Women In Business Call For End To Evening Networking Events After CBI Chief Says They 'Exclude' Women

Business dinners and evening networking events exclude women with families, the chief of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has said - and a lot of other women in business agree.

Carolyn Fairbairn may have become the first female director general of the business lobby group, but she believes late night networking events put many women at a disadvantage to men.

"A lot of women – and I was one of them, because I was bringing up three kids – just want to go home. And we wonder why business dinners are 95% men," she said, according to the Daily Mail.

"A lot of the friendship building, the networks, the support that frankly becomes really important when you start getting to the top are being formed in ways that exclude women."

Fairbairn went on to say that although a lot of women "do brilliantly" in business in their twenties and thirties, she has witnessed them struggle as they hit their forties because it is difficult to balance family life with networking.

"It is very hard. It becomes quite lonely at the top. It becomes more isolated and your networks and connections and friendships in business life really start to matter," she said.

Other women working in business have since come forward to say they agree that networking is more difficult for women than men.

Erika Nilsson-Humphrey, founder and CEO of personal shopping service Dappad, tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle: "Business is set up around how men live in and outside of the office and late night boozy dinners is a typical example of this.

"If you have family and you have already spent 8-10 hours in the office, to then go out for several more hours is simply not what most women (or even the modern man) want. If you then don't partake in this, you will get excluded to a certain extent as you are then not part of the inner circle."

Nikki Cochrane, co-founder of Digital Mums, agrees that the current system of networking is impossible for working mothers.

"Not only are workers expected to put in long hours in the office to move up the career ladder they are also expected to schmooze outside of office hours. This is simply not going to work for mothers who have to be at home for key moments in their child's day," she says.

"There's no real reason why business networking couldn't be adapted to better fit parents' schedules but this will never happen until the people making the rules include more working mothers.

"With so many other factors affecting women with children's progress in the workplace - being forced out of jobs while pregnant, being stripped of key responsibilities once returning to work - a wholesale culture shift is the only way that we can improve things."

Dominique Peckett, director at the UK's leading costume manufacturer R H Smith has first-hand experience of "male dominated" networking events.

"I attended a corporate banking dinner event last month where there was one "token" female at every other table," she tells us.

"A lot of the corporate hospitality events we are invited to by our external stakeholders are definitely aimed towards the male members of our team, such as rugby and other sporting events.

"Until there is a higher ratio of women at board level and in senior positions in business, there won’t be a change in how many women are present at out of hours functions. It’s not that women don’t want to network, but sometimes they don’t want to be the only female at an event."

Feminist blogger Louise Pennington adds that shaking up networking dinners is only half the battle for women in business. She believes we also need to shift our behaviours at home if we want to achieve equality.

"We need a fundamental overhaul of families requiring men to do 50% of the work of running a family. This is an issue of male entitlement and privilege," she tells us.

"As long as men expect to have a family and 'get to the top', women will continue to be prevented from working to their full potential. Men have the power to change this but have refused to do so because they don't want to do the second shift of work in the house."

But Véronique Forge-Karibian, founder of Business O Féminin, does not think the onus is entirely on men to make women feel included in business.

She believes women should try to devote one day per week to networking events - and that doesn't mean networking events just for women - and be precise about what they want to get from these experiences.

"Women also need to engage men to change the culture of companies and encourage earlier meetings and hangouts," she says.

"In doing so, women will soon realise that they are not the only ones who want to have more time for their family, a lot of men do, too."