Tag Archives: Events

#justask: Negotiating your way out of the gender pay gap

22 Oct

Mind the Gap imageAs a follow up to last month’s post on the gender pay gap, I just wanted to share the details of a forthcoming event on negotiation skills, aimed at helping to close the gap by empowering women with skills to ask for what they want.

(Alas) I’m not being paid to promote this event,  but it came to me via the Guardian’s Women in Leadership newsletter and it sounds promising. Tickets (£12.50 plus booking fee) are available through Eventbrite:


In the UK the gender pay gap stands at 17.5% and the UK has slipped from 18th to 26th in the rankings of the Global Gender Pay Gap Report. It’s time to equip ourselves with the skills and insight to push back.

Negotiation specialists advantageSPRING and the Guardian Women in Leadership section are proud to invite you to an exciting and empowering event exploring the realities and implications of the gender pay gap.This event is being generously hosted by our partners Helix Property Advisors Limited.

In addition to looking at current statistics, developments and trends with Harriet Minter from the Guardian, we will also get to hear from the ‘other side of the table’ with insight from Robert Potter, Group HR Director at Hays Plc. Delegates will then hear from Natalie Reynolds of advantageSPRING and learn how women can empower themselves to ‘make the ask’ and negotiate for the salary they deserve as well as exposing and challenging some of the stereotypes and penalties women face when they get to the negotiation table.

You can tweet about this event using the hashtag #justask

We are proud to be supporting UN Women through this event with £5 from each ticket sale being donated to their work promoting gender equality around the world #Planet5050

“We are thrilled to be working with the Guardian Women in Leadership and negotiations experts advantageSPRING on an event which challenges the current landscape with regards to fair pay for women in business and hope to see you there. At Helix, 62% of employees happen to be women, with a 50/50 gender split at board level, and pay is determined by performance, not gender. It’s challenging to be reminded that such firms are still in the minority. Those of us with equal rights and fair pay have a responsibility to speak out.”

Yvonne Smith, Director of Property & Asset Management at Helix.

It’s in central London on 11th November; let me know if you attend and what you think of the event and the messaging.

Celebrating women and girls of colour at the 2015 Precious Awards

21 Oct Precious Awards 2015 photo grid

Precious Awards 2015 photo gridLast week, I went for afternoon tea with nearly one hundred strangers. I was joining Foluke Akinlose MBE at her annual celebration of the best in black, British female talent, the ninth annual Precious Awards and,  aside from Foluke herself, I didn’t know a single other person at the event.

However! The room was buzzing, everyone was in celebratory mood, people were genuinely friendly and I learned that, in answer to the oft asked question “What brings you here today?” simply answering “I’m a friend of Foluke’s and I’m here to support her” was a great gate opener and conversation starter.

Foluke believes that “women of colour are virtually invisible in mainstream society today” and she established the Precious Awards in 2007 in order to shine a light onto black womens’ achievements, and to also ensure that women and girls of colour have no ceilings to their ambitions.

The awards are sponsored by Barclays and Credit Suisse and take place over afternoon tea – this year at the Banking Hall in the City of London. The awards themselves – full results are here – covered areas such as women in professional services, women in STEM, women in the creative industries, outstanding social enterprise of the year and outstanding leader. The Precious Man of the Year award, which goes to a public vote, was won by the heart-as-big-as-the-world Solomon Smith of the Brixton Soup Kitchen, a grassroots organisation which provides food and practical resources to the homeless;  the Precious Girl of the Year award celebrated two teenage girls who will one day lead the world, at a bare minimum. Congratulations, Lashai and Precious.

My biggest takeaway of the afternoon was the sheer joy that everyone there felt at being amongst their peers. I know from my work in training on bias awareness that we all instinctively feel most comfortable and like ourselves when we are with people like us – whoever and whatever that might be.  And many women at the awards told me that, so often, they were not only the only woman but usually too the only PERSON of colour in a meeting or at an event – so their enjoyment at being with their peers (“it’s so fabulous to look around this room and see so many beautiful black faces!”) was a wonderful thing.

My highlights of the day (aside from delicious rare roast beef sandwiches) were meeting, in no particular order:

  • My Mummy is an EngineerKerrine Bryan: electrical engineer and (genuinely surprised) winner of the Women in STEM award, with which she was presented by MP and Shadow Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, Chi Onawurah – herself a former engineer. In addition to holding down a senior level job in the oil and gas industry and visiting schools in her capacity as a STEM ambassador, Kerrine has also “in my spare time” co-authored a children’s book called “My Mummy is an Engineer” and will be releasing the next in the series, “My Mummy is a Plumber” before Christmas. She and Foluke were interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour programme the day after the awards – if you hurry, you should be able to listen to them speak at the beginning of the broadcast.
  • Lashai Ben Salmi, the fifteen year old winner of the Precious Girls Creative Award: and her awesome mother Sabrina; Leshai won the award for her work to stamp out bullying via the use of her self-created book and app and she is also a very accomplished public speaker, who in her spare time is learning Korean. Yes, Korean. (I learned this fact when I asked her where she might like to go to university ..)
  • This “spare time” thing was something of a motif of the day, as pre-tea, I got chatting to Claudine Adeyemi, who told me that she was a property disputes solicitor with top firm Mishcon de Reya (“I knew I wanted to be a lawyer from the age of twelve”). A job like that would probably be enough for most people but no – Claudine has also set up the Student Development Company,  a non-profit organisation which aims to support, develop and create career opportunities and improve employability for young people. And yes, Claudine was also a winner, taking home the trophy for Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
  • Finally, the keynote speaker was a woman who announced to the room that she “had a strange passion for tights.” Bianca Miller, one of last year’s Precious winners (and runner up on the 2014 series of The Apprentice) is on the brink of launching her own hosiery business and has come up with such a brilliant idea that I’m sure her new product, Bianca Miller London, will fly off the shelves (I suggested her Christmas marketing slogan should be: “A Pair of Tights in Every Stocking”. You can have that one for free, Bianca). She’s launching a range of tights and hold ups which come in eight different skin tone colours, to match every woman’s idea of “nude”, irrespective of skin colour, and in different sizes too,  so that they will fit women sized from 8 to 22. Genius! And I loved Bianca’s comment that “it’s not about tights, it’s about diversity.” Anyway, the hosiery will be launching soon via her website and through a Big Department Store chain – watch this space.

So, that was my experience of the Precious Awards. Uplifting, brilliant, inspirational – and all down to the vision of one fabulous woman, Foluke Akinlose. We salute you. And I can’t wait for next year.

Profiling a Precious woman: Foluke Akinlose MBE

20 Oct

Last week, I was an attendee at the 2015 Precious Awards – an annual event which celebrates the achievements of women of colour in the UK. The ceremony was amazing – uplifting, inspiring, all the superlatives. I’ll blog a bit more about it and some of the women who I met in another post, but ahead of then: here’s a re-blog of an article I originally wrote in 2011.

The Precious Awards were set up by journalist, entrepreneur (and all round superstar friend) Foluke Akinlose. I profiled her for The Glass Hammer four years ago and thought that, as an introduction to the Awards, the article could do with a wider audience. Here it is.

* * * * *

As a child growing up in Manchester, Foluke Akinlose dreamed of launching a magazine for women and girls who looked like she did. But how did this childhood vision culminate in the creation of Precious Online, an e-magazine, network and resource for the UK’s c. 2.3 million women of colour and of the UK’s only awards for this community, described as a “memorable occasion” and “inspirational” by Prime Minister David Cameron?

“When I was younger, there were no British magazines that featured girls who looked like me. I’d spend my pocket money on American imports and they were great, but I really wanted to read about the Black British experience. When I grew older and started working in the media as a journalist, I quickly realised how expensive setting up a print magazine was. I just didn’t have those kind of funds, so I decided to put the magazine idea at the back of my mind for a while.

“In 1996, I began working in the online department of TV company ITN. Because of the nature of my job, I spent a lot of time researching online. I came across so many online publications aimed at African-American women but there was nothing for those based in the UK. I soon realised that the web gave me a publishing channel and that it was a way for me to launch the magazine of which I had always dreamed. So I followed my dream.

“Precious got underway in 1999 and was the first publication of its kind to launch in the UK. We now get 80,000 unique website visitors each month and reach 10,000 women via the mailing list – our goal is to be the premier destination for women of colour on the web.”

Precious aims to provide resources for and to showcase women of colour and to shine a light on their achievements in business and life. The site runs articles on health and beauty and profiles black writers and artists, as well as organising events every quarter on topics such as the joy of networking or audiences with entrepreneurial women.

The living embodiment of the phrase “seeing a gap in the market”, Foluke then launched the Precious Awards in 2007, as a result of “always being invited to awards ceremonies and yet rarely seeing black women receive recognition.”

“The Precious Awards are unique, in that they are the UK’s only awards to focus on diverse women of colour. Back in 2007, I went in to see Pearson, who agreed to host the first awards and to support it. I had no budget initially, so had to do everything myself. The first awards honoured women in six categories, which included leadership in the workplace, best social enterprise, best creative business and best start-up. Pearson are still big supporters and I’m very grateful for their vision and involvement.”

Foluke’s own vision and determination to succeed saw her lobbying the great and the good of British society to ask for their support for the Precious Awards – which in turn led to her receiving messages of support and goodwill from then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, his wife (and social activist) Sarah Brown (“she was great – she re-Tweeted the details of the awards to her thousands of followers and encouraged them to nominate women”) , (then) Deputy PM Nick Clegg and many other luminaries.

In the fifth year of the awards, Foluke introduced new categories, which in 2011 included Mentor of the Year, Blogger of the Year and Precious Man of the Year, for which actor Idris Elba, rapper Tinie Tempah and politician Chuka Umunna were nominated.

As for the awards in the future, Foluke would like to find a major sponsor who will commit to supporting Precious over an extended period and being part of their success.

“The awards have had a huge impact on women’s professional and business lives. To win, or even to be nominated, gives them so much confidence and is a wonderful platform for any sponsor.”

So, where next for this intrepid woman?

“I would like to create a Precious presence in every corner of the globe – that’s my aim and I want to encourage young girls everywhere to be the best that they can be. I see myself returning to my childhood dream, when I read those American magazines – I would love to do an event for women of colour in New York.

“Here in the UK, Precious is proud to partner with [high school] St Matthew’s Academy in south London – we work with their pupils, both girls and boys, to inspire and encourage them to see that being a woman of colour and having your own business is a possibility. I want to make an impact and to show girls that you can achieve whatever you want to achieve.

“I hope that’s what Precious shows them.”

Precious Book of QuotesEarlier this year, Foluke published her first book, The Precious Book of Quotes, which features inspirational advice from 50 women of colour. She is now working on a novel and would like to create a publishing wing of the Precious empire by establishing an imprint for young female writers.

“I’m passionate about what I do and I hope to continue being an inspiration and a role model to other women.”

Awarded the MBE in the 2010 New Year’s honours list for her services to the creative industries (“I thought it was a spoof call at first when the Cabinet Office called to tell me I had been nominated”), Foluke is proof of the strength, talents and diversity of the black British community.

On women being paid the same as men for the same work

22 Sep

Earlier this month, I took to the stage in the Library room at Shoreditch House in London as part of a panel event to discussShoreditch House_090915 the gender pay gap. Behind me, a large screen showed a near life size (or so it felt) picture of Beyoncé, in a bikini, covered in money and bearing the caption:

“When will women be paid the same as men for the same work?”

The panel was moderated by writer and producer Deborah Coughlin and with me on stage were Hannah Swerling from ELLE magazine and Reni Eddo-Lodge, a freelance journalist currently working on her first book about politics and race.

Deborah took us through an overview of the facts and figures and then led a discussion around not only the impact of the current gender pay gap, but also around the broader issues surrounding women at work in 2015: do we need to change or does the world of work? Should we be Leaning In? Are quotas a good thing or a bad thing?

Hannah talked about ELLE’s campaigns to be part of a new wave and re-branding of feminism (including supporting next month’s launch of the film “Suffragette”); Reni (who is in favour of quotas and who spoke really compellingly and with great verve and passion about the positive impact that they can have on the careers of women of colour) put out a great plea for the working environment to shift in order to accommodate a 21st century workforce; and I talked about the more formal, office based workplaces in which I’ve spent most of my career and the challenges that women can face at different points of their lives, including my view that the gender pay gap isn’t just about career breaks and child raising but also – and perhaps more so – about an embedded and systemic belief as to the value of work that is rooted in gender based roles.

A couple of the other points that I raised included:

  • The need for transparency: only 270 of the 7000 UK companies which employ 250+ staff have so far done a gender pay audit – and only FIVE of those have published their results. So we need to lift a few more rocks and see what crawls out.
  • Reducing the pay gap: isn’t just about having more women at the top – it’s also about having more men at the bottom, ie achieving a more even distribution of men and women across the pay scale.
  • Lying can be useful: in the context of the practice known as “anchoring”, by which I refer to the cognitive bias that makes people focus On A Number once it’s been stated, leaving only a small space for other, higher numbers to come into play. Imagine discussing your salary of five years ago in a job interview; then try and get That Figure out of play. Aren’t you sorry you mentioned it?

Like a lot of people who spend time in the diversity space, I’m familiar with the event based trope of women stating that Something is Bad and other women in the audience agreeing that yes, It is Bad. I wanted to offer up a few solutions for practical actions, so here’s what I suggested as takeaways for anyone who wants to personally challenge and close up the gender pay gap:

  1. Know your own worth: research the hell out of your market sector (whether freelance or employed), find out market values and hold your ground when in pay based negotiations.
  2. Remind yourself: that men are apparently FOUR TIMES more likely than women to ask for a pay rise or negotiate a higher starting salary or signing on bonus. Consider your actions and think about challenging that number. Ask.
  3. If the above two points feel really uncomfortable as ideas for you: consider working with a coach on negotiation skills, confidence building or whatever else might make you feel more inclined to haggle and get paid what you’re truly worth. Regard the cost of the coaching fees as a major investment in Team You – you should easily earn back the costs over time.

 And, if we’re talking about changing the culture of the workplace,  here are a few ideas that I’d like to see companies/employers taking on board as part of their efforts to close the gender pay gap and build a more balanced workforce:

  • Consider bias awareness training for your recruiters and hiring managers: to both stop them asking inappropriate questions (yes, it still happens, notwithstanding the law) and to change their focus away from previous salaries and the values that may be placed on gender based skills, attributes and employment;
  • Commit to closing the gender pay gap in your company: embed this as a leadership objective, with actions, a timeline and penalties for lack of progress;
  • Look at the bonus culture in your company: much of the 24% pay gap between men and women in finance is rooted in the discretionary pay model; for instance, a Big 4 accounting firm is on record as giving some of the senior men who don’t make Partner a consolation bonus to stop them leaving; most equally unlucky women there don’t apparently consider leaving at this point and so don’t ask for or get a golden “aw, shucks, we love you really” bonus.

I had a really great time at the event, loved taking the questions from the audience (as long time readers know,  I can talk about this stuff all day and all night long) and meeting people afterwards – a process that is still ongoing, as I have several future meetings set up, including one to have coffee with the man behind the Token Man Twitter handle,  who asked why there wasn’t a man on the panel?  A very fair and valid question and one to be somewhat addressed in a future post, which will be on the very ‘now’ topic of engaging men as diversity champions.  As I said whilst on stage:

“No minority group in history ever achieved major, systemic change without the help and support of the majority group.”

Supporting Plan

7 Jul

Plan_talks_Sticker_logoLast week, Plan contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in working with them to provide blogging and social media support for their campaigns to support girls around the world. Apparently,  they want someone who writes about  “… life, money, girls with a healthy dose of humour …” and so it seems that I fit the bill! More importantly, I’m a long standing supporter of their work and have blogged and attended events about it before: when I raised over £300 to support their “Girls’ Night In” campaign in 2009;  at the launch of the Plan book, “Because I Am a Girl” in January 2010 and then a few months later at their International Women’s Day event at the House of Commons. It seems that I’ve just missed their event featuring Angelina Jolie and William Hague, but I’ve been invited along to learn more about their plans and how they’d like to use social media to raise awareness: so that’s where I’ll be on Tuesday afternoon. This workshop will be followed by a “Plan Talks” event featuring their long term supporter, author and broadcaster Kathy Lette,  who I remember as being fabulous at the book launch event four years ago. I’ll write about that later this week.

The meaning of grace – and how No can become Yes

4 Nov

October was a very busy month for me;  I’ve been serving as a judge on the Women in the City awards, booking and planning a trip to India for later this month and returning to work in an office!  I’ve joined a major investment bank and am now working full time as an interim diversity consultant,  focusing particularly on EMEA corporate communications, benchmarking and networking/affinity groups.

My colleagues at the bank have been very accommodating in allowing me to turn up,  learn the ropes and then disappear after three weeks in order to go back to India (Goa and Mumbai) in mid-November – a trip I’d booked in September before I had any idea that I’d be offered this job.

(As an aside,  and in case anyone was in any doubt at all as to the continuing tough and brutal state of the job hunting market: I went for NINETY NINE interviews during my period of downtime.  It would have been a round one hundred,  but I backed out of a scheduled interview upon receipt of my current job offer).

One of the many friends in Goa whom I’m looking forward to seeing again is Bushita (her name means “grace” in Konkani,  the Goan language).  I had dinner with her on my last night in Goa earlier this year – and this is her story.

* * * * * *

I first met Bushita when I called in to her beauty parlour for a massage one rainy afternoon.  After she had soothed and smoothed the knots out of my shoulders,  we sat chatting, drinking tea and listening to the rain beat down on her flat roof.  Over the weeks of my visit,  we became friends and I learned that this shy, petite woman was, in addition to being a skilled masseuse,  a very successful businesswoman.  Against the odds and with little to help her on her way other than hard work and determination,  she has become a property and land owner and is very representative of the female labour force who are fuelling India’s economic boom.

Aged 32,  she was born and brought up in Goa,  the youngest of six children,  and endured a difficult childhood,  primarily due to her father dying when Bushita was aged 6.

“I always loved school,”  she told me.  “And I worked hard to learn English.”

Aged 15,  she met her husband Sabbas,  a friend of her brother.

“He’s my only boyfriend,  nine years older than me, and the only man I’ve ever kissed – and even then I made him wait for a year, because I felt I was too young.”

They married four years later. Finances dictated that they had a small wedding rather than the large Roman Catholic affair she would have preferred, although she hopes to have –  “a huge party! You must come to Goa for it, Cleo!” to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary in 2022.

Bushita began training to be a beautician as soon as she left school in 1997; sighing,  she told me that she would have loved to “carry on studying and go to university in Panjim”,  but her mother needed her to start earning and contribute to the family’s finances. So,  taught by a local beauty salon owner,  she learned how to do facials and give massages and then sold her wedding jewellery to pay for a college course and improve her skills.

“My mother was horrified that I sold my gold! But I knew that it was the right thing to do and that I had to invest in me. How is it you say – speculate to accumulate? Yes!”

Charter flights full of holiday makers had begun coming to Goa in the mid 1990s and that led to the explosion of tourism as we now see it.  Bushita told me that she could see that this influx of western visitors would be good for business,  as long as she could learn some new beauty skills so,  after she’d qualified at college,  she went to work at a larger salon in order to learn how to do manicures and pedicures. Tragically,  her first baby,  a boy,  had died seven months into her pregnancy and her difficulties continued when her second child,  Hazel,  now aged 11,  was also born prematurely in 1999 and was very ill for the first few years of her life.

At about the same time,  her mother inherited a piece of land located very close to what was then becoming a popular hotel.  By borrowing from family members and using friends and neighbours as labour, Bushita built a tiny shop on the land to one day use as her dream beauty parlour. Because she couldn’t also afford to fit it out as a salon, she rented it to a tenant as a clothes shop in order to get some money for fittings.  The shop remained tenanted for the next five years,  whilst Bushita worked in a neighbouring salon,  biding her time.  She then took out a bank loan (underwritten by her mother) and built an upper story extension on to the shop,  which she finally started to use as a salon whilst maintaining the clothes shop downstairs.  Hazel’s Beauty Parlour, named after her oldest child,  finally opened in 2005,  a year after Bushita had given birth to her second daughter, Pearl Suezan; she laughed as she told me –  “both of my daughters were born in September.  I wanted them to be smart girls,  born at the beginning of the school year – and this way,  I could take my baby leave during the rainy season,  when there are no tourists!”

Having worked upstairs for a few years,  Bushita  then saw her chance to extend again,  and she started working from her home whilst converting the original salon into an apartment and guest house. She now presides over two apartments and three bed and breakfast rooms (“all with air conditioning!”),  in addition to the salon and the shop,  currently occupied by a Kashmiri jewellery business and told me,  sighing,  that she is very glad that she has diversified,  as the beauty business is under threat. There’s lots of competition from the beach,  as many former fruit sellers now offer beauty treatments as an easier way of working with the high spending tourist population.

However,  her guest house is doing very well and that helps fund the expansion plans and renovations.

“It’s grown via word of mouth and referrals and repeat business – thank goodness!”

I saw the generation gap at work when Bushita explained that her in-laws,  with whom she lives, struggle to understand her drive and commitment; “they do still want me to be more traditional,  but they’re more accepting now, as they can see the business growing and becoming successful. I earn much more than my husband does [as a taxi driver] and they find this very strange – it’s almost unimaginable in their world. Because we all live together,  we have disagreements over domestic ideas. Until recently,  they used to nag me constantly about having another baby,  ideally a boy,  but my husband reminded them that I had nearly died twice and so now they leave me alone.  Mostly.”

Luckily Sabbas has always been supportive and understood the need to earn money and do well.

“Over time,  I have changed my husband; now we have short holidays alone together and sometimes go out for dinner. The children will grow up and leave to live with their husbands’ families, and we will be old,  so it’s important that we are happy together. It’s our life and we must live it.”

What are your hopes for your daughters, I asked?

Deeply religious, Bushita would like her older daughter to be a nun,  or perhaps a nurse or a doctor – “she is very caring.”  And she hopes that  Pearl will take over the business and ultimately run the salon and the guest house. Ahead of either contingency, she’s saving money for them both in order to pay for university or college in some capacity.

Over coffee,  she confided that her greatest challenge is family based (“yap yap!”)  rather than business focussed.

“The in-laws are so difficult and their weight of expectations are a great burden; if they’re fine, everything else is fine, if not  – we all know about it.  They are always very unhappy about my building projects when they’re underway,  but they cope with it later on. They have a rural background  with pigs and chickens and find this way of life to be so strange, still,  after all these years.”

She continued, “Thankfully,  my mother-in-law does all the cooking so that helps a lot in terms of domestic stuff and childcare. They’re also very good at disciplining the children.”

Once the Goan tourist industry shuts up shop each spring,  Bushita goes on seminars in the down season to learn about new treatments  (“next time you come,  I will be able to do the gel nails”) and she also sells life insurance. She started this three years ago,  as a way of earning money in the absence of tourists and has found that she enjoys selling door to door,  to the extent that she has won both regional and national sales awards for achieving great sales figures.

“I get bored being a Goan housewife and I love business,  so my advice to other women is: stand up for yourselves and speak up. You must always move forwards and don’t look back. You do have talents –  yes, there may be barriers to your success,  but don’t be afraid.

If you have a great idea – try it, be brave.

No can always become Yes.”

(For previous posts about my trips to Goa,  please click on the words Goa and/or India in the “I’m writing about …” tag cloud on the right).

Women’s networks: what works, what doesn’t?

26 Sep

Earlier this week I went along to a discussion called Networked Women,  hosted at Intellect (the trade body for the UK’s technology industry) by Tracey Carr and Jan Peters. Unlike some of the events I’ve covered before,  where there was a lot of standing around and no particular focus,  this meeting was well organised and took as its theme the value and benefits of women’s corporate/in-house networks: have they succeeded or failed? And what is best practice – and,  more importantly,  what isn’t?

The first speaker was Eileen Brown,  the founder of a collective called Connecting Women in Technology (and here’s a link to Eileen’s blog),  which has members from such IT giants as Microsoft, Cisco, Intel Dell, HP and IBM.  They take it in turns to organise two events per year,  hosted by one of the member firms,  as a way for the women to network outside their own company and across different business and functional sectors.

CwiT has been running events for the last three years,  and Eileen shared their following top three learnings with us:

  • Women want mentors and advice from women in similar roles and at similar levels – so try to make sure that you have a good mixture at your events.
  • Get senior people (ideally men) to come and speak at your events,  particularly men who manage women – they add value and credibility to the subject in hand
  • Allow time for post-event networking and chat,  as well as a mid-event coffee break,  in case anybody has to leave promptly at the end – this way they won’t miss out on the chance to make new connections.

(c) We Are The City

Next on was Vanessa Vallely,  who,  in addition to a very impressive sounding day job in finance,  is the co-founder of the Network of Networks,  a collective of corporate/FTSE companies who come together from time to time to discuss best practices in areas such as networking and diversity.  Vanessa is also the creator of information portal We Are The City,  which is aimed at women in the City (of London) who want information on career and lifestyle issues.  Vanessa is the absolute Queen of collaborating with other people and other networks on events  and she suggested that SUCCESS for women’s corporate networks is dependent upon:

  • Getting senior sponsorship for your network – from a senior leader who is passionate, involved and active.
  • Creating a really strong business case for your network,  with proper objectives, and resources.
  • And while you’re at it – ask for a budget!
  • Thinking about your communications – use lots of channels.  And say to your members: here we are,  what do you want us to do?
  • Organising a range of diverse events,  for all levels of women in the organisation, with different role models and which take place at different times of the day

In order to avoid FAILURE,  Vanessa recommends:

  • Not working as a silo – get lots of involvement,  from many different champions
  • Remembering that the network is more than the individuals who run it
  • Keeping it simple
  • Involving men,  by ensuring that your events are always cross-gender and open to all.

(She reminded us at this point that it can be daunting for a man to walk into a roomful of women at one of these events – which can also serve the dual purpose of providing said bloke with an insight of what it can feel like to be a woman in the workplace,  perhaps walking into a roomful of men.)

A lot of real life networking tends to focus in on events,  so Vanessa’s top tips for anyone wanting to create a successful and vibrant event are as follows:

  • Make it exciting!
  • Get membership participation
  • Canvas feedback – how was it for you,  what could we do better?
  • Rotate the organising team and the sponsors (keep it fresh, in other words)
  • Have a good mix of what she dubbed both “hard” (business related) and “soft” (lifestyle) events.

And she closed by reminding us to be wary that a network’s reputation takes a while to build,  to remember that you will need a budget of some sort,  even if it’s only tiny and that you can’t be all things to everyone – there will always be some people who just didn’t enjoy whatever it was that you’ve organised.

That’s life – and it’s actually a useful life lesson, too.

All very helpful stuff,  and a reminder that Real World events are a very useful (and fun – cheese! Wine!)  add-on to the social networking piece about which I wrote on here last month.


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