The Truth about Networking

100YOWIT master

If you’ve seen a recent spike in contact requests, offers of help, invitations or ideas thrown your way, Future of London may be partly to blame. Following our capacity-crowd 14th April event, The Truth about Networking, there’s been a flurry of activity across and beyond our network.

Just over 100 people attended the evening, kindly hosted by K&L Gates and run as a joint event from FoL’s Future London Leaders and the 100 Years of Women in Transport programme led by Transport for London.

We hoped the audience would use the event to move beyond the “fear and loathing” tied to networking, to explore making and maintaining meaningful connections; and to pick up tips ranging from combating conference nerves to getting noticed in a big organisation. To judge by the hubbub at the end of the formal session, people definitely took advantage!

The highlight was the inspiration and practical advice shared by the evening’s speakers:

Welcome and scene-setting – short talks:

  • Lisa Taylor, Director, Future of London
  • Inga Hall, Senior Associate, Construction & Engineering, K&L Gates
  • Michèle Dix, Managing Director, Crossrail 2

Panellists:

  • Liane Hartley, Director, Mend; Founder, Urbanistas UK
  • Valerie Todd, Crossrail Talent & Resources Director
  • Alexandra Notay, Interim Chief Executive, Urban Land Institute UK

[Yes, all women. And all speaking to time, without slides, and occasionally laughing. Egad…]

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The event and its title stemmed from discussions with Future London Leaders candidates who are uncomfortable with – or simply hate – networking. Whether they’re introverted, think it obnoxious, or simply can’t break into senior conversations, they’ve reported going into conferences and work occasions bristling, unhappy and/or missing out on potentially helpful connections.

Recent Future of London events have emphasised that effective networks can actually be productive, ethical and enriching, and the act of making connections is more pleasant and less Machiavellian than people may think.

It’s also important for career progression. Up to 80% of jobs are reportedly secured through contacts, especially at and above mid-level. For companies, the Harvard Business Review reports that individual customer relationships now have higher value than an organisation’s brand.

There are extremes: Guardian Women in Leadership editor Harriet Minter cited a colleague’s habits and success as her inspiration to spend 60% of her time networking. You may struggle to fit that in, but she argued that the rest of your time tends to become more productive. If any of you are managing this, please let us know your own results!

The unspoken issues around building connections also need some attention.

  • For one thing, a lot of emphasis is placed on networking around drinks; organisations must include non-drinkers in ‘edge-of-work’ socialising, whether that’s alternative events, not letting things get out of hand, or at least providing non-alcoholic beverages. As McKinsey pointed out recently, diversity pays real dividends, and inclusive organisations simply do better.
  • For another, how family-friendly are our organisations? Are we scheduling learning and networking events so people with childcare or other outside responsibilities can take part? If evening activities or consultations can’t be avoided, are we telling people far enough in advance that they can make arrangements?
  • Finally, how are we helping young people into this interconnected world? They may be massively wired up in the ether, but who do they know in the job market? Many teens don’t have the connections to secure the internship, summer gig or work experience that will help them into an interesting job. The Girls’ Network is a charity Future of London supports (introduced by exemplar networker Jenna Goldberg of London Communications Agency) that does just that – finding mentors and work placements for teenage girls who may not have access to those tools. We highly recommend it.

In closing, while we feel there is still a lot of scope for women to step up and to be more welcomed in the built environment and related sectors, this post hasn’t focused overmuch on these issues, and neither did the event, except for a few pointers such as strategic use of the ladies’ room – and an unscripted but important call from ULI’s Alex Notay for women and men to speak out when they see harassment in the workplace. Networks also involve taking care of each other.

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