AllBright, founded in 2017 by entrepreneur Debbie Wosskow and former Hearst Magazine head honcho Anna Jones, is a women-only networking club offering funding and training has lofty aims to make the world a better place for working women. In 2019, the pair raised £13m from investors last year, intending to use the funds to open additional clubs in New York and Washington DC, augmenting their initial two in central London and their third in Hollywood.
Conceptualised on the back of a cocktail menu, the group touts media mogul Martha Lane Fox and actress Naomie Harris as members, impressive credentials given the relative youth of the women-only business club. AllBright has been expanding steadily, making their foray into Asia and through the digital space, creating AllBright Connect, an app that enables women to connect on a professional level, as well as AllBright Academy, offering online classes that help women skill up in a practical and transferable way, including content tailored to Asia.
LUXUO spoke to Debbie Wosskow as she launched the first FoundHER digital summit in Singapore last September on the challenges of getting access to investment funding while female and what Hollywood gets wrong about empowered women.
“It is important that women in the investor and entrepreneur communities continue to support one another.” – Debbie Wosskow
Debbie Wosskow talks AllBright, a networking club aiming to make the world a better for women
What was the impetus behind Britain’s first members-only club specifically for businesswomen? Why do you think other women have never started one before?
We identified a need for professional female networking and wanted to make the UK a better place for smart-minded women to collaborate, upskill and achieve their career ambitions. A platform to do this didn’t exist before so we created the AllBright community to fill that gap. It takes a lot of work – and a significant amount of risk to launch a business like this, which might go some way to explaining why it hasn’t been done before.
What do you think contributes to the phenomena of women lagging behind in investment funding?
The Rose Review last year revealed only a penny in the pound goes back to female founders and just nine percent of annual funding into UK start-ups goes to female- founded businesses. There are significant challenges faced by women which contributes to them lagging behind in investment funding, the main one being gender bias among investors. Fundamentally we need a cultural change in how female entrepreneurs are viewed by investors. There is also a lack of financial empowerment among women, which leads to many not realising their full potential and getting to investor pitching rounds in the first place.
Conventional thinking is that women are better at networking, do they need AllBright to make a difference?
Women present qualities that makes them inherently good at collaboration and teamwork, making them good at networking from the get-go. Being part of AllBright gives women access to content and resources to improve their networking skills. We also link up like-minded members directly through networking events, bringing women together and creating an environment which fosters entrepreneurship and collaboration. This enables them to share knowledge, providing one another with a leg up in the business world.
You mentioned to SCMP that ‘only 13 per cent of directors in Hong Kong companies are women’ – could it be that women are smarter, saying no to 80 hour work weeks versus going down a path that usually single men or men who never see their children opt for?
I think the fact that a low proportion of directors are women is an issue with the system as a whole, with women less likely to be considered for these positions or reaching challenges in their career progression – for example when having children – which limits them from securing these positions. It shouldn’t be the case that men can easily work 80-hour work weeks while women can’t – there needs to be a shake up to make the space more equal.
Female political leaders like Merkel or Arden have made the news for their exemplary COVID leadership, do you think this will change things post-COVID?
The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly demonstrated the need for strong leadership. In the UK in particular our government is male-heavy, and the crisis is being managed by the men at the top. If we had seen more women in those senior positions, the situation might have been dealt with differently and I’m hopeful this will inspire change post-pandemic. The crisis has also highlighted how strong female business leaders have navigated a difficult period, not least through managing teams remotely and steadying the ship as the economic environment changed.
Other than Madame Secretary AllBright, who are some of the other women you admire and why?
Michelle Obama, Rebel Wilson, Golda Meir and my business partner, Anna Jones.
Let’s talk about a female superpower – intuition – how often have you used it and what were the most memorable moments you got it right versus rational facts?
I think when I first met my business partner, Anna Jones, at a party over four years ago. I had a sixth sense that her and I would be in each other’s lives – and look at us now!
I grew up watching feminine heroes like Sarah Connor (Terminator) and Ellen Ripley (Aliens) and was amazed at how they turned their motherly instincts into a super-power of sorts, do you agree with Hollywood’s interpretation of what a strong woman should be today (all powerful and without flaws)?
We all have flaws and I think we are all getting better about talking about them and asking for help. I loved, and still love, Wonder Woman – and Gal Gadot playing her whilst pregnant is a great inspiration!
What’s the one thing that today’s media gets wrong about empowered women?
It varies based on the media in question – but women in positions of leadership are overwhelmingly portrayed in a different light to men. They’re often referred to with defamatory labels such as ‘bossy’, or the media will focus on appearance and personal attributes that are irrelevant to the topic being discussed on their position.
I understand that you were awarded an OBE, are you ever tempted to wear the medal out (when you don’t have to)? Is it hard to accessorise with it?
Ha. It goes well with sequins….
Check back on LUXUO next week, as we speak to AllBright’s co-founder Anna Jones.
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