The text below has been kindly contributed by Natalie Mazhindu, Proposal Writer and Project Manager, who attended the networking meeting in Lausanne in April 2016.
We’ve all been there. Hovering on the sidelines, clutching a glass of warm wine and silently willing ourselves to make a move - any move - just to get the proverbial ball rolling. We glance discreetly around the room hoping we appear as accomplished and fabulous as everyone else seems. We ask ourselves “Should I make eye contact?”, “Who can I approach?”, “Does everybody know each other?!”, and then ponder how best to introduce ourselves with confidence but not arrogance, assertiveness but not aggression, smiling but not manic…
Perhaps you can gather from this introductory insight that networking events are a million miles away from my happy place. I’ve always struggled to feel comfortable in these situations and I suspect I am not alone. As women, it is often against what we know and how we’re educated to push ourselves forward, to raise ourselves up, and to make ourselves heard. Of course, this is not always the case – I speak only of my own experience. However, it is universally acknowledged that there is a significant imbalance with regards to the presence (or absence) of female role models in many professional industries, and this is something I hope to see change.
I attended my first OWIT networking meeting in early 2015 but then, due to a number of setbacks - both real and imaginary - I did not find my way back until this spring. Luckily, as soon as I arrived I remembered what brought me back. Mira, our host for the evening, warmed us up with an entertaining icebreaker featuring a somewhat unconventional use of toilet paper! As we started the game I was unsure of the intended outcome but, as the activity progressed, we began to develop an understanding of the varied interests and experiences of the group. What began as a fairly quiet evening, soon evolved into lots of friendly chatter, which helped to initiate the deeper conversations we enjoyed for the remainder of the event.
Though we may all attend these meetings for different reasons, when we find ourselves in the midst of like-minded people with a diverse range of experiences, it is at once interesting and inspiring. Mira brought us together and this room full of bright and educated professionals transformed into something inviting rather than uncomfortable.
At times, we women can be our own worst enemy - often overly critical of ourselves and each other as society has taught us to be. This event was lively and dynamic and I hope it leads to further opportunities to go beyond the usual; where I can meet other supportive influences and engage in intelligent conversations within a positive environment.