Networking as a business activity has been demonstrated to be a powerful tool for new venture creation, business development as well as career progression. Much research has shown that contact networks and developing relationships with a range of different people both formally and informally are critical for business success (Hall and Bennett 1999, 2002). Successful entrepreneurs and individuals alike note that having a strong network of people behind them helps to build confidence in doing business; such contacts and networks are often termed ‘social capital’.
The importance of women’s business networks
Yet even now, in 2017, women are often excluded from traditional business networks and/or lack access to information about such networks, reaffirmed most recently in research I have conducted in Tajikistan, Zambia and Kenya. In the past two decades there has been a real focus on the development of women’s business networks and helping women to effectively network for their businesses, and I wholeheartedly affirm that any type of network to support the needs of different types of women can be beneficial. Critically, this should not be to the exclusion of networking in more mainstream and mixed networks – these are vital – but research also points to the fact that women-only networks are a critical route to helping to build the confidence of some women to then progress to other networks.
Beijing Women’s Network
I was privileged during the Summer to be asked to speak to members of the Beijing Women’s Network at one of their highly popular Spotlight Dinners.
Dinah Bennett, ICE, with members of the Beijing Women’s Network
The Beijing Women’s Network was established in March 2015 by a group of 12 women who were originally bonded by a mutual interest in discussing issues facing women. Testament to the need for this vibrant and supportive network is its rapid growth, in just over 2 years, to a staggering 3,000 members which is led by a committed Leadership Council of 10 women.
The network’s mission is now to create a supportive community of young professional women in Beijing and to provide affordable resources to encourage the personal and professional development of its members. As well as regular developmental and fundraising events, the Beijing Women’s Network hosts a bi-weekly ‘Spotlight Dinner’ aimed at “bringing the community together to discuss current issues relevant to women in the workplace and society at large”. During each dinner, one of the network’s members leads a discussion centered around their own experiences or a topic of choice; I was delighted to be invited to speak about my own personal experience in enterprise development and education, my global work and impact, as well as my passion for driving forward women’s economic empowerment.
Oma Lee one of the Leadership Council members, gave such positive feedback on my contribution, explaining that this was one of the most well-attended talks she had ever hosted, and that many of the women participants commented on the learning that they derived from the insights I was able to offer. As well as enjoying the evening thoroughly, I was so pleased to learn that the women were inspired by two key messages that were conveyed during my talk:
- “That being entrepreneurial is not merely about starting a business but about a way of being and doing”; and
- How I navigated life with my family as well as my career, a story which many women present found inspiring.
Oma also explained that “the women who listened to Dinah speak also found it particularly useful to hear about women’s different paths to entrepreneurship and the challenges that they face – as well as their successes. I am bit biased as I have read Dinah’s books so I felt this was coming full circle and it made so much sense.”
Huge congratulations to the Founders and Drivers of Beijing Women’s Network for the commendable work that you do, and long may your success and valuable contribution continue.