It’s a proven fact that women suffer from a lack of confidence in the workplace. While almost half of young women enter the working world with great aspirations, those confidence levels drop by over 60% in just two years, says one study.
Even though the world of art is thought of as a female industry, you’d be wrong. In the whole of history, only two women have made it into the top 100 most expensive artists at auction. This has filtered down into other sectors with men ruling many creative institutions and women taking up lower-level and lesser-paid jobs.
After working in the arts for several years and struggling with confidence issues, Joanna Payne – formerly Senior VIP Relations at Frieze – decided to do something about the gender imbalance.
In February 2015, she set up Marguerite: a women’s only network with none of the stuffiness associated with traditional private members’ clubs. “It started in my living room as just a few drinks,” she tells Yahoo Style UK. “Super casual.”
After an unexpected turn of events, Payne went from living room to Cafe Royale, hosting an event for her creative female members. “It was a standard networking event which I hate. No one was speaking, the drinks were really expensive. It was lacking any real soul,” she recalls.
Her experience working for Frieze led her to believe there was more to networking than a boring room: “I’d organise these events that would be in a collector’s home or in an artist’s studio. Something really juicy.”
So the 29-year-old “nagged and nagged” one of the members of radical architect group Assemble, leading to an immersive event that was fun for everybody involved. And that’s how Marguerite was born.
Named after art doyenne Marguerite ‘Peggy’ Guggenheim (“she was such a cool woman”), the club invites women who have a job in any field to do with fine art, photography, fashion, design and architecture to join. Costing £25 a month, Marguerite guarantees you a new set of friends – and perhaps even mentors – with the ability to increase your confidence and gain some understanding of how women can help themselves in the workplace.
“There is a huge gender inequality problem in the arts. It has changed a lot over the past few years but there’s a really long way to go,” Payne explains when asked why she embarked on the venture. “When I was younger, all the people I was working with were women. There were a lot of men at the top.”
“I wondered how that had happened. And what we could do to fight against it,” she continues. “One of the biggest things seemed to be confidence. A boy who did the same job as me was on a lot more money. He said he just asked for it. At the time, I thought that wasn’t fair but it is fair.”
Payne repeatedly talks of the need for women to simply ask for what they want. “Don’t ask, don’t get” is what she lives her life by. But she readily admits that confidence is a quality you learn, not something you’re born with.
“Marguerite is about giving you a network of people so you can feel empowered. There can be a lot of competitiveness when it comes to women. We need to work together instead of against each other.”
Payne has recently released her summer programme of events which includes a must-attend garden party that’s open to all (at a price), a cultural trip to the home of Peggy Guggenheim, Venice, and talks with everyone from fashion designer Roksanda to gallery founder Sadie Coles.
With the launch of a new membership type, Guggenheim Jeune, in August, she is also reaching out to younger women who may not have yet found their foot on the ladder: “Marguerite currently goes from 25 upwards. But we were getting a lot of interest from students and interns.”
“I remember spending weekends going to the Tate on my own. It would have been nice to have had a gang I could go with and bounce ideas off of. So the idea behind Guggenheim Jeune is that current members of Marguerite mix with the younger ones so that they can start to build that all-important network and understand the breadth of opportunities available.”
Although she’s adamant that Marguerite will remain accessible to women only, Payne believes that men “need to be part of the conversation too. I’m all about equality. There are some amazing men like [fashion photographers] Nick Knight and Rankin who have admitted that there’s a problem and wanted to be a part of the solution.”
“But there’s something really special about putting a group of women together. You feel confident and empowered and that will impact on the rest of your life.”
She lists the likes of Frieze director Victoria Siddall (who “worked her way up by being nothing but lovely”), art collector Valeria Napoleone (“a genuine supporter of women”) and Women for Women International executive director Brita Fernandez Schmidt (“the warmest, most enthusiastic person”) as role models, adding that “all of Marguerite’s events feature inspiring women who believe in what I’m doing.”
As for the future? “We want to keep it relatively small,” Payne notes. “But the plan is to expand outside of London. However, I wouldn’t be naive enough to think this could work elsewhere without people on the ground.”
Women of the arts across the world: this is your call.
Join Marguerite for the Marguerite Summer Party 2017 on Thursday 29 June in Rochelle School. Tickets available to buy here. For more information on becoming a member of Marguerite, see margueritelondon.com.
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