THE NEW NEW GIRLS’ CLUB

ALL-FE­MALE CO-WORK­ING SPA­CES AND NET­WORK­ING GROUPS OF­FER A LOT TO IN­STA­GRAM. BUT WILL THEY CHANGE THE EQUA­TION FOR WOMEN EN­TREPRENEURS?

Inc. (USA) - - INNOVATE - BY JES­SICA BEN­NETT PHO­TO­GRAPH BY KRISTA SCHLUETER

IN A SMALL LOFT SPACE in down­town New York City, 13 women sit cross-legged on cush­ions. A noise ma­chine hums in the back­ground. Small suc­cu­lents and crys­tals line the room, along with over­stuffed purses car­ry­ing lap­tops. At the cen­ter is Deb­o­rah Hanekamp— or Mama Medicine, as she is known—a healer-slash- entrepreneur in a muumuu who is guid­ing the women in her stu­dio through an af­ter­work med­i­ta­tion. The space is calm­ing, ex­cept for the oc­ca­sional sound of women ar­riv­ing a bit late, fin­ish­ing up busi­ness calls on cell phones. As those in the group in­tro­duce them­selves, we learn there is a gas­troen­terol­o­gist with a skin care line, a founder of an ed­u­ca­tional cen­ter for kids, a CEO of a well-

ness concierge ser­vice, and a num­ber of oth­ers with im­pres­sive ti­tles. What these women have in com­mon—other than the fact that they are moms—is that they’re also en­trepreneurs.

“For me, it’s all in­ter­con­nected. I’m workin’ and mom­min’, I’m mom­min’ and workin’,” says Hanekamp, who is seated fac­ing the group. “But some­times I need to pause and call the el­e­ments in.”

There are a few smirks at the men­tion of “el­e­ments”—this is New York, not Los An­ge­les, af­ter all—but for the most part, the women take it in stride. They’re here by choice: part of a group called Hey­mama, a net­work for en­tre­pre­neur­ial-minded women who are also moth­ers, and are nav­i­gat­ing the bal­ance be­tween the two.

Hey­mama be­gan by ac­ci­dent, af­ter Katya Libin and her co-founder, Amri Kib­bler, met at a play­date for their 3-mon­tholds. Nei­ther was par­tic­u­larly ex­cited about re­turn­ing to the rigid sched­ule of her cor­po­rate job—sales for one, fash­ion for the other—and the two im­me­di­ately bonded over their strug­gle to find a com­mu­nity of work­ing moms like them. They started an In­sta­gram ac­count to share pho­tos of women they ad­mired, along with pho­tos of their chil­dren, and even­tu­ally that grew into a busi­ness: a paid mem­ber­ship net­work that counts fash­ion de­signer Re­becca Minkoff, and the founders of Gilt and Dry­bar, among its clien­tele. For $350 a year, moms get ac­cess to events, perks from other mem­bers (think: lawyers and ac­coun­tants), and, most im­por­tant, one another.

“For a lot of us, it’s like, ‘I have a babysit­ter for one night— I need to get my med­i­ta­tion, my com­mu­nity, and my net­work­ing in one,’ ” says Kib­bler.

Ask any entrepreneur, and most will agree: Hav­ing a net­work is vi­tal to pro­fes­sional suc­cess. “It’s the num­ber one un­writ­ten rule,” says Sal­lie Krawcheck, a for­mer Wall Street ex­ec­u­tive who is the co-founder and CEO of Ellevest, a dig­i­tal fi­nan­cial ad­viser for women, and chair of an af­fil­i­ated net­work­ing group called Ell­e­vate. And yet “net­work­ing” has long been a loaded term for women. Women are twice as likely as men to re­port feel­ing ex­cluded from the net­work­ing process, as Cat­a­lyst and other re­searchers have found.

Much of it comes down to gen­der. As re­cently as 2016, a study pub­lished in the Acad­emy of Man­age­ment Jour­nal found that se­nior-level women who try to help other women at work are likely to face more neg­a­tive per­for­mance re­views than those who don’t (the same out­come re­sulted among non-white ex­ec­u­tives and em­ploy­ees, too). Ac­cord­ing to re­search by the econ­o­mist Sylvia Ann Hewlett, men are 46 per­cent more likely to have pro­fes­sional spon­sors—peo­ple who cham­pion them at work. This is sug­gested, in part, be­cause men, who still have the ma­jor­ity of se­nior roles, are of­ten hes­i­tant to net­work with women, wor­ried that men­tor­ship will be mis­taken for a come- on. When women do have the chance to net­work, they are some­times re­luc­tant to do it, even with other women, view­ing the process as in­au­then­tic and trans­ac­tional, as re­search from the Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view has found.

“When­ever I use the word ‘net­work­ing,’ women sort of run a mile,” says Dee Poku Spalding, a for­mer mar­ket­ing VP at Para­mount Pic­tures who now runs a com­mu­nity for fe­male en­trepreneurs called Women In­spi­ra­tion & En­ter­prise. “And yet as some­one who has spent a lot of time nav­i­gat­ing the sys­tem, I can’t stress how im­por­tant it is to build these net­works. It’s what men do.”

A new wave of women’s net­work­ing may not sound like a par­tic­u­larly mod­ern phe­nom­e­non in 2017—an age of Fear­less Girl stat­ues and Fem­pow­er­ment mar­ket­ing. But for years, to be a suc­cess­ful woman in a male-dom­i­nated space meant do­ing the pre­cise op­po­site: down­play­ing one’s gen­der. As the think­ing went, if women were con­sid­ered less equipped for these jobs, then those look­ing to rise up would do so by dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, send­ing the mes­sage: I’m not like those other women.

That at­ti­tude fi­nally seems to be shift­ing. As Krawcheck ex­plains it, there is now a sense—at least among a newer breed of entrepreneur—that gath­er­ing in packs may help, not hin­der, fe­male en­trepreneurs. “For a long time, I think we ac­cepted the sta­tus quo that there is one seat at the ta­ble for a woman, and if some­one else has it, you can’t,” Krawcheck ex­plains. “But there seems to be a newer recog­ni­tion, par­tic­u­larly among young women and women in the startup world, that the ta­ble can grow. More than one fe­male busi­ness can be funded, and, in fact, if you’re an entrepreneur, it’s good for you.”

THIS NEW BREED of women’s net­work is of­ten masked by the more palat­able term “com­mu­nity”: part cheer­lead­ing, part ca­reer coach­ing, part so­cial club—all fe­male. Round the cor­ner in any ma­jor city these days, and you’re likely to find one of these groups, along with prom­ises of pro­fes­sional sup­port (or, at the very least, a “tribe” of one’s own). There is the Wing, the co-work­ing-space-meets-so­cial- club co-founded by for­mer PR strate­gist Au­drey Gel­man—a sunny, New York City loft full of lush couches and color- co­or­di­nated book­shelves where mem­bers can work, net­work, get a pro­fes­sional blowout, and at­tend events that range from con­ver­sa­tions on fer­til­ity to pan­els on the black fe­male ex­pe­ri­ence. It is barely a year old and has a wait­ing list of 8,000 women.

And the Riveter, a kind of busi­ness-minded coun­ter­part to the Wing—an 11,000-square-foot workspace and com­mu­nity in Seat­tle that launched in May, tar­geted to fe­male en­trepreneurs and pro­fes­sion­als who crave more than “ping pong and beer taps” in a com­mu­nity space, says co-founder Amy Nel­son. With just over 300 mem­bers, the Riveter hosts free busi­ness classes such as “Lev­er­ag­ing your LinkedIn” and “Fundrais­ing 101,” as well as yoga and med­i­ta­tion. There is Spalding’s WIE, a mem­ber­ship net­work that hosts small monthly sa­lons and master classes on top­ics like ne­go­ti­a­tion and fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy, as well as an an­nual womenonly TED- es­que fes­ti­val.

And there’s Krawcheck’s Ell­e­vate Net­work, an 80,000woman be­he­moth with chap­ters in 40 cities, tar­geted at busi­ness­women and en­trepreneurs com­mit­ted to “el­e­vat­ing each other” through ed­u­ca­tion, con­fer­ences, and on­line “jam ses­sions” with ex­perts on top­ics like “pur­pose­ful net­work­ing.”

Oth­ers in­clude theLi.st, a 500-woman email list­serv and “vis­i­bil­ity plat­form” for women in me­dia and tech, founded by two jour­nal­ist-en­trepreneurs; Cre­ate & Cul­ti­vate, a con­fer­ence se­ries for women “look­ing to cre­ate and cul­ti­vate the ca­reer of their dreams”; Sally, a gath­er­ing of “women lead­ers, in­flu­encers, and tastemak­ers” that calls it­self “a girl gang for the 21st cen­tury”; SheWorx, a “global col­lec­tive” of en­trepreneurs; and Girl­boss Me­dia, from au­thor and Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso, a lifestyle web­site and event se­ries “for women re­defin­ing suc­cess on their own terms” that just raised $1.2 mil­lion. There are dozens more.

“It’s the for­ma­tion of a new girls’ club,” says Morra Aarons-Mele, a mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant who helps brands reach women. Some might call it the rip­ple ef­fect of what’s hap­pen­ing cul­tur­ally. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Women’s Busi­ness Coun­cil, 89 per­cent of women who own com­pa­nies are solo en­trepreneurs. You can’t turn on the tele­vi­sion these days with­out hear­ing another grim story of sex­ism in Sil­i­con Val­ley or the vast dis­par­ity in its fund­ing: Sure, women may

“When­ever I use the word ‘net­work­ing,’ women sort of run a mile. Yet I can’t stress how im­por­tant it is to build these net­works. It’s what men do.”

DEE POKU SPALDING, a for­mer Para­mount Pic­tures ex­ec­u­tive who started Women In­spi­ra­tion & En­ter­prise, a 50,000-mem­ber com­mu­nity for fe­male en­trepreneurs.

now start com­pa­nies at five times the rate of the na­tional av­er­age, but fe­male-founded com­pa­nies re­ceive just

2.7 per­cent of all ven­ture cap­i­tal fund­ing—and less if the founders are women of color.

When Gel­man and her co-founder Lau­ren Kas­san first con­ceived of the Wing, the idea was to cre­ate a place for women to stop off be­tween meet­ings or take a break to charge their phones. But it wasn’t long be­fore the two found them­selves cart­ing mem­bers to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., on char­tered buses for the Women’s March af­ter the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump. Nel­son, of the Riveter, had been think­ing about a wom­en­friendly co-work­ing space for a while; the elec­tion fi­nally pushed her to leave her day job as a cor­po­rate lit­i­ga­tor.

“I think what is unique to this mo­ment is that women are gal­va­nized,” Nel­son ex­plains. “What we’re do­ing is tak­ing that feel­ing and cre­at­ing a phys­i­cal space where women can come to­gether and pur­sue their ca­reers, but do it within a net­work. The ‘old boys’ club’ has ex­isted and worked for hundreds of years. We’re cre­at­ing a fe­male equiv­a­lent.”

THE IDEA OF WOMEN gath­er­ing with­out men is noth­ing new. It was a women’s gath­er­ing that led to the first Amer­i­can women’s rights con­ven­tion, in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848; meet­ings of small groups of women—known as “con­scious­ness-rais­ing”—led to the women’s move­ment of the 1970s. As Alexis Coe, the Wing’s his­to­ri­anin-res­i­dence ( yes, that’s a thing), ex­plains it, women’s so­cial clubs have ex­isted since the 1800s, with one of the first started by a group of fe­male jour­nal­ists who were de­nied en­try into the New York Press Club to hear Charles Dick­ens speak in 1868. But it was rare that women had ca­reers back then, and so the fo­cus of those early clubs was largely on so­cial re­form—the cre­ation of parks and li­braries and other pub­lic ser­vices.

This new it­er­a­tion of club is de­cid­edly busi­ness-fo­cused: to make prof­itable op­er­a­tions of both the com­pa­nies of the women who join them and the net­works powering them. Much like join­ing a gym, women can pay around $375 a month to work out of the Riveter, or $215 to be part of the Wing. Hey­mama’s “ex­clu­sive, cu­rated net­work” makes money by charg­ing that an­nual mem­ber­ship, along with “in­flu­encer” brand spon­sor­ships and ticket sales from events. Since Krawcheck pur­chased women’s mem­ber­ship group 85 Broads in 2013 and re­branded it the Ell­e­vate Net­work—charg­ing as much as $1,200 a year for a mem­ber­ship—rev­enue has grown in the “strong dou­ble dig­its.” In five years, Spalding’s WIE has grown from a 400-per­son one-off event to a net­work of 50,000 women, with­out any out­side cap­i­tal.

“What we’re see­ing with re­gard to women’s net­works is sim­i­lar to what we saw in the early days of beauty and fash­ion—a po­ten­tially bil­lion- dol­lar in­dus­try that is only just be­gin­ning to take off,” says Whit­ney Wolfe, the founder and CEO of Bum­ble, the fe­male-cen­tric dat­ing app that re­cently

“We’ve all had that mo­ment where your kid is scream­ing and you’re hid­ing in the closet to take a con­fer­ence call. As a work­ing mom, you need your tribe. This is that tribe.” KATYA LIBIN, co-founder of Hey­mama, a net­work for entrepreneur-moms whose mem­bers in­clude the founders of Gilt and Dry­bar. For $350 a year, mem­bers get ac­cess to, among many other things, events like the one shown here, which took place last spring at fel­low mem­ber Re­becca Minkoff’s Man­hat­tan store.

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