Network and Getwork

6th February 2017

Posted In: The Topic | WMB Advice

Networking as a business tool has evolved from inviting the boss to dinner or the golf course, to formal membership of networking organisations and even master classes in how to do it right. It’s no longer about tossing around business cards like confetti, but about establishing meaningful relationships with like-minded people. There are a host of networking options out there, from the turbo-charged BNI to small regional networks, but those aimed at building links between businesswomen are fast gaining ground.

The network: Network Ireland
Who it’s for: Female business owners, female professionals (men can attend events)

Rebecca Birchall, who runs Fishers of Newtownmountkennedy, a family retail and food business, is President of Network Ireland. Network is different from, say, WXN, because it has local branches throughout the country with approximately 700 members, and from the likes of BNI because it encourages members from the same sector to join and learn from each other. One of the advantages of the regionalised structure is that a member of any branch can attend the others’ events – something that can be particularly useful when small business owners are seeking to expand outside their own area or learn from others who work in the same sector but don’t compete directly.

According to Rebecca, “It’s a very supportive network where it’s about inspiring, and learning from each other so every member grows their business or their professional development – we try to keep the guarded competition out of it!”

She believes a women-only group offers different advantages, and that “women network differently to men”.

“Women are a lot more collaborative and we have seen that with our members – many of whom work together on larger projects neither could on their own. I think for some women it’s also a safe supportive environment to begin their networking – gaining confidence before adding other groups to their agenda.”

Up to 70% of members are self-employed with both large and small businesses, and corporate members can learn a lot about the employers’ perspective by networking with business owners.

The network: Local Enterprise Office Women in Business Networks
Who it’s for: Women entrepreneurs
Find your local LEO Office here.

Another possibility for woman to woman networking is offered by many Local Enterprise Offices, which run Women in Business Networks. These are supported by local authorities and culminate each year in a National Women in Business Networking Event, held annually to mark National Women’s Enterprise Day. Regional ambassadors include Valerie Kingson of the award-winning Glenilen Farm and Nicola Byrne, who founded 11811. These are ideal for start-ups seeking advice and information on funding and supports. You can also read more here: NWED

The network: Women’s Executive Network
Who it’s for: Professional women – and men

WXN, or the Women’s Executive Network, is one of the best known women’s networks internationally. It was founded in Canada by CEO Sherri Stevens, who says the organisation stands out because it recognises professional women “who have pushed boundaries and achieved incredible heights in their respective industries and careers”.

“Ireland’s Most Powerful Women: Top 25 Awards shines the spotlight on these women, celebrating their hard work, recognising their well-deserved accomplishments and raising the awareness of what women are doing in different fields across the country. We want future generations to have more visible female role models,” explains Stevens. A remit shared by WMB since it’s inception!

She believes the challenges and triumphs experienced by women in the corporate world “can be gender-specific” and WXN provides a space where they can discuss these. It also functions to counter the exclusion of women from the informal networks – such as the aforementioned golf – that have naturally evolved for men over time.

“However,” she explains, “we don’t want these conversations to happen in a bubble. “We believe men need to be a big part of the solution to gender inequality in the workplace. That’s why we encourage men to attend our live events and welcome those who do. Learning about the struggles and specific concerns of women in business can equip them to become allies, champions and advocates for women leaders in their workplaces. It’s only together that we can build organisations that support and develop their leaders equally, regardless of gender.”

There’s a network out there to suit your individual needs whether it’s an industry-specific body (like WITS – Women in Technology & Science), one of the chambers, a network for start-ups (check out Acorns  Accelerating the Creation Of Rural Nascent Start-ups) or one that helps you stay in touch. Here at WMB we’ve compiled five tips for successful networking to help you fully benefit from the experience.

  • Do you research and pick the networking organisation that suits your needs.
  • Arrive on time and soak it up.
  • Networking is a two-way street – you need to ‘give’ in order to ‘receive’.
  • First impressions count – be engaged and engaging.
  • Remember to follow up and allow time to build real relationships.

“The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity”.  Networking Guru Keith Ferrazzi