What if 'networking' were just part of life?


Last week I had three meetings with corporates in London. About fostering a more gender-equal and inclusive corporate culture and about supporting women to unleash their full potential when they return to work after a career break. (I’m so lucky to combine my passion and my work).

And because I get paranoid about logistics and timings (I’m a Virgo, don’t you know), I’d organised one every other hour to avoid the inexcusable faux pas of being late (ingrained inherited belief), and because I live an hour or so away from by train (which is prone to being late) the three meetings took up the whole of my day.

For one rare occasion, I morphed entirely into a professional commuter, leaving my mama juggling role entirely to one side

Well, at least until I took back the reins at supper time. I didn’t even do drop off or pick up (because the former might have made me late for the train I got ahead of the train I could have got, and I wouldn’t have got back for the latter because the train I got was indeed late). Which left me with some much-needed, refreshing head space.

For it has its benefits, being an occasional (full-time) worker bee: the illusion that because I was going from meeting to meeting and didn’t have my laptop with me (too heavy), I didn’t actually need to do any work in between (not excluding some creative writing for my social media accounts for whom I post a daily dose of mama medicine). Plus the added bonus of having time on my hands (I forgot that most Londonites are very good at scheduling and meetings rarely overrun).

And since all three - oddly - took place just off Regent Street, I thought I did very well by avoiding going shopping as a time-killing exercise. (Actually, that’s a lie, I very nearly avoided it and instead ‘popped into’ just the two outlets but since I refrained from so very nearly buying something that I really didn’t need, I count that as a valid reason to polish my halo).

What I did instead was people watch and practise
being present without resorting to any distraction

This isn’t easy for me. I’m not good at being in a venue by myself without ‘doing’ something. (And those amongst you with sharp memories may remember an earlier blog post I wrote about how I have a fear of eating in a restaurant by myself. You may also remember that I challenged myself to get over this before the end of 2018 and that I still haven’t. I’m gearing up to it (just don’t tell anyone).

And, this people watching and being present got me thinking. Particularly my lunch break which I took in one our capital city’s many leafy (ish) squares where, like ants we stream out of high-rise offices, congregating in concrete patches of sunlight dotted with trees.⁣

I’m so grateful for city squares - these hubs that only come alive during pre-destined work breaks, where we gather together in shared co-worker community without knowing or sharing with anyone else. ⁣It gave me a place to eat my packed lunch, to top up on some Vitamin D and to wonder about how may friendships or business opportunities might arise if we actually spoke to people we naturally found ourselves near to - on a train journey for example, on the tube or bus, queuing for the cashpoint, in the dentist's waiting room - instead of striking up forced chit chat at official ‘networking’ events?

We mamas are used to this of course: parks, GPs, recreation grounds and nurseries are fertile friend-making turf
- it's how we grow our essential support networks,
toting our kids’ vital stats as easy ice-breakers⁣⁣

But then the kids get older, there are less vaccinations to tick-off, you hang out less in the park, more mums re-enter the working rat race so that the school run becomes a quick kiss and drop off/pick-up rather than an opportunity for a catch up, and then suddenly you’re not meeting anyone new and not really speaking to anyone else outside your close family or colleagues. All that is left is said networking events - my very worst fear. ⁣ ⁣

Because even though I might come across as quite self-assured on the outside, I can assure you that this is mostly just armouring. I’d actually much rather sit at my computer emailing people in relatively anonymity than dredging up the considerable confidence it takes to strike up a totally random conversation with a totally random stranger just because we’re both attending an event that has decreed that the 10 minutes before the speaker starts talking has been aside for ‘networking’.

The silly thing is, if it hadn’t been labelled as such, I’d probably be ok. I might chat about the croissants on offer or make a joke about being a bit sweaty having rushed there on my bike or comment on how I dig another woman’s bag. But because those 10 minutes have been compartmentalised as make-as-many-crucial-contacts-as-you-can-who-are-going-to-instantly-become-your-next-best-client suddenly there is pressure to ‘sell yourself’ in the best possible way, whilst pretending that you’re not at all, whilst disguising your elevator pitch behind friendly chit chat. And don’t even get me started on speed mentoring. Yuk.

So sitting on my park bench during official office ‘lunch break’ time, with my back to the sun, watching the square gradually fill up with all sorts of different people from a range of backgrounds, ages, gender and nationality I wondered if it could be an altogether more fun idea to wear badges during 'normal' life when our child mascots aren't around?

A totem that indicates whether we were up for exploring a new connection, making a friend, chatting about a potential opportunity, LEARNING SOMETHING UNUSUAL, or forging a new business partnership - Green, orange or red, depending on our mood AT THAT particular MOMENT IN TIME

On that day, I’d have worn a green one. And I'd have begun with the three middle-eastern men who sat on the bench beside mine, all eating apples, all chatting in their native tongues, foreigners to this city but very much at home in their community of three, seemingly putting the world to rights.

That’s my kind of networking: no pressure to make anything out of an encounter, no need to put your best self forward. Just a meeting of two souls in a shared location on this rotating planet earth at the same point in time. Each of us with their worries, hopes, fears and joy. Each of us with a tale to share or to listen to.

Would you join me, mamas? ⁣And which colour would you wear? ⁣

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