There’s never been a better time to be a woman in business. This Women’s History Month, we are celebrating the explosion in the ways women have to connect with each other. A new crop of female-only social networking apps like Bumble Bizz, Ellevate Squads, the Cru and Chief promise to bring women together for professional networking and peer mentorship.
Their rise is a response to lingering workplace dynamics. While progress has been made to foster inclusion and representation, one in five women say they are often the only woman or one of the only women in the room. This is twice as common for senior-level women and women in technical roles. Mentorship remains a trailing indicator for progress. It’s no question that mentorship is an important part of career development, with benefits related to compensation, promotion, commitment and identity; however, only half of women have access to relatable mentors.
Peer mentorship has filled the gap in providing mentors women can relate to, especially as they advance in their careers, and has created fertile ground for female-only networking apps to grow. For example, women who stayed and succeeded in technology are twice as likely to credit female peer groups with their success as women who exited the industry.
According to HBR research on how networks breed success, in order to achieve the highest levels of authority and pay, women—like men— must be connected to multiple hubs of people across various groups. But unlike men, women must also maintain an inner circle of close female contacts that can provide insider information on more vulnerable yet critical topics, such as if a firm has equal advancement opportunities or fair maternity leave practice. Women who maintained centrality across groups and had an inner circle of one to three women landed jobs that were two and a half times higher in authority and pay versus average.
Female-only peer networking apps have capitalized on this growing trend and leveraged digital and social channels to connect time-strapped, ambitious women. Bumble Bizz repurposes the age-old swiping mechanism from online dating to introduce women to their next business partner or boss. Bumble also launched Bumble Fund to invest in underrepresented female entrepreneurs. Ellevate launched Ellevate Squads, a 12-week program for busy women to connect once a week over video chat, which now has over 38,000 members.
Although born online, many of these apps rely on offline channels to build community. Chief, which raised $22 million in June 2019, is an offline clubhouse for women of director level and above to share tribal knowledge and advance into positions of power. It’s especially helpful for those who are often the only woman in the room.
Brands and publishers are also seizing the opportunity to bring professional women together as part of an effort to extend relationships beyond products. Marie Claire hosts an annual Power Trip, for example, that invites women to board a plane and build connections on a flight from New York to San Francisco before attending a two-day summit.
So how can brands bring professional women together and power connection and advancement? To start, consumers expect brands to serve as connectors, with 49% saying they expect brands to bring people together toward a common goal. Look for ways to bring people together to be vulnerable and share common challenges and create a space that’s safe for them to do so.
Women can’t solve this alone. Brands that can unite other communities (including men) and bring them on board to solve a common goal will win. Peer mentorship is a good start, but it takes a village to power evolution.
Lastly, actions speak louder than words. As evidenced by recent negative press for a number of female-founded brands, consumers can see through a brand message that is inconsistent with company culture. Consistency matters to them. White space currently exists for brands to more deeply enter and support female peer networking, and by examining the right communities with the right brand equity, brands have an opportunity to drive meaningful change.