeed, how their voices may change the game.


à bientôt,




Dr Elisabeth Kelan is lecturer (assistant professor) in the Department of Management at King’s College London. She was Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Women in Business at London Business School. She also worked at the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Zurich. Elisabeth is a leading scholar on gender and generational relations in organizations. Her specialism is in the use of qualitative and ethnographic methods. She has presented her research internationally, published widely, and has received various awards for her research.



“When conducting research on Generation Y, those latest entrants into organizations who are below 30, we often heard from young women that they did not feel at home in women’s networks. Women’s networks were seen as a place where women from their mother’s generation met to discuss work and private life. However these younger women felt that these networks were not for them.


Women’s networks have played a key role in showing women that their experiences are not their individual problems but rather shared by many other women, too. Women’s networks have traditionally been used to make these commonalities in experiences visible and to find strategies for overcoming them. Women’s networks also had very negative press and are regularly portrayed as places for whinging and whining. Women’s networks are today often seen as talking shops that do not really help women to advance in corporations.


For young women of Generation Y these women’s networks were no longer seen as timely. They seemed like a relict from 1970s feminism which no longer speaks to the younger generation. Young women often felt that women-only groups were separatist. Their experiences of women’s networks was that they were told how to be and behave to have a corporate career. Instead they wanted to be seen as competent workers who have to do certain things to have a career but there is no ‘special training’ needed.


This view is interesting from two perspectives. First of all, gender was no longer seen as an issue for women. This in itself can be a very positive sign. Generation Y assumes that issues such as work-life balance and flexibility are relevant for women as well as men. If that is the assumption such topics should be discussed among all employees and not just women.


Second, and more worryingly perhaps, this same sentiment might also lead to a situation in which a whole generation might lack a language to talk about gender equality. If gender equality is seen as achieved, any movement to bring it back on the agenda, such as through women’s networks, will be met with resistance. However if this generation loses the ability to talk about gender equality, the subtle and less subtle forms of inequalities that continue to exist in the workplace will go unnoticed and will remain unaddressed.


But maybe this generation gives its own answer to these challenges: integrating gender and diversity into wider debates within organizations. Rather than making gender an issue for women only, this generation might want to see that gender and diversity become an issue for everyone. Only if men and women realize the power of gender diversity will it be possible to see true gender change in organizations. That doesn’t mean getting rid off women’s networks. They certainly have a role to play to have sustained focused on gender and they provide a lot of support for women. However they will only speak to some women. It is therefore important to include more mainstream debates that include women as well as men from different generations.”


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Do women’s networks speak to younger women?:


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.