What’s it like to spend a day working at women’s-only club AllBright? Jigsaw finds out and speaks to founders Debbie Wosskow and Anna Jones.
“A woman must have money and a room of her own”. Virginia Woolf’s words, printed on an inconspicuous blacked-out window in Bloomsbury, perfectly sum up what lies inside: AllBright, London’s female-only members club. Here to experience being a member for the day, my colleague Isabelle and I arrive in the cosy and warmly-lit ground foyer at Rathbone Place. It’s a winter morning, 10am on Monday to be exact. And despite it not being the most motivational conditions outside, AllBright is buzzing and bustling - the day already begun.
Women are greeting each other like old friends at a reunion; providing synopses of the week that’s been. Others remain reserved in plush, velvet armchairs; plugged into shiny MacBooks, typing out pitches and emails, a rich coffee in hand –the good, proper kind too. No two women here are the same. One arrives in a blush tailored suit, another in emerald faux fur. Professional women of all ages and backgrounds, we meet a scientist, poet and first-time entrepreneur. Anything goes.
As we climb the five-storey Georgian townhouse we tour between an all-day café, beauty salon, soon-to-be cinema and cocktail bar. There is a variety of workspaces available, fitted with mini-libraries, board rooms and polished, wooden desks. It is a club that pays tribute to the ‘female form’, with everything from the modern architecture, nutritious food menu and abstract decor curated by women for women. Yes, even the wine is sourced from all-female vineyards.
Settling on the pin-striped couch as our office for the day, the next seven hours are spent working in a space where liveliness and quietness are equally balanced out. People come and go, men too, as they are signed-in by their female business counterparts. Overheard discussions range from topical talks about the ‘snowflake’ generation to more direct matters like budgets and contracts. For lunch we visit the café for a nutritious, health-conscious spread of falafel, beetroot hummus and a kale salad. We then pop down to the salon and book in for a shellac manicure, followed by a game of chess (I win) as our lunch-break digital detox. Everything we need is right here; we needn’t brave the commuter rush outside. But exactly at what price does this privilege come?
A big price tag – but similar to a high-street gym membership – AllBright charges an annual fee of £1,150, plus a £300 joining fee for a one year membership. Discounted for under 30s, the membership levels at £700 annual fee and a £200 joining fee, which can be paid bi-annually. It will also include access to new clubs opening in Mayfair next year and LA this summer. Members are also provided with opportunities to participate in social events, panels, exhibitions, debates and networking meet-ups.
Leading AllBright’s vision and future are founders Anna Jones and Debbie Wosskow, who steal some time away from meetings to tell me more about their venture.
When did you two meet and how did the AllBright vision come about?
We met on a speaking circuit in London, and bonded over our shared desire to drive change for women in work. We had both witnessed first-hand the huge gender imbalance in the world of business and in the number of women in top roles. We recognised the need for a platform and supportive environment to help women thrive.
Who makes up AllBright’s community?
It’s a really diverse mix of women. From entrepreneurs to executives, freelancers to thought-leaders, AllBright aims to continue to attract smart, ambitious trailblazers across myriad industries and is dedicated to creating opportunities for women to flourish through upskilling, mentoring and facilitating moments of connectivity and collaboration via the AllBright Academy and their clubs.
In August 2018 you appointed a man, Allan Leighton, as AllBright’s chairman which received some public criticism. What was the reason behind this decision?
We appointed Alan because as well as being a brilliant businessman with a plethora of experience, we believe the only way you make change is to bring enlightened men along for the journey.
You recently launched AllBright Academy – what is it, exactly?
AllBright Academy is a free 10-week professional development programme designed to arm women with the skills, confidence and network to achieve their career ambitions. With over 3,000 women across the UK already signed up to the academy, and now recruiting on a monthly basis, AllBright Academy offers the best way to unlock your self-confidence and succeed in your goals set out for the start of the year.
Each cohort is supported by a coordinated ‘work sisterhood’, and are invited to in-person meet-ups, which are a key part of the Academy programme. We’ve also just launched AllBright Connect, an app to connect our members and Academy cohorts across the globe.
What other women-led companies, groups, and individuals inspire you?
The female entrepreneurs who helped us deliver AllBright Academy are some of the UK’s most inspirational women in business today, including Cath Kidston, Olympic Gold Medallist Christa Cullen MBE, TV Presenter Kate Thornton, Cosmopolitan Editor-in-Chief Farah Storr, and Founder of Pip & Nut, Pippa Murray.
What advice do you wish you had but didn’t when you first started in business?
Grow your sisterhood – the importance of growing a network is essential for women to succeed in their career. A recent survey of women who have taken part in the AllBright Academy this year has shown that they’re already starting to create a real step change in women’s approach to work, with almost 20% spending far more time building up their personal networks.
Whether it’s a movie, song, book, character or quote – what is your favourite female reference to live by?
AllBright is named after the former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who famously said; “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”. These are words we live by at AllBright and aim to keep creating platforms with our AllBright Academy and spaces via our members club to keep nurturing female talent.