Networking (part 1)

I’m not that good at networking at conferences and seminars. You know, standing around making small talk with people you are unlikely to meet ever again, on the off-chance that you might have enough in common to sustain a conversation until your glass is empty and you have an excuse to move on. You can’t even use the standard openers like ‘Where do you work?’ or ‘What do you do?’ without appearing as if you can’t read: everyone has little name badges with their job title and employer neatly typed on them.

I struggle to find things to say that other people will find remotely interesting, and sometimes it’s a struggle to find other people interesting too. Perversely, my perpetual new year’s work resolution is to do more networking, both in and out of my company, widening my circle of contacts.

Coming to London has been a bit of an eye-opener in terms of project management events. I could be at a project management seminar or lecture at least once a week. If you add women in business and technology events I could pretty much be out every night. Now, I take my resolutions seriously, but I hope I don’t need to substitute my social life for gatherings of project managers and smoked cheese on tiny circles of polenta.

Last week I attended two events, one run by womenintechnology and the other hosted by the British Computer Society’s North London branch. The womenintechnology event, ‘How to be a successful woman working in IT’, was huge, easily the largest turnout of any free networking event that I had ever attended. Women from all sectors and all technology disciplines filled the hall at JPMorgan’s Embankment office. While it was billed as a technology event, any working woman would have found it interesting, and any project manager would have benefited too, although they only let you in if you had two X chromosomes.

I spoke to a public sector employee who said that women often choose to work in local authorities as they have a significant commitment to equal opportunities and policies to support a diverse workforce. The private sector network engineer standing with us nodded sadly. She was the only woman in the networks team at her employer.

It was actually easy to speak to the attendees during the drinks reception. I started one conversation and then moved on, at which point someone else started talking to me. Just like that, out of the blue. Maybe the wine helped, but it was also the positive atmosphere and the crush in the gallery, which meant you couldn’t help speaking to people as you pushed past. No space for wallflowers, so no excuses not to start conversations.

I took a seat in the front row when we went through to the main hall. It’s easier to see, easier to hear, you get more leg room and those seats are always empty. When I’ve been a speaker, it’s frustrating to see the front row empty but people standing at the back. I sat next to Suzanne Doyle-Morris, the director of Doyle Morris, a coaching company, and while people filed into the hall we start to talk. Amazingly, this was perhaps the fifth or sixth person I’d had a conversation with since arriving, and the event had hardly started. Maybe networking isn’t that bad after all.

The speeches kicked off with Maggie, who opened with some figures:

  • 80% of attendees had more than 5 years experience
  • 76% considered themselves to be successful in IT already
  • 66% had faced barriers to achieving success.

Essentially, women are doing well in IT but want to do better. Stepping up to show us exactly how we could do that was Helen Duguid, from Do-Good Consulting, who previously worked at Microsoft. She shared some of her own research with us, which concluded that only 37% of women have access to high profile jobs that lead to senior management. Helen suggested we all decide on one thing, a personal project, that we could do in the near future that would help us get to where we wanted to be. It took a while to come up with mine, but I found something that would help my career goals eventually. If it actually comes to fruition, I’ll tell you about it.

The evening finished about 8.30pm, and while I could have stayed on for more wine and more chatting, I had saturated my capacity to network. I did stop long enough to pick up some free magazines, a great pen and some pink post-it notes. And to eat some smoked cheese on polenta, which was really tasty.

The evening renewed my faith in networking events. Unfortunately this faith was soon to be shattered once again by my second event of the week. More on that next week.

By the way, all the people I spoke to that evening were interesting, so that was one misplaced fear. Suzanne is running a course on overcoming indecision and getting unstuck this Friday, and it’s not too late to sign up if you are interested (link opens a Word document).

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