Women team up to beat the recession

<div>MORE women work in the City than they used to, but it&rsquo;s still hard to get on. Only 13 women hold executive directorships on the board of FTSE 100 companies (that&rsquo;s 3.6 per cent) and there are just 110 woman&nbsp;non-executive directors, 14.5 per cent of the total. During the recession, the situation for women has become more difficult. A recent survey by professional services firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers found that 60 per cent of respondents (91 per cent of whom were women) believed that the recession will reinforce the glass ceiling. Forty per cent said that they were uncertain about their job prospects over the next year, while 73 per cent thought that the recession would be a catalyst for those looking to leave corporate life to take redundancy.<br /><br />The numerous women&rsquo;s networks that exist across the Square Mile are becoming more important than ever. Michelle Brailsford, president of the European Professional Women&rsquo;s Network London, says that women are having to put up with more&nbsp;&ldquo;shark-like behaviour&rdquo; at the moment, and these networks can help then find the tactics to deal with that.<br /><br />In these desperate times, some people feel driven to do anything they can to sabotage a colleague, and many are not beneath using the fact that she is a woman. &ldquo;Sometimes it is intentional because they see you as a competitor, and sometimes it is not done with malicious intent,&rdquo; says Brailsford.<br /><br />&ldquo;For example when the feminine way of working &ndash; like relying on intuition, not analysis; &ldquo;web thinking&rdquo;, collaborating and thinking about the bigger community &ndash; is questioned or put down, women need other women to remind them that these are the strengths we bring to the table and not to be defensive about the feminine work style. Combating gender bias and defending the way that women work is one of the important things women&rsquo;s networks do.&rdquo;<br /><br />Women often want to talk to other women when discussing how to defend these ways of working. &ldquo;A male mentor can&rsquo;t always support you in those cases. You might need to talk to another woman who has been sabotaged in that way, a man might not feel the full pain of gender conflict, but a woman might be able to share stories about how they handled that specific situation.&rdquo; Women&rsquo;s networks offer the chance to meet mentors or peers who can help you deal with such problems.<br /><br />She adds that women might need to learn the skills that men have acquired growing up, about protecting themselves and promoting themselves, and women&rsquo;s networks can offer workshops and coaching to help them develop these skills.<br /><br />There are three broad sorts of women&rsquo;s networks: professional networks such as EPWN and 85 Broads; corporate networks such as those run by the large City firms; and sectoral networks like the Association of Woman Solicitors or 100 Women in Hedge Funds.<br /><br />&ldquo;Women&rsquo;s networks function as a corrective to the old boys&rsquo; network,&rdquo; says Christina Ioannidis, who runs Bidiversity, an organaisation which promotes diversity in business. &ldquo;The old cliche of business being done at the golf club has some truth,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;What women need is a support group who know what we are going through. As women we need to talk through problems, to find ways to solve particular problems.&rdquo; At their best, they can throw up positive tactics and techniques for dealing with problems. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not a knitting circle,&rdquo; she says.<br /><br /><strong>BOTTOM LINE<br /></strong>Women&rsquo;s networks go far beyond merely improving you own career, though. Some businesses really understand that they can help to boost the bottom line. Barbara Ann-King, head of investments at Barclays Stockbrokers, heads up the women&rsquo;s internal network across the Barclays Wealth group. She says that part of the network&rsquo;s job is to persuade people that the sorts of skills that women can bring to the table are valuable. &ldquo;You hear a lot of talk of soft skills, but I always say that soft skills can have hard result,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;Less &lsquo;alpha&rsquo;-type behaviour can be good.&rdquo; Catering for clients is all about offering them as many different ways of doing things as possible, and having women involved is a good start. &ldquo;Not all clients are the same, so why have the same sort of behaviour to address them all? These days we have a more diverse client base, so we need to cater to them. For example, there are more female millionaires under the age of 45 than male ones.&rdquo;<br /><br />Even if women are valued, though, at the moment one of the big issues at City firms is retention. Women&rsquo;s networks can articulate to management why women are tempted to leave, which can help firms understand how to make them stay.<br /><br />Clearly, women&rsquo;s networks are not fluffy, but a vital tool for changing businesses to work for women, and for making businesses understand the valuable resource that they have in women employees. &ldquo;We want to do something tangible, and not just tick boxes. We want to enhance a woman&rsquo;s experience and act as a beacon to say that it can be done,&rdquo; King says. &ldquo;It is important that both men and women understand that.&rdquo;</div>