By Lady Val
The mighty Harvard Business Review says networking doesn’t work. I am not being prejudiced when I disagree – strongly. The case in my favour? The top business women who attend my lunches are time poor but understand that networking can be a vital business tool.
My network began 13 years ago with a lunch for 30 women in the Hoxton Apprentice, a restaurant that successfully trained long-term unemployed for jobs in the hospitality sector. (It closed because the 2010 government stopped our funding – don’t ask what I think about that!) These days I have attendances of around 70 chief executives, senior partners, business owners and entrepreneurs in diverse professions including investment, branding, HR, finance, design and legal.
Of course, the ego, power-based networking model, often testosterone-fuelled, doesn’t work as well as the John Lewis partnership type which has consistently been number one in every management measurement survey. I believe most women’s inclination is to collaborate rather than compete, surely a more creative and socially responsible way to do business? Effective women leaders are those who manage differently from men – not worse, not better just differently – and build teams who work towards a shared goal.
Companies with women in top positions are proven to perform better so CEOs are apparently recruiting more women although the number of top women on FTSE companies is still lamentably low. According to latest figures there are currently five ethnic minority and seven female chief executives of FTSE 100 companies. There are more people called David or Steve who head up FTSE 100 companies than there are women or ethnic minorities, underscoring the extent to which corporate Britain is still dominated by men
Effective women-only networks are collegiately-minded, enabling like-minded women to meet and acquire practical knowledge, offers an opportunity to share problems, find a sounding board and sometimes alleviate the loneliness of working in a male-dominated business.
My network has a few extra strands: a keynote speaker usually someone at the top of their profession such as Dame Stella Rimington, first female Director General of MI5; Gina Miller constitutional fighter, Kate Robertson, founder of One Young World, Vicky Pryce prison reformer, Tracy Edwards, round-the-world yachtswoman and Cherie Blair among others. Then there’s a workshop to hone skills and talents; each booking includes a donation to a charity – currently one which helps prisoner re-integration; and an effective icebreaker that does what it says on the tin emphasising our collegiate theme.
Our motto is: “There’s a special place in hell for any woman who doesn’t help another woman”, and my mission is to link as many executive business women as possible who are on my wavelength into a cohesive group for sharing contacts, experience and knowledge. This is a cold business world and if women don’t help other women, who will?
Networking works as some my networkers can prove:
- “The connections I made are going to lead to some exciting opportunities.”
- “I wrote a list of the seven women I wanted to connect with and already have meetings arranged. An ideal mixture of good fun and business with a fabulous lunch to boot.”
- “ I feel fortunate to be literally surrounded by such a high calibre of feminine talent and met some interesting people who I have already connected with. I am a member of various women’s networks in London, but yours definitely has the edge. I would love to recommend people to you, would you prefer their details first or just an introduction via email?” Answer: Women who are executives or own their own business are all eligible and there is no joining fee.
- “What an amazing network! I have made some fantastic contacts and felt totally inspired by Kate Robertson’s talk and I took some really handy hints away from Roz’s workshop. Both made me feel I wanted to up my own game”
- “Another inspiring talk, another fantastic workshop. I come away from these lunches upbeat and positive – motivated, caring and intelligent women from diverse backgrounds, at different stages of life. We rock!”
To those (and there are some women) who say networking is a waste of time, I hope these comments persuade you otherwise.