When I was living in India, we used to have what is called ‘Ladies Special’ buses. These public transport buses would ply mainly during peak hours to serve the women commuters. I assume these were introduced mainly to protect the women from potential harassment from their fellow male passengers while being squished against them at rush hours. Variations of these include ladies compartment in local trains in Mumbai and ladies coupe on National trains that crisscross India.
I was reminded of these buses segregated on gender lines while attending a women-only networking group the other day. It was a pleasant enough group which offered some very interesting prospects for me in terms of work. However, I did wonder about the reasoning behind such a business networking group.
If it is to create a warm and supportive environment for small and micro entrepreneurs, does it need to be exclusive to women? Isn’t it a little patronising to think that a mixed group may not be capable of doing that?
You might argue that very often it is the women that take a career break to have children and many returning to work often choose to go down the entrepreneurial route (I don’t have any statistic to back this claim, it is merely an observation). And for this group of entrepreneurs (I distinctly dislike the term mumpreneur), a women-only networking group will offer more a approachable, less intimidating option to one which includes say, men in suits who are tax advisers (stereotype alert!).
Honestly, I am little torn. I have often heard women-only business groups being dismissed as a hobby club not for anyone serious about their enterprise. However, I can also see the need for positive discrimination in gender-specific business networking. But I fear that it encourages division and perpetuates a stereotype.
What are your thoughts on this issue?