Women’s networks: distributors of opportunities

Women’s networks are important distributors of opportunity in a time where gender still is a major axis of advantage and disadvantage.

Women’s struggle for equality in the West begins in the nineteenth century. By the mid-twentieth century, women enjoy the right to vote and to access higher education in most Western countries. However, gender equality is not quite so simple. Already in 1949, Simone De Beauvoir notes that formally fulfilling women’s demands for equal rights with men has not substantively changed women’s conditions.

Over seventy years later, real gender equality is still a thing of the future. Although a handful of women enjoy positions of power in politics and business, those shattered glass ceilings fall rather softly on most men’s heads. Immersed in a male-dominated professional environment, women lack an important basis of similarity (and solidarity) with a lot of their co-workers and senior colleagues. The upshot is that it is usually harder for them to advance their career prospects and reconcile them with other aspects of their life.

Gender inequality is not simply about professional hierarchy and relative income. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the starkly unequal burdens shouldered by men and women along several fundamental dimensions. Women not only make up the majority of the (underpaid) health care workforce, but they are also expected to perform most of (unpaid) domestic care work. Moreover, times of lockdown have put women’s security at greater risk, in the form of exacerbated abuse and domestic violence. In 2020, gender remains a distributor, or denier, of rights and opportunities.

Women’s networks act as distributors of opportunities

Women’s networks help us counteract the unequalising effects of gender. How so? A “thin” concept of network is tainted with notions of sleazy efforts to advance one’s career – something akin to collecting people by handing out business cards. More broadly, says organisational psychology professor Herminia Ibarra, networks are sets of relationships. These relationships allocate a variety of fundamental resources in the form of personal, social and professional support. Resources generate opportunities, and opportunities are concrete steps towards real equality.

Red:GLOW is our very own women’s network. Bringing together seven partner organisations from six European countries, we have made it our mission to strengthen young women’s agency and expand their influence. We want women to be taken seriously – collectively as much as individually. Indeed, at the core of our partnership lies a commitment to leadership as going somewhere together with others. In a world that is still very much coded as male, women’s ability to work together and support each other is key to making a difference.

Author: Veronica Corsi, Red:GLOW volunteer.

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