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The business card is back: introducing the new breed of networking events

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Log off your online networks, dig out your business cards and head to one of the new wave of inspirational female networking events

Words: Alix O’Neill

Networking events used to involve a heart-sinking combination of awkward ‘getting to know you’ games, curled-up ham sandwiches and warm white wine – if you were lucky. When Stylist launched over six years ago, they were the last place you’d want to spend an evening. Which is why we launched our award-winning Stylist Network events and created our inspirational and advice-packed Stylist Life Lessons.

Thankfully, we weren’t the only ones to overhaul these events. Conference halls have been ditched for boutique hotels, sandwiches for Peruvian tapas and unanimated speeches cut for fast, inspiring soundbites and practical tips for success. “Traditionally, networking was stuffy and very male-orientated – we’ve turned that on its head,” says Natalie Campbell, co-founder of the Badass Women’s Hour, a monthly gathering of female professionals at London’s W Hotel. “We focus on getting to know each other, celebrating successes and talking openly about failure – this is what women want and it’s working.”

It’s a view echoed by Anna Barez-Brown, co-founder of Shine4Women, which runs residential workshops in Devon. “If a woman takes the time to go to an event it’s crucial she gets something out of it. Organisers today know they have to offer more than simply putting everyone in a room and leaving them to it.”

Simona Barbieri, former events manager at Goldman Sachs agrees. “Women are wired to support one another. It’s only when that sisterhood is operating in a very corporate, male environment that it can turn negative.” For this reason, Barbieri started an empowering networking event at her home which grew into women’s network Hubdot, a global empire with more than 30,000 members. Events now range from supper clubs to open mic nights where women are invited onstage for one minute to talk about something important to them, be it a business idea or a battle with cancer.

And the new, more supportive networks are working. Seventy-one per cent of those who attended a Shine4Women workshop said they achieved at least half of their goals within six months of taking part, while Barbieri recalls: “At one event, a young chef told the crowd she wanted to set up a gluten-free mobile restaurant and somebody in the audience invested in the business. Amazing connections are made all the time.”

(Net)work hard, play hard

We asked eight top business insiders to recommend their favourite female-focused networking events

She Says

Recommended by Olivia Knight, 39, founder of honeymoon-finance company patchworkit.com
“I first went to a She Says event for women in the creative industries when I was planning to launch Patchwork It. The atmosphere was relaxed and I made friends with other business women doing all sorts of amazing things such as running a feminist choir. After attending a couple of events, I was even invited to speak at one – which gave my business a huge boost.” (Brighton, London, Edinburgh and Glasgow; weareshesays.com)


Mothers Meeting: growing businesses and ideas

Mothers Meeting: growing businesses and ideas

Mothers Meeting

Recommended by Molly Gunn, 38, founder of theFMLYStore.com, a family lifestyle website
“Mothers Meeting’s Business Club is absolutely the best networking event I go to. They take place once a month at Bethnal Green Town Hall Hotel in London, and about 100 women turn up to chat to each other, swap tips and hear a Q&A or talk by an inspiring woman who has done something ace in business. Past themes include ‘how to grow you social media list’ or ‘why connections are important’.” (Nationwide; mothers-meeting.com)


Inspiring philanthropy at the Young Tiffany Circle

Inspiring philanthropy at the Young Tiffany Circle

The Young Tiffany Circle

Recommended by Naomi Kerbel, 34, head of TV news desk at Bloomberg TV
“I’ve always wanted to combine meeting like-minded professional women with philanthropy and volunteering. The Young Tiffany Circle (YTC) involves networking along with fundraising for the Red Cross. Fifteen of us meet every month to raise £1,000 per person. Instead of running a marathon or climbing Kilimanjaro, we pool our skills and organise an annual fundraiser and mutually beneficial events, like personal branding workshops.” (London; redcross.org.uk)


The One Retreat

Recommended by Anna Grotkamp, 35, founder of luxury beachwear boutique, B London Boutique
“I recently attended a weekend in Kent called the One Retreat, run by Sháá Wasmund, who has an MBE for her services to business. It’s held in a beautiful barn on the North Downs with only 30 other participants – all women. Sháá gets you to map out where you want to be in three months, six months and nine months, before developing a comprehensive plan on how to achieve that. I met so many other successful entrepreneurs there, I definitely plan to go back.” (Kent; shaa.com)


Flock

Recommended by Melanie Goldsmith, 27, director of gourmet confectionary company, Smith & Sinclair
“Flock run monthly events focused on collaboration and support for women in media and advertising, and even host trips to New York and Ibiza. At the end of every event, the founders ask people to share what they need. It could be anything from ‘I need an event producer’ to ‘I’m hiring people and they’re all bad – help!’ It means I know exactly where I can help others and where I can get help – that doesn’t happen anywhere else.” (Nationwide; www.flock.global)


Giving back and learning at Ladies Who Rock

Giving back and learning at Ladies Who Rock

Ladies Who Rock

Recommended by Madeleine Costigan, 36, CEO of lifestyle blog maddieness.co.uk
“There are some really great networking events across the North East, but Ladies Who Rock is definitely my favourite. It’s an annual conference attended by over 400 female entrepreneurs and influential women in business. As well as being a great opportunity to network, it was set up to support charity enterprises across the region, so it feels like a great way to give back. Last year we raised over £100,000 for good causes including providing grants to support young women looking to start their own businesses.” (Newcastle; ladieswhorock.co.uk)


Women Of The World festival

Recommended by Pavan Amara, 29, founder of the My Body Back Project, a project which supports women after sexual assault
“It’s not exclusively for networking, but I find Women Of The World festival at the Southbank so useful in terms of personal development. I go to several career-focused panels to hear other female entrepreneurs talking about what they want to achieve in their life. It made me realise that it was acceptable for me to make my own choices in life.” (London; wow.southbankcentre.co.uk)


TiE UK North

Recommended by Sophie Lund, 28, co-founder of Mello Drinks
“Setting up a business from scratch can be daunting at times. The Pioneering Women event held by TiE UK North called Pioneering Women, held to celebrate the achievements of women in business, gave me and my business partner Rose a huge boost when setting up ours. Everyone there was from different backgrounds but we all had one thing in common: our companies had grown from a seemingly insignificant event in our daily lives – a pile of rubbish, or an overheard conversation. It was great knowing we were all finding our feet together.” (Manchester; tieuknorth.org)


Photography: iStock

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