A while ago, I wrote an article for my corporate blog, which (for now …) forms part of my day job, on the power of networking. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how potent it can be to keep an open mind and have an inquisitive spirit when you’re out and about and meet new people.
In the last few weeks and months, the following chain of events has happened to me.
In March, I spoke at an event for International Women’s Day. After my presentation, I got chatting with Christine, who is the chair of Women in Banking and Finance. A few days later, she emailed me and asked if we could catch up over coffee sometime, as she wanted to bounce around a few ideas with me. I’m always happy to meet for coffee, so we did, got along very well and exchanged some interesting thoughts and suggestions.
Fast forward to the end of May and Christine invited me to attend the Women in Banking and Finance annual lunch at the Dorchester in central London. Along I went, wondering who, if anyone, I would know – to which the answer was, aside from Christine, not a soul. But that was OK – because sometimes, when at these events, it can be all too easy to stick chatting to the people who you do know and not emerge from your comfort zone in order to meet new acquaintances.
But I was forced out of my fur lined rut, and so I chatted and mingled and went through to the lunch – where I had the huge good fortune to be seated adjacent to two absorbing women. They both run their own very different gender diversity consulting firms, and are so well connected that I have Address Book Envy.
As if a wonderful venue, delightful lunch companions, and a spirited speech (in which she called for quotas for women in leadership roles) from keynote speaker Baroness Denise Kingsmill (reported here in the Guardian) wasn’t enough, I also won a prize in the raffle, thus continuing the recent winning streak with which I’ve been blessed, having won a couple of global diversity awards lately. But the luck didn’t end there, as Pauline, my neighbour at the table, also won a prize, as did one of the other guests at table 16. I won a designer silk dress, Pauline won dinner for 6 at a top London restaurant and the other lady (another Pauline, #2) won a huge bouquet of flowers.
Then Pauline #1, who runs a fascinating company called Gender Dynamics, and I discovered that we are actually neighbours in the same suburb of London, so we agreed to meet for, yes, coffee and learn more about each other’s roles and interests. And when we did so, Pauline mentioned that, in her experience, women tend to be very open to the idea of just getting together to bounce ideas around without there being a clear agenda or a defined objective or gain, whereas some men would only go ahead with a similar meeting if there was a very clear idea of what was in it for them at the outset.
Over skinny lattes, Pauline and I discussed our ideas and interests in women, business, leadership, success and so on. She also asked me if I would like to learn more about the Downing Street Project (DSP); to which my response was: “Is that similar to the White House Project? I (corporate) blogged about that last year …”
And yes, it is indeed a UK version of the successful and high profile White House Project; in a nutshell, it’s a UK based, cross party political supported initiative aimed at promoting and enabling “balanced leadership between men and women at every level of society, up to and including 10 Downing Street.”
Pauline then threw open her famed address book even more widely and introduced me to both Lee Chalmers, the director and founder of the DSP and also to Donna Thomson, the wife of the Canadian Ambassador to Britain; she is very active in the whole women in business and women as a force for change space. Pauline, Lee and I had afternoon tea at the “residency” earlier this week and talked about our various projects; these included the Downing Street Project (Lee), a film on gender (me) and a report called the “Leaking Pipeline” (also me); Pauline’s work on gender and biology and Donna’s involvement with the forthcoming UN Agency for Women, which is due to be launched in January 2010.
… And I am now scheduled to attend the DSP’s launch event at the House of Commons on Tuesday evening.
And all of this has come from chatting to Christine back in March ….
If any of these contacts result in a new job for me, I think I’ll send Christine flowers.