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…