The women’s space: Communities
Who is bringing women together, the why and the how. And, all the discussions that surround what the communities stand for
Soon after decided to explore the “women’s space” I chatted with my friend Nic, who had recently finished her PhD in feminist literature. One of the first statements she made as we sat down to chat with her was, “the trajectory of really politically radical feminist thinking has been moving towards intersectional, queer, transformative because feminism does operate historically on the centrality of binary opposition [which is inherently reductive].”
When I asked her to break this down for me, I came away from our conversation with the understanding that we can’t really talk about feminism, or gender equity, without including the conversation around race, class and sexual orientation—or really anyone outside of the status quo, the “excluded” or anyone facing forms of “-ism.” And it is because of this truth that I initially called the women’s space a fraught path.
Discussions that surround many women’s focused communities today are criticizing them for who they end up excluding, because their whole basis and starting point is one of inclusion — creating space for the women that have been excluded. Community expert, Fabian Pfortmüller, calls this the dark side of communities. “In order to create a sense of belonging, we need boundaries,” he says, “yet these boundaries also enable the ugly side of communities: we need an outside in order to define the inside.”
The Wing, an all-female co-working space and community, has been a popular recipient of these controversial discussions around power and corporate feminism, with many claiming that they cater to the upper class white woman. To engage in the conversation, I noticed The Wing’s official and founder’s Instagram account advertising a story titled “Can a Black Woman fly at the Wing?” to counter the criticism they’ve been receiving. Several women’s focused communities are in the midst of such criticism, being questioned about what they really stand for. At the same time, they exist to bring women together and advance them.
I love how long this list could have been [and therefore I might keep coming back to update it]. There is a Women@ group for many different industries and causes, and my list won’t cover it all. But here are some spaces, groups, and list-serves that cater to women: in the workplace, in leadership, in innovation, and a couple of international (non-US focused) ones. Look out for the amazing, the good, the bad and ugly.
- Women in Innovation: exists “to advance women as change-makers and leading voices in innovation. We create momentum for women in innovation through action-oriented programming, tangible tools and resources, and the support of a generous community.” WIN operates as a non-profit with three chapters around the world. The main attraction for many is their monthly programming, which brings together women for an evening of something centered around innovation: mentorship, experimental change, trailblazing women. Every event I have tried to attend has sold out within minutes, and the few I have been able to attend have felt intimate and genuine: women comfortable with being vulnerable quickly. WIN depends largely on its set of ambassadors: women in innovation leadership positions. The ambassadors help WIN find spaces to host their events at, and support the lean core team with planning. WIN’s membership gives one access to their Facebook group and their newsletter which keeps members abreast of all its happenings. It is currently in the process of building a global team and an advisory council that will further its mission to increase the number of women in innovation.
- Ladies Get Paid: “provides the tools, resources, and community to help women negotiate for equal pay, and power in the workplace.” Led by Claire Wasserman, LGP has a private online network of 40,000+ women worldwide, that operates mostly on Slack. Aside from the online community, LPG hosts meetups and town halls exclusively for women. A big story that followed this community was when they got sued for gender discrimination by a group of dudes 🙄. Led by Wasserman, LGP crowdfunded and raised over $115,000 from over 1900 backers to pay for the legal fees and win the battle.
- Lean In: Inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s book on women in leadership, the community exists to “help women achieve their ambitions and work to create an equal world.” The web platform allows individual women to join or create their own Lean In Circle that exists for a different reason or cause that it supports. Circles stand for everything from women’s only mentorship to how men can be our allies. Lean In has also partnered with McKinsey to create the Women in the Workplace study that explores what companies can do for women. The big criticism that Lean In and the Sandberg point of view receive is that it suggests “women leaning into a masculine culture” in order to become leaders — it focuses on women focusing on their internal rather than the external.
- League of Badass Women: acknowledges that the dominant workplace model today was built for the heterosexual white male, and [maybe in calling out the Lean In model] explicitly states: “IT’S NOT A MODEL WE CAN JUST LEAN INTO.” League of Badass Women operates mostly on it’s closed Facebook group, and also produces a podcast that discusses power, privilege and misogyny.
- Create and Cultivate: A friend who attended the popular C+C conference (otherwise known as work parties for women, a term coined by the C+C founder, Jaclyn Johnson) told me that she felt alienated the minute she entered. “Be a legend, not a lady,” the entrance message screamed, she told me. A lot of language surrounding the women’s empowerment movement can feel intense: badass, legend, the future is female — several female friends I talk to say they find it tiring to live up to those labels. C+C, “an online community and conference for women looking to create & cultivate the career of their dreams,” definitely embraces the language. The conference gets criticized for being a “pink silo” rather than a safe space, focusing on “instagrammable moments” rather than substance. At the same time, conference attendees find the conference “a whole day surrounded by likeminded, empowering women is nothing short from extraordinary and extremely inspiring.” Personally, I found the website overwhelming for a first impression, it was difficult for me to understand what exactly they stand for and the message they are trying to convey. At the same time, they’ve created a successful space where women congregate, feel and leave inspired.
- Ellevate Network: Ellevate network began as 85Broad several years ago, I attended the conference as a freshman in college, in 2007. I remember being dressed in business casual all three days, and I remember a lot of other women in black attire, and I remember it being awkward networking around banking and management consulting — at the time, maybe I didn’t appreciate the all women environment as much as I should have because I was attending an all women’s college. I am not sure what the vibe is anymore, but here’s what I know from the web: Ellevate is “a community of professional women committed to helping you succeed.” They stand to “network better” which they enable through Ellevate Squads: a small, hand-picked group of driven professional women who pledge support each other in reaching their goals. Ellevate also hosts events and works with companies to run their Employee Resource Groups in an effort towards D&I.
- Chicas Poderosas: Focused on Latinx females, Chicas Poderosas “provides digital and new media skills and leadership training to Chicas’ ambassadors, to facilitate professional mentorships, and to provide fellowships to Chicas so they can learning from innovative news and media organizations.” The focus on media comes from the founder of Chicas, Mariana Santos, who has a background in media and journalism and has seen the need for change in gender inequality in the industry.
- Women About Community (WAC): Born in Mumbai, India, WAC is a closed Facebook group that brings together women that have a connection with Mumbai and/or India. With 2,200+ members, WAC “is a 100% secure, membership-only community for women. A place to address all areas of life — career, health, friendships, relationships, and daily obstacles.” Personally, I love that the group doesn’t have another layer of focus outside of women, because it allows for diverse group discussions to take place. One of my favorite discussions, for example, was one about taking care of aging parents as a daughter who lives faraway from them — it was especially relevant for a patriarchal society where daughters move away from parents much more than sons do.
- Freelancing Females: A group of 30,000+ women redefining the 9–5. Freelancing Females is a great resource for women to share opportunities, advice and encouragement with each other. My favorite discussions on this group have been watching females speak up about unpaid internships and opportunities. There is much back and forth about the tension between “great exposure” and being paid for your time.
- Ladies, Wine and Design: Founded by Jessica Walsh, LWD empowers women and non-binary creatives around the world. They want to increase the % of female creative directors through mentorship circles, portfolio reviews, talks & creative meetups. I love the story of why LWD came to be — it talks about something that I struggle with when thinking of the women’s space: women often being unsupportive of other women.
This story is part of a series that explores what is going on the “women’s space.” Check out the other stories in this series here.
I am Mansi Gupta, founder of Unconform Studio, a design and strategy shop focused on women and systems level change. We write about design, impact, gender equity, unlearning patriarchy and more. Don’t forget to subscribe to us for more Unconforming Stories.