Fancy quizzing Femen, talking music with Katie Melua or knocking back a beer with Mary Beard? Joy Lo Dico and Katie Glass on why they have set up a women’s club for work — and play
We’d been friends for six months when we realised that in that time we’d never once spoken about men. We were too busy arguing about politics, discussing work, writing articles and arranging business trips to bother gossiping about boys. It was on one of those trips — between reporting on the Cannes Film Festival and the literary festival at Hay-on-Wye — that the idea to start a professional women’s club was born. In an all-you-can-eat restaurant in Newport, exhausted by work and each other’s company we looked at one another and said: “I’m so sick of hanging out with you, there must be some other interesting women we can hang out with instead.”
So we started holding regular suppers for female journalists. Now that’s evolved in something bigger. On October 1, The Other Club opens in Kingly Court, off Carnaby Street, a pop-up running until mid-November. We think of it as a place where London’s most brilliant and talented women from all professions can come and show off (and we’ll be there, too). It’s a workspace during the day, in the evening we’re hosting events, suppers and a bar — it’s not compulsory to chat about work.
But why would women want their own club? The domestic sphere was where women used to gather. In the 21st century, it is the workplace, as we push our way up through the ranks in ever greater numbers, passionate about our careers. The club is where we can exercise that identity.
It came about because women wanted it. After the first supper, journalists we didn’t know emailed us asking to join what was essentially a talking-shop evening, until we had a group that spanned Vice to The Telegraph. Then women in other professions started enthusing about the idea too.
So we decided to find a home. Landlord Shaftesbury gave us a short rent in Soho, in a double unit in Kingly Court — a great place to start. Furniture suppliers have lent us sofas, business advisers and PRs their time, artists their work. We’ve got friends sleeping on our sofas to help and have set up partnerships with a local lager company and a restaurant — both run by women. The day our website went live, more than 600 people looked at it.
Even high-profile speakers juggled their schedules for us (well, most of them). Singers VV Brown, Katie Melua, performance artist Bryony Kimmings, columnist Liz Jones, comedian Helen Lederer, playwright Zoe Lewis and journalist Rosie Boycott jumped to join us. Carol Vorderman and Kate Adie said they’d try to make it. Only Emma Thompson said she would have to “graciously decline on this occasion” (Emma! Come back, we forgive you!). Cambridge classicist Mary Beard, in heavy demand in academia, agreed on the basis that it would just be a drink between friends — with 50 or so eavesdroppers.
Behind the scenes, we have argued about everything: the logo, the location, the line-up (“too academic”, said Katie; “too much sex”, said Joy). We argued about whether men were allowed (answer: yes, but only if they bring a woman). We argued about money and the shape of the bar (as yet unresolved). The only thing we don’t argue about is why we are doing it: because it’s the right time.
We can hear glass ceilings shattering across London. Burberry’s Angela Arhendts is now the highest paid CEO in the UK, Zaha Hadid won the Pritzker Prize, the Nobel for architecture, and — a token victory — Jane Austen has made it onto the £10 note. A new generation of women have found their voices online. The number of civil servants, those in finance and managers have all broken the 30 per cent barrier and over half of legal professionals are women.
That there are still four ties to every handbag in Parliament and boardrooms, and that boards struggle to find women, baffles us as it did Simone de Beauvoir who, 60 years ago, observed that it’s a man’s world even though “none of the reasons seemed adequate”. We named ourselves The Other Club with a dash of irony. We don’t feel “other” or secondary at all.
In three weeks The Other Club opens up for suppers for barristers, architects and politicians. Tech girls will be coding with us, scientists presenting their work — when Cambridge physicist Professor Athene Donald offered to give a talk about “women in science” we said we’d prefer to hear about her research. Femen, the Ukrainian topless feminist protest group are coming to do a Q&A. And then there’s the staple offering of clubs — just like the gentlemen’s — a place to think, to socialise, dine and drink — as soon as we stop arguing about what the bar will look like.
Membership £5, First Floor, Kingly Court, W1 (theotherclub.co.uk)