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Do Women Have An Equal Voice In Virtual Finance Conversations?

By Allison Nolan

The new social media platform Clubhouse has been making waves in recent weeks. Some industry experts are saying it might be the next major social media platform. So, I was eager to accept my invitation to join and see what all the fuss is about.

This is an audio-only app where users can join chat rooms to listen or participate in the conversation by raising their hand and being invited by the moderator(s) to speak. It is exciting to join this platform in the early stages and listen to, and even ask questions of, some incredibly knowledgeable and prolific people. The wide range of topics for discussion is phenomenal. And if you don’t find a room discussing something of interest to you, you can just start your own!  

Although I have only spent limited time on the platform so far, I am finding an abundance of people who are showing up in a truly authentic way and who are motivated by content and connection. I have really enjoyed contributing to conversations, and it is wonderful to be able to give support and do my best to inspire and elevate others. And I really appreciate those who have been so generous in sharing their knowledge with me.

Aside from contributing, the most enjoyable experiences for me have typically been the heart-driven rooms, many of which are led by women. I have heard women supporting women in business, lifestyle, emotional and physical health, and I am sure there are conversations on literally almost any topic you care to name. I have heard women holding space for others, in the process increasing their confidence and helping them find their voice.  

Similarly, there are some extraordinary men who are clearly happy to be of service and add value. They are sensitive to the dynamic of a room and make sure that everyone has the chance to speak. However, on occasion, I have seen this approach lacking in some of the very large chat rooms, which can create a different energy.

While my personal experience of the platform has been positive overall, when discussing with other women, the concern is regarding the large rooms with business and finance topics being male-dominated. In these conversations, eminent male professionals at the top of their field literally follow each other and, when a room grows in size, they invite their male colleagues up to speak and moderate and rarely open up the floor to hand-raising.  Women have said they feel that the only way of having a voice is by being a wife or close contact of the male moderators or a woman with an already huge following. The feedback is that it doesn’t feel very inclusive and, when this happens, despite hearing many great nuggets of information, the verbal muscle-flexing and the ensuing energy means that it is difficult to feel part of the group.

At the same time, the rooms lead by women, even if targeted on helping women, should also be cognizant of the need to welcome the different viewpoints of male peers and the role of men as allies. Gender-specific conversations are a completely different matter if the intention is to provide a safe space on intimate topics, but outside of that it generally enhances the conversation if everyone has an equal opportunity to share.

At this critical juncture, when the virtual environment has the potential to unite and create more balance in corporate meetings, it is disappointing to hear about the gender imbalance in some business and finance conversations. The concern is that, if continued, this could be quite damaging and perpetuate gender stereotypes.  

With the move towards quotas for women on boards that we are seeing by the NASDAQ and the State of California, in the same way query whether the designers of this app could address inclusion by making it a more integral part of the rules of engagement.

This is a great opportunity for women to find their voice and be heard in business. Technology races ahead and provides new platforms, but inclusion still trails. It’s time that changed, because a balanced room brings more energy, different perspectives,  and is better for everybody.

About Allison Nolan 

Allison Nolan (www.athena.ky) is the founder and managing director of Athena International Management Limited, an award-winning boutique governance provider offering experienced independent directors to the international alternative investment funds community. She is the author of the upcoming book, Madam Chair, which discusses the transformation that enhanced gender diversity and inclusion can bring to the hedge fund industry. Nolan has been a director of regulated entities since 2002 and has served as a full-time professional independent director since 2005. She serves as the Chair of the Education Committee of the Alternative Investment Managers Association in the Cayman Islands and has contributed to several legal journals and industry publications.

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