Forgotten feminists: The Federation of British Professional and Business Women, 1933-1969
The research that I have been undertaking during my study leave is the start of a two-part project into women’s business networks. Recently it has become more common to hear that women’s networks – either external or internal to an organisation – are ways for women to gain ground in terms of their professional status and opportunities. There has also been a recent spate of media articles and reports on women’s networks. This is in part the result of a deliberate media presence on behalf of Catalyst, the US based women’s organisation and partly interest in women such as Glenda Stone, who has recently come to prominence by creating the Aurora Network (formerly known as Busygirls). ‘Gender capital management’, (as Aurora like to refer to strategies for being a woman in professional life) has, for the moment at least, identified women’s networks as the next big idea in achieving equality of opportunity. However, it is difficult to know how to conceptualise these networks – are they contemporary forms of women’s activism or ‘clubs’ that exist, in part, to allow women to market services and products to other women? Are they associations based on calculated self-interest or do they represent a new form of gender solidarity? Are they as forward thinking as they often claim or are they deeply conservative? In order to answer some of these questions I designed a comparative research project, looking at historical forms of women’s business networks and contemporary forms. The first stage of the research involves studying the papers of the British Federation of Business and Professional Women (or ‘the Federation’, for short). The Federation was formed in 1935 and was active until the end of the 1960s, finally winding up in 1968. At its peak it represented, through its affiliated professional associations, about 100,000 working women across a number of different professional and industrial sectors.
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