Businesswomen's network to counter old boys' club

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 October, 2011, 12:00am

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Hong Kong's women entrepreneurs will soon be able to kick back at the 'old boys' club' culture with their own business network.

Heels and Deals, a global network founded in Dubai, will launch its first overseas chapter in Hong Kong on Tuesday at the Bisous club in Central.

Co-founder Claire Fenner, 35, lived in Dubai for nine years working in retail operations and producing a free news and listings magazine for parents.

Before that the Englishwoman spent two years in Hong Kong working for British retailer Next in its Asia headquarters.

She and her business partner came up with the idea to start the network in 2009 after realising that many female entrepreneurs felt stressed and lacked support for their ventures, especially during the recession.

Fenner now runs the business alone after her partner and fellow entrepreneur, Georgie Hearson, resigned for personal reasons two months ago.

'We found that a lot of women weren't too comfortable in a more male-dominated networking environment and were missing out on making contacts,' Fenner said.

'One woman in Dubai said she stopped going to networking events where men were present, because she was forever being asked out on dates and getting text messages after giving out her business cards.

'That's an extreme example, but it shows the issues confronting some women.'

Fenner is now back in Hong Kong with her husband - a construction engineer - and their two sons.

She talked to local entrepreneurs who told her that there was a need for a female business owners' network, particularly to nurture budding entrepreneurs, in light of the 'old boys' club' culture prevalent in Hong Kong.

The purpose of the network, Fenner said, was to provide a comfortable cocoon where women could exchange advice and connections, but it in no way excluded men. She said men were often brought in as speakers, and there was one annual event where male entrepreneurs were invited to mingle, helping the women expand their networks. InvestHK associate director general Andrew Davis will speak at the Hong Kong launch.

'There is a lot of strength to be found in women who are experiencing the same challenges,' Fenner said. 'They are travelling the same journey, they might be at different stages, but they can help, motivate and inspire each other.

'It makes for a really powerful community. Their information, motivation and inspiration needs are the same.'

While it is important to network with women, Fenner tells her members to not rely solely on Heels and Deals, but to contact other networks such as industry-specific groups or chambers of commerce.

And she says that since the Sex Discrimination Ordinance makes its unlawful for money-earning organisations to reject membership on the basis of a person's sex, men are welcome to join the network.

4,000

The number of women members that belong to the Heels and Deals global business network, which was founded in Dubai