I learnt something surprising today: we have a Professor of Networking in the UK. To her immense credit, Julia Hobsbawm then went on to explain that she was a visiting Professor at Cass Business School, not an academic. In fact, she doesn’t even have a degree.

Friend and social media guru, Kate Lawrence, has been working on the Southbank’s Women of the World Festival for the last few months, so I thought I should go along and check it out. I’m very glad I did. Julia’s session was on how to overcome shyness in order to get the best out of your connections.

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Her central thesis is that everyone feels as thought it’s their first day at school when confronted with a room full of people they don’t know. Even the “important” people at a networking event, the ones everyone is trying to get time with are probably feeling anxious; they’re under pressure to live up to peoples’ high expectation of them after all.

Her remedies and practical advice included: your time is precious, so pick your events wisely.  Target well “curated” gatherings where you’ll make interesting and like-minded contacts. Have something interesting to say and be curious about other people. Don’t be goal-focussed; you shouldn’t network to sell. Instead, let the “weak ties” from events develop into strong networks over time. Technology is useful but not a substitute for face to face meetings.

My favourite quote of hers was that networking “has nothing to do with self-promotion and everything to do with self-preservation” as this chimes with my thinking around Angel Academe.

The book Nice Girls don’t get the Corner Office generally got the thumbs up from the current and former corporate and City women who reviewed it in the following session. Although it doesn’t delve into the big questions about what needs fixing with corporate culture and assumes people love their job, it helps women (and men) understand where they might be unwittingly undermining themselves. From being too nice, to how you speak, to the games that go on in the workplace.

Hannah Philip, corporate broker and feminist activist, told an amusing story about leaving her City job for one in the Arts. She thought it would be much closer to her heart, but actually found the politics far more complicated to navigate than those in her previous job. She’s now very happily back in the City.

I liked all the women on this panel. None of them were waiting around for men to fix things for them. So on their recommendation, I’ve ordered the book. About a fiver including postage on Amazon.

It’s also worth mentioning the first session of the day on international activism and the power of an individual to change the world. Ziauddin Yousafzai talked very movingly about his daughter, Malala, the young Pakistani campaigner for girls’ education who was shot by the Taliban in October 2012. The session was chaired by Jude Kelly, the Southbank’s Creative Director and also featured Sarah and Gordon Brown and Valerie Amos, UN Special Envoy for Global Education.

Thank you Southbank. An excellent event all in all and I hope the rest of the festival is a huge success. If I have one suggestion for next year, it would be to include a session on entrepreneurship. But then I would…

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