The advent of the power spa

A new wave of women-only corporate events raises questions about whether single-sex events are inherently exclusionary -- or just good business ideas.

Published March 27, 2007 7:30PM (EDT)

A column in yesterday's Wall Street Journal Online (our thanks to the Journal for the free link) describes a new wave of business networking events specifically geared toward women that include, among other things, shoe shopping, spa treatments and cooking demonstrations.

Such events, says the article, are becoming increasingly popular at law firms and big companies like Ernst & Young LLP, Merrill Lynch & Co, and General Electric, which are trying to find ways to help female executives network with each other and socialize with clients. And they're not all traditionally girly activities -- for example, last year Merrill Lynch sponsored a women-only rock-climbing trip in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and there are plenty of traditional business conferences geared specifically toward women.

In some ways, these events sound like a good idea; after all, to be a successful executive it's crucial to have ways to interact with colleagues and clients in non-business settings. But these women-only events are also raising questions about what happens when women have male clients (and vice versa) and, as the Journal puts it, whether "these single-sex events [are] just as exclusionary as the traditional spectator sports events and steak-and-cigar dinners have been for men."

I think it's easy to go either way on this one. On the one hand, since more men than women hold top executive jobs, it makes sense to create a way for women to get to know their female peers in a cooperative, casual environment that might lead to stronger business relationships. On the other hand, why should women have exclusive events that leave shoe-loving men out in the cold? Isn't that just an excuse for more gentlemen's clubs and conferences with more stereotypically male activities, like golf (no offense to the Annika Sorenstams out there)? Should we be paying more attention to the events themselves (i.e., whether rock climbing creates stronger bonds than spa treatments, which was suggested by one of the women who was interviewed) and not worry so much about gender? I'm really not sure. Thoughts?

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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