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What Happens At A Women’s Networking Event? (A Male Perspective)

With the kind of work I do, people often comment that I end up in the most unusual places, meeting interesting people.  Yes I am lucky, it’s true, and yesterday was no exception.

I attended a large networking event at which there were several hundred people.  The focus was on connecting business people involved in technology & a client had invited me along as their guest.  It was hosted by Ernst & Young and the theme, appropriately for E&Y – with the month that’s in it – was ‘Bringing Out The Entrepreneur In You’.

Nothing out of the ordinary there I hear you say?  Except for one thing.

I was the only man in the village…(Excluding Frank O’Keefe, E&Y guest speaker).

That’s right everyone else there was a woman.  My client had given me a slight warning by saying in advance ‘There may not be many men there…’  Oh really?  So it ended up that bar the guest speaker, it was just me and a couple hundred of smart, well-dressed women.

It could be worse I hear my male readers say, and you would be right.  Certainly, it beat the usual 7.30am start on a Thursday…But what really surprised me was the inspiration I got from the event – as a business person, a father and an Irishman.

But before I explain why let me tell you what the event was.  It’s called ‘Connecting Women In Technology’ (CWIT) and is a collaborative initiative of senior women from HP, Microsoft, Accenture, Google, Facebook, Dell, IBM and Ernst and Young, which aims to attract more women to the sector – although I did meet women there from other companies also, Boston Scientific being one.

The periodic event was established at the end of 2009, when senior women from member organisations came together as the economic decline presented new challenges for the industry. Their focus is to support initiatives, whether they’re in the education sector or in companies, for females to become empowered.

At this particular event there were 3 speakers.  First up was CEO of Fujitsu Ireland, Regina Moran, who gave a very honest and personal explanation of her start in engineering and her rise through the ranks of business.  Her frankness in admitting she often had doubts, needed to use mentors/coaches and struggled at times with balancing family life (she and her husband have 3 children) was refreshing in a way that you don’t often get with a male CEO.  I would have liked her to have spoken longer but c’est la vie.

Next up was Triona Campbell, Founder and Director of beActive International, a multi-platform media company who have succeeded against the odds over the past 10 years at an international level.  They are doing exciting work and certainly are a company worth checking out.  Key to her talk was the willingness to fail, learn fast and keep trying.

The final speaker was Frank O’Keefe, my male brother for the day.  Frank is the partner in charge of the highly successful Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards.  He spoke at length about traits of entrepreneurs, the price and risks they take, and again it was very inspiring.  I particularly liked his call to action at the end: “To go out and deliberately inspire someone”.

The inspiration and insights I had sparked by the event:

1. Entrepreneurialism is more about creating new things, challenging the status quo, innovation.  For that reason it can happen in any business at any level – if it’s let…(a great example being 3M who came up with the idea of letting staff use 20% of their time on projects of their choice – Google have adopted the same idea)

2. When women get together in this way, they definitely communicate with each other in a different way.  The type of questions asked during the Q&A were very interesting – not the normal ones you’d hear in a male dominated audience.

3. I now know what it feels like to be a minority – when you’re in a room with hundreds of women you’re suddenly more conscious of being a man!  It gave me a taste of what it has been like for some of the female trail blazers.

4.  During coffee, I spoke for a while with a business executive who used to work in Apple.  When I asked her what she did there, it turned out that she had a senior role in their Supply Chain and that one of the interesting things she had to do weekly was present to Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO.  Now to a professed Apple fan/nut, this was pure gold – she is the only person I’ve met to have done that – what a line for your CV and even better to know that this kind of talent is back working in Ireland.

5. As a father of a five year old girl, I often think about what kind of opportunities she can expect in future Ireland and I really felt encouraged that this type of collaborative event is taking place here.  To see so many clever people focused on growth (business and personal) was a great tonic to the normal daily ‘negativity’ that has enveloped our country.   The women at this event were hungry for success.  They are encouraging and helping each other to achieve their goals and think big.  It gives me great heart for what’s to come from female talent in the future.

6. As an Irish person, it bothers me that so many people are focused on what’s wrong.  The collective mindset of Ireland has been compromised and if it was a person I believe it would be diagnosed as having depression.  But anyone who ‘makes it’ in business knows that staying mired in negativity just isn’t a luxury you can afford.  You see what’s wrong, yes, but then you get your mind onto the solution.  And you start taking action.  What was really special about this entire event was that it was all forward focused.  Nobody was giving out. It was all about possibilities.  And that is very encouraging to see.

7.  Attending this event reminded me of the time I attended one of the best training courses I ever did – I was the only male participant in an Assertiveness For Women 6 week course – yes you read that right…for women – that’s a story for another time…:)

Of course, there were a few things that surprised me yesterday and these things definitely only happen at a women’s networking event.  Now I know what they are and I find them fascinating.   I was going to tell you all about them but I feel such a bond with my new colleagues that, like the secrets of the Free Masons, I feel bound to protect them.

Guess you’ll just have to find your own way of ‘crashing’ the next CWIT event…

Lessons Learned – Week Ending 7th October 2012

Here are some interesting lessons and insights taken from myself and also clients over the past week:

  1. If your vision is cloudy it’s important to stop overthinking it. Clarity of vision comes out of clarity of mind. So the key is first of all to clear your mind in the absence of any vision.  Turbulence is everywhere at the moment and looks set to continue, but it is possible to maintain a calm centre within yourself which will help navigate through the turbulence. This is going to be a key skill going forward in business and life.
  2. Change your environment and you automatically change the quality of your thinking (just remember that could be up or down depending on the quality of your environment).
  3. When you change how you see people and/or your circumstances everything changes.
  4. Incremental change consistently done is hugely powerful.
  5. Managing your time well is more to do with managing your head and energy well.
  6. If you’re off physically, it is very difficult to be on mentally.
  7. When you accept the worst case scenario it frees up your mind to really get on with things.
  8. Worrying repeatedly is really just a waste of useful energy.
  9. Smart and clever people can get caught out. The most important thing though is that they learn the lesson, accept where they are and get back up on the horse.
  10. Comparing yourself to others is a dangerous exercise. What is more important is to ask yourself are you measuring up to your own standard?

When Is Smaller Better? (A Clever Example Of ‘Viral’ Marketing In Action)

I like this use of a funny photo by Strategic Technology company, Gemini, based in Dublin  – they’re a boutique IT company who have pride in being small!    There’s a series of 6 clever photos on theire website –

The Explosion Of Genuine Meaning (& intolerance for BS)…

‘You know what p****s me off the most?’, said Pat.

We were sitting in a meeting room at the large offices of a multi-national.  Pat is a smart executive, well dressed in his 30’s, who has strong self-awareness and wants to make an impact in the world.  He’s a great asset to any team – hard working, intelligent and innovative.

I joined this company believing they really wanted to make a difference in the world.  I really thought they were different.  But it was all BS.’

‘What do you mean?’, I replied.

‘They have a mission statement on the walls around the offices.  It’s not real.  Most of us don’t buy into it because we know the head people don’t .  They run workshops with us about values, culture, vision and purpose.  But the reality is that for all of the values they talk about – most of the leaders do the complete opposite – motivated by greed and self-interest. I’m completely disillusioned.’

This type of conversation is happening more and more.

There is a change in what people expect from their leaders.  They are demanding more authenticity, and they want to be attached to a business that has more meaning.

For many companies, having clear values and a strong CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) is more about marketing and ‘being seen’ to do the right thing.  Yet people are getting tired of the illusion.  Maybe it’s being caused by the breakdown in trust with our religious, political and economic leaders?  Maybe there’s an increase in consciousness?

Whatever the reason, as someone who helps companies to create meaningful goals and cultures my experience is that we are facing into an explosion of genuine meaning.

People are craving what they have lost in their personal lives.  Identity, meaning, purpose.

The natural replacement is the arena where we spend most of our waking time – work.  Plus more and more, people on a personal level are asking themselves key questions.  Questions like:

– What’s my purpose in the world?

– What do I want my legacy to be?

– How do I want to spend my life?

– What is genuine success to me (& not what others expect from me)?

And a side effect of this questioning is a growing intolerance for what they see as ‘BS’.

I was speaking with a senior executive connected to someone in one of the biggest brands in the world.  They’d just left and come clean about the culture in this global entity.  It sounded like bullies in the schoolyard, a culture based on fear, self-interest and maniacal obsession with profit – the complete opposite of what their marketing machine promotes.

Hearing that story has turned me off buying their products, because I don’t want to support that kind of machine.

And that’s a simple example of the power of genuine meaning.  If it’s there, you’ll attract great help.  But increasingly, if people get a sniff you’re ‘full of it’, they will leave the bus in droves.  And with so much choice in the market today, it’ll be easier than ever.

A strategic advantage for the future is creating a business that genuinely lives by it’s values, it’s purpose, it’s vision.  A business that deliberately seeks to create an environment where people can express their talent, in a way that connects them to meaningful impact.  And also in a way that makes profit.  Plenty of it.  And genuine meaning at work should go hand in hand with profit.  In the future, I believe it will be one of the keys to sustaining growing profits (& that’s for companies of all sizes).

Pat has since targetted a company that he thinks will fit with his values better.

‘I just hope it’s not all BS again!‘, he said.

Me too Pat, me too.