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26 June 2009

The power of connections

Hello again.  Following on from my recent thoughts on networking, I’ve also been thinking about how powerful 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 the PwCWomen event for International Women’s Day, as described here.  After the event, 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 (for non-UK readers: lovely hotel. Lovely.  Stay there when or if you win the lottery. Say no more.) So 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.  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, and I asked her to write me a guest piece for the Gender Agenda, which she has now done – so watch this space, as that will be our next article.  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 blogged about that last year …”

And yes, it is indeed a UK version of the successful and high profile White House Project – check out the website link on the right for more details but, 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 Lee Chalmers,  the director and founder of the DSP, and I am now scheduled to attend the DSP’s launch event at the House of Commons next week.

And all of this has come from chatting to Christine back in March…

Finally, here’s a brief update from my colleague Lynn, who wrote a piece for us in January, prior to starting her new role running PwC South Africa’s programmes to support women and the corporate and social responsibility agenda.  I hadn’t heard from her for a while, so I gave her a nudge and back came this reply, in response to me saying – “So, what are you up to, these days?”:

“All is well this side, just incredibly busy. Over the last five Saturdays we have been building a house in Orange Farm (which used to be an informal settlement/squatter camp). The PwC volunteers do so much – mixing concrete, laying bricks, painting, etc. I have attached a photo from last week - the house is in the background. I'm not in the photo as I am taking it.

I also have an orphanage with which I'm working closely. I was there yesterday. They had sent in an urgent appeal for some money, as their car had broken down, and out of the 40 orphans (all AIDS orphans), five of them have special needs and have to go to a special school - so without the car, they were unable to go to school. So to cut a long story short, we had a golf day and raised funds for the charity. I went around to go and do a site visit to see the extent of their problems, and I saw that their boiler had burst, which meant they had no hot water and the ceilings had come down from the damage it caused. They had only onions, carrots and one cabbage for dinner that night. Yet all the kids were happy. They were all playing outside and just looked loved. So yesterday we went back with two car loads full of food and the cheque. They were over the moon.


I'm also working on a number of projects on the gender front - first up is piloting 'My Mentor' - which we’ll be starting in July. I'm also working on a local version of a booklet to help and support our working parents, organising a networking event called 'Hot Tables' - similar to speed dating, except one PwC Partner stays on a table, 8 people join it and then you start a business discussion for 8 minutes before you move tables onto the next Partner.

And I have also become an assistant assessor on our Khula Nathi programme (which is a course aimed at our high fliers, trying to help them to partner level) – in order to start monitoring our female intake on the programme.”

Did anyone else feel exhausted just reading that? I certainly did.  Way to go, Lynn!

Until next time –


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