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Why women need to build networking circles

Workspaces remain largely patriarchal, leading women professionals to turn to dedicated networking groups to learn and grow

A growing number of women are turning to women-only groups because regular networking groups don’t help them enough.(iStockphoto)

By Shrenik Avlani

LAST PUBLISHED 29.04.2024  |  06:30 AM IST

Veni Jain, 30, had an idea she believed in. Before she could act on it, however, she got married and moved to Kolkata from Delhi, where she knew no one except her husband and his family. She signed up for a Youth Ficci Ladies Organisation (Y-Flo) meeting in 2022. Two years and several Y-Flo meetings later, she has a thriving social life and is about to launch a business curating gourmet cheese and grazing boards for parties and dinners.

On International Women’s Day last month, Neha Sharma, 41, attended her first-ever women’s support-cum-networking group event at Lead Like Her Club, a group exclusively for women in leadership roles in human resources. Gurugram-based Sharma, head of human resources for market operations at Airtel, found the gathering useful as she met many like-minded people at a similar stage in their careers. “Everyone wanted to come together as a community to figure out ways in which we can give back to working women," says Sharma.


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Jain and Sharma are among a growing number of women who are turning to women-only groups because regular networking groups don’t do enough for them. “Women frequently encounter the double bind dilemma, where they are expected to be assertive but not aggressive, nurturing but not weak. Gender pay gaps and lack of representation in leadership roles further exacerbate these challenges, making it crucial for women to have spaces where they can discuss and address these issues," says Aparna Acharekar, 46, co-founder of women’s networking platform Coto. Coto started in October 2022 and has 400,000 members and 7,000 communities, or groups based on various interests. Community heads decide how often they meet.“Further, responsibilities like childcare and household management disproportionately fall on women, creating a constant tension between work and home."

All business owners need like-minded people to consult, create, caution and celebrate, says Elisha Saigal, 40, the Mumbai-based founder and CEO of El Sol Strategic Consultants, who has been part of multiple women’s networking groups, including Ladies Who Lead, for five years. “Your teams share your vision, wins and annual goals, but you need a closed circle to course correct, reflect and motivate," she says. “We brainstorm, co-create, party, unlearn and learn from each other. We share similar business hiccups and help each other navigate them."

Women-only support groups foster empathy through shared experiences, says Radhika Yuvraj Iyengar, 47, India country director for Women In Tech Global, an organisation championing diversity in STEM. The group has 528 members in India and 10,000 globally. The India arm started six years ago, and its members meet once a week. A global meet-up is held once in two months; they use both virtual and in-person meetings. “The struggles faced by Indian working women are widely acknowledged, yet not universally comprehended. Issues such as achieving work-life balance, managing work and family obligations, addressing health and wellness concerns, navigating adversity including toxic work environments, all while striving to maintain dignity and break barriers, remain complex and often misunderstood. By participating in women-centric groups, individuals can freely express themselves, find common ground, and grow together," explains Hyderabad-based Iyengar.

Such groups are also a good way to build a community of friends for oneself in a new city. They also helped working women navigate the challenges of the pandemic, bringing them closer. “Surviving and thriving in 2020 wouldn’t have been possible without this support," says Saigal.

Also read: The gender gap: Only 16% of Indian STEM faculty members are women

Creating community

Workspaces and culture remain largely patriarchal, which is why women often turn to groups that understand their unique circumstances and challenges as well as get advice. “Studies have shown that women are interrupted more frequently, receive less credit for their ideas, and are underrepresented in decision-making positions. They face microaggressions and gender biases that hinder their professional growth and networking opportunities," says Acharekar, who is based in Mumbai.

One word that consistently comes up among founders and members of women-only networking groups is “community"—for both work and fun. Garima Dhamija, 50, and five others co-founded Lead Like Her in Gurugram in 2022 with the aim of creating and giving back to the community of working women. It now has 50 members and they meet fortnightly. The group is restricted to the National Capital Region (NCR).


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“Post covid, while talking to working women, I found that all of them felt the need for a community. Community is one of the foundational pillars of well-being and progress," observes Dhamija.

Ficci Ladies Organisation (Flo), for women over the age of 40, helps women who have spent years on familial responsibilities and want to return to the workforce. Flo was founded in 1983 and has 19 chapters across India. It has about 11,000 members across India, and 1,250 in Bengaluru alone. Typically, Flo Bengaluru conducts two meetings a week in other chapters decide their calendars as per their needs. Many of them have good ideas but don’t know how to execute them. “At Flo, our members find mentorship, industry-specific knowhow, legal and financial assistance and help at every step for their venture," says Yashodhara Shroff, 61, ex-chairperson of Flo’s Bengaluru chapter. “While they can find similar help at regular networking groups, there is a certain level of comfort when women are dealing with other women."

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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