In 2016, Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, mined the mother lode of female empowerment when she famously remarked: ‘There is a special place in hell reserved for women who do not help other women’. Her observation in turn resonated with two highly motivated women who agreed whole-heartedly about the problems of female empowerment and decided to help make it happen. Levelling the career playing field are serial entrepreneur Debbie Wosskow and former CEO of Hearst UK, Anna Jones, who not only took Albright’s aphorism to heart, but borrowed her name, too, and co-founded the AllBright.
At the heart of the AllBright network are the members’ clubs. Wosskow and Jones decided that instead of keeping on talking about the issues and stats, they would be proactive and inspire change by celebrating and championing women, by creating opportunities for women to thrive and flourish – be it in a stylish and comfortable member’s club, at live events, or digitally.
It all began four years ago when Wosskow – who sold her most recent company, a home swap exchange, for £53 million – was introduced at a party to Jones, Hearst’s first female UK CEO, by a mutual friend, who knew they’d hit it off. Despite coming from different industry backgrounds, they shared much in common. ‘We bonded over both being outliers,’ Jones says. ‘We talked about how we’d both climbed the ladder and how so few women were in senior positions in business.’
‘We talked the issues over and over, and we asked what could we actually do,’ Wosskow says. ‘There are so many brilliant women who want to start businesses. We began thinking about what we could do to help. Based on scribbles on the back of a cocktail menu, Project AllBright was created. We were very clear on the mission, but what was the business?’
We like to think that what we do is organised serendipity
Initially, they looked to funding and set up a venture capital fund. They still run a pitch day at the club, partnering with HSBC to showcase members’ entrepreneurial talents. They also – based on their own experience – intrinsically understand that ‘the real magic is when female execs meet female entrepreneurs and other professionals,’ explains Jones.
‘We imagined a universe where we could do this in our own space, all the time. That is the business. The bricks and mortar allow women to network outside their swim lane, which women aren’t always so good at,’ says Wosskow. ‘All the art on the walls is by women, the wine made by female winemakers, and so on.’
When they talk about ‘the sisterhood’ they don’t for a moment intend it to be an oppressive, belligerent battalion. They see it as a practical collective that helps the modern working woman – all ages, all stages, all industries – through upskilling, mentoring and facilitating connectivity and collaboration. ‘We like to think what we do here is organised serendipity,’ says Wosskow.
Joining the original AllBright Club in Rathbone Place is the newly opened Maddox Street site. Designed to support a busy lifestyle, and extending over five floors with large roof terraces, it’s a spacious and elegant destination in which to take time out, eat, drink, meet, network, work, or just read a book. The entire second floor is dedicated to wellbeing, with a state-of-the-art fitness studio, massage, hair and beauty salon. The third floor is a dedicated space for working, mentoring and coaching, and by night becomes a socialising area for members to meet for their own club-within-a-club, book groups, wine clubs, and more. There’s an events space, playing host to a varied programme including screenings, live music, comedy, talks, workshops. ‘We designed the building so it takes members from early in the morning to late at night. Members come for a breakfast meeting, for a pit stop to get a blow-dry, have meetings, eat delicious food,’ Jones says.
Club members are guaranteed access to the AllBright Academy. This is a 10-week digital programme designed to assist women in gaining the skills, confidence and network necessary to achieve their goals. There’s an immersive, cohort-driven curriculum created by experts covering topics that impinge on a working woman’s success, from defining motivations to workplace resilience.
‘We’ve been open [at Rathbone Place] for just over a year,’ she continues. ‘But it’s been very busy and we feel the momentum behind the business, and a paradigm shift in how women are thinking about grabbing hold of their career aspirations and really being active, rather than just debating issues.’
Soon the AllBright will open in West Hollywood, and early next year in New York. The world is their oyster: ‘We’re following the global footprint some of the members have,’ says Wosskow. ‘Our clubs are always welcoming. We’re exploring the globe. Maybe we’ll open in the City. It’s clear most big cities could do with an AllBright.’
But they stress that while the membership is for women, they welcome men with open arms. ‘We think it’s consistent to be celebratory of women without being anti-men,’ Jones says. ‘We welcome men as guests. We’ve been supported and championed by men, so men are in our working and personal lives. It’s a very practical sisterhood.’
This is smashing the glass ceiling with a vodka martini in hand, Louboutins on feet, friends at your side. The best way.