Way back in 1998 I conducted a small research study in the legal profession about attitudes towards female only networking events. The results were interesting – 50% were for and 50% were against them, although there was a clear preference for them in the regions.
So it was with great interest that I received an invitation recently from law firm Crowell & Moring to attend an inaugural (in the UK) women’s networking event with a football theme. Yes, football! Especially as I am a rugby fan. (Although, when pressed, I admit that as a youngster I used to play for Fulham Ladies).
So along I went to the Mayfair Hotel to spend the morning with a delightful group of senior business women from the financial, insurance, not for profit, legal, media, accountancy and manufacturing sectors. After a short and informal introduction from a Crowell & Moring litigation partner – Nilam Sharma – we had our first talk from Kelly Simmons MBA who is the Football Association’s Head of National Game. Despite the fact that the FA was again in the headlines with the departure of yet another Chief Executive (she mentioned there had been five recently) and the extra curriculum activities of the Chairman she was calm and relaxed. It was fascinating to hear her descriptions of the Respect initiative to improve behaviour, her work promoting women’s football, the FA’s programme to invest over £200m over five years into grassroots football and the challenges of recruiting referees.
We then embarked on the surprise team challenge. We had to create a World Cup Fantasy Football team for the imminent world cup. I thought the hosts were brilliant at explaining the somewhat complex rules (£60m budget, only two players from each country, how strikers and midfielders earned points – “What’s a midfielder?”) and guiding the use of the computer system to the assembled group of 100 or so women who were largely football novices.
To keep us sustained through our labours we were plied with chocolate coated strawberries, glasses of champagne, aromatic coffee, an assortment of pastries and fresh fruit skewers (for the health conscious). I bonded with my fellow team mates who included a legal insurance risk specialist, the MD of a Midlands catering company and the company secretary from a substantial office products group.
Then Karren Brady – the woman who filled the headlines when she became Managing Director of Birmingham City Football Club at the tender age of 23 and who is now Vice Chairman of West Ham United Football Club – gave an inspirational talk. She provided all manner of insights into the keys to success (leadership, ambition, determination, attitude, direction and being positive) and shared some favourite quotes (e.g. “The whole world steps aside for the man who knows where he is going”, “Make change happen, watch change happen or wonder what’s happening” and FIFO (you’ll have to ask me about that one!)) as she described some of the things she had done to turn things around. Her focus was on involving all levels of employee – whether they were professional footballers earning £15,000 a week or ground staff on the same amount in a year.
So, a big success for the ladies who were networking and an even bigger success for Crowell & Moring (and it’s lone token male who attended) for devising and hosting such a bold and unusual event. The group I worked with will be enthusiastically watching the World Cup in June now to see how our team fares and to see if we win the prize (which is cash for our nominated charity – and I suggested the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation).