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Networking: Why Even the Biggest Events Have Strategic Value

Nicki HeadshotBy Nicki Gilmour, Founder and CEO of The Glass Hammer

It has been a busy week at theglasshammer.com – as you can see from our coverage we have been attending several events: The Women’s Conference, the FWA’s event with PIMCO’s Mohamed El-Erian, and Deutsche Bank’s Women on Wall Street Conference.

What constitutes a good event, which ones should you go to, what should you expect to get out of the networking event? Good networking events can offer the following benefits:

1) Useful content delivered by an inspiring panel – You learn something that will help you in some way (it can be generic advice or a specific action you can take)
2) Good contacts – you actually swap cards with people who you can do business with at some point

Bad networking events usually offer very little content of value, and on the people side of things, there is no reason to write or call anyone whose card you swapped yours with.

No networking at all is the worst kind of event for women, as we traditionally have less access to networked business conversations where decisions are made. Therefore, we need to form our own connections. Where do you start in one room with two thousand women, like at the Deutsche Bank WOWS event? You start by reaching out to the female clients (not friends) that you want to do business with ahead of time, and ask them to meet you at the door going in. Use these events strategically. Small events are easier to navigate, and theglasshammer.com hosts 100-200 women only at a time at our events.

I enjoy big events if they have interesting panel speakers and I am constantly in awe of the what some of these senior women have to say about their experiences. My favorite panelist at WOWS this year was Alex Lebenthal, CEO of Lebenthal & Company, recounting her childhood visits to her grandmother, “Mrs. L,” in the Wall Street office she ran since 1925, with Lady Liberty standing in the distance. This memory of leadership by a women, through the eyes of a child, leaves quite an image in your head.

Insightful sound bites resonate with the 2,000 women in the audience, and we all leave with a specific story in mind.

Unlike keynotes that can seem hard to relate to, a panel of 5 very different women telling their story means it’s likely that each person in the audience will find a kinship to at least one of the senior women. The most useful answers for me that evening were the panelists sharing their learning points from their mistakes.

Julie Richardson, Head of The NY office of Providence Equity Partners suggested that picking the wrong management team to execute can be a mistake, and asked the audience to consider “Do you have the right team to carry the vision through?”

Alex Lebenthal said, “You do whatever you have to do, you just keep going, when its your own business, nobody can stop you.”

Networking is About More than Cupcakes

The NY times and the FT this week have both questioned the value of such big events, alluding to their writers and the women themselves having heard it all before. I have never seen coverage of a business or career conference concluding that the attendees where just there for the cake. The New York Times reports, “After the panel, attendees snapped up miniature cupcakes and glasses of Chardonnay, and few seemed bothered by the conference’s emphasis on general business advice, rather than issues surrounding women’s involvement in finance.”

Perhaps Mr. Roose needs some unconscious bias training, as he paints a picture comparing us all to cupcake eating dummies?

At an MBA event of mixed gender attendees, would he say that the students seemed to not care that economics came after strategy and enjoyed pizza and beer? His title of the piece alone seems to miss the point – and the fact that it was published merely 26 minutes after the official start time of the conference would suggest that the panel had not barely begun.

Beyond Money: Women and the Need for Innovation

What stands between you and your next big breakthrough? This question was posed at the Annual Deutsche Bank WOWS event themed “Innovation: Ideas to Action.” The Financial Times‘ Lucy Kellaway, who didn’t attend the event, in her regular op-ed column named “On Work” cynically answers this question declaring the obstacle to be “laziness and other people.”

The endless invitations to women’s conferences has driven her to question the value of these networking events asking “who talks more management nonsense, men or women?” Ms. Kellaway’s biting British wit is always entertaining, but frequently, in my opinion, dismissive to the need to make change happen so that gender parity in senior ranks can become a reality.

One of the questions that WOWS posed this year is “How do your perspectives influence whether or not you can turn that innovative idea into an actionable initiative?” Ms. Kellaway answers, “Leaving perspectives to one side, I don’t see why anyone would want to make an idea into an actionable initiative in the first place. The only good idea on Wall street is to make money, and there are no pat answers as to how one does that.”

I disagree.

I believe there is immense value for women hearing how other women manage their careers and their lives around their careers. I think we can also all agree that the generation beneath us, both men and women, sees the world of money-making in less black and white tones, with concerns of ethics and CSR making people ask their employers how they do business, as well as how much their total revenues might be. Wall Street post-2008 is a different place, and the importance of talking about innovation in crunch time as discussed at WOWS is invaluable. Roelfien Kuijpers, Global Head of DB Advisors, and closing speaker stated that there are renewed demands on our ability to innovate and that innovation comes often not just from an individual, but rather an accumulation of ideas, one on top if the other.

Eileen Taylor, Chef Diversity Officer, points out to DealBook “This was not a conversation about women’s issues, it was about how women innovate.”

If we talk about women’s issues we are condemned, if we talk about business issues, equally so.

Nancy Lublin, closing speaker and CEO of DoSomething.org and Founder of Dress for Success summed it up best. “I think a lot of innovation is born from misery.”