This Women-Only Network Will Have A Man Run The Business

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A successful London-based networking group for women has just appointed a man as chairman, drawing a great deal of criticism from women supporters.

AllBright, a British networking group that prides itself in offering working women in the United Kingdom a platform to help them achieve their goals, has just appointed a man as its new chairman.

The “network for working women in the UK” appointed Allan Leighton to take the role of chairman. Leighton is the chairman of the Co-operative Group, and according to AllBright’s co-founder, Debbie Wosskow, the hire is a positive one.

On Facebook, the group addressed the controversy, saying that to make change, men must tag along.

“AllBright is all about celebrating and championing women, but it’s also about bringing enlightened men, like Allan, on the journey with us,” the post read. “We recognize that having Allan on board demonstrates the need for men like him to be part of the solution in helping to change the economic landscape for women — this is the only way that real change is going to happen.”

During an interview, Wosskow reassured critics that while Leighton would serve as chairman, AllBright’s female co-founders would remain in charge.

"There's a very, very interesting dynamic that takes place when women are signing men into a club that celebrates women," she said.

Founded in 2016 by Wosskow and Anna Jones, AllBright runs a private members’ club, an academy devoted to helping female entrepreneurs, and an “angel syndicate network,” she told reporters. Angel investors are early company supporters who invest in return for a stake in the business. This field, she explained, is heavily male-dominated, and even with all the accomplishments women have achieved over the decades, “[o]nly 14% of angel investors are women."

The London-based organization also purchases wine and art for its club from female producers and artists exclusively.

Their dedication to women in business has helped them to attract great names in the UK, such as news reporter Sarah-Jane Mee and actress Naomie Harris.

But comedian Kate Smurthwaite appeared to say that bringing a man to be “in charge” could hurt their brand.

"Of course we need men on board," Smurthwaite told reporters. "How can we get anywhere until men are willing to share their power? What I'm not entirely convinced about is having men in charge."

In this case, she said, AllBright is allowing Leighton to "take the public glory as it were, and have that high-profile role."

Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, an organization that helps train managers and business leaders, also criticized the group for its decision.

“We would never see a female chair of a men’s networking club, would we? This underscores how far we have to go to get true equality in the workplace,” she said.

And even the Women’s Equality Party commented on the decision, saying that having Leighton as AllBright’s chair “seems at odds with [the organization’s] mission to change the way the world thinks about female-led businesses.”

Despite the heavy criticism, AllBright’s female leaders seem to stand by their decision. While there’s a possibility they will be proven right in the long run, it’s clear that many women who support the organization feel AllBright’s line of thinking does not seem to match their mission. And the pressure coming from these very women might, in the end, force AllBright to change its stance once again in the near future.

Banner/Thumbnail Credit: Reuters

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