At 15.48 on the 4th of December 2018 I received an email confirming my attendance at my first ever Women in Business Conference. I was being subbed in for my colleague who was unwell, delighted and guiltily thanking germs for giving me this opportunity. I looked through the agenda and the profiles on the guest speakers.
On a rainy Wednesday morning I arrived at the Crowne Plaza, full of excitement but also nervous as I realised that I knew no one. I quietly took an empty seat at a table close enough to the stage that I could read any PowerPoint slides. It turns out I did know someone. The lady I sat down next to; I did indeed know her however we had not seen each other for 15 years and it appeared we had both grown out of our "goth phase".
The first speaker was Tina McKenzie, CEO of Grafton Recruitment Group and Chair of Federation of Small Businesses NI. New to recruitment I couldn't really ask for a better opening speaker to get advice from. The theme of Tina's talk was resilience and pushing forward when all seems against you. Tina talked about pushing past the fear of having to start again if everything was to be taken away. Having been through three redundancies myself I could relate. The first one was devastating, the second one I coped and the third I used what I learned to start over understanding that we can always rebuild.
Dr Joanne Stuart spoke next and her frank and open discussion of her personal journey from the "goody-two shoes" who spoke up for herself and followed her gut to pursue her instincts brought her success. Her reflection on how poor self care can only lead to self destruction was a message to all of us 'work-a-holics' to remember to take time for our selves and our families and friends who do so much to sustain and support us in our careers. This was a fantastic message that we can all forget so often.
Jill Minne was the next to speak and her passion for public service, diversity and equality was powerful. As a recruiter I found her statement "second rate leaders recruit third rate people, first rate leaders recruit first rate people" very relevant to my own role as I want to recruit first rate people for all my clients. Her reference to the Double Bind Dilemma for Women in Business has been added to my reading list, see the link here for more information. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=okXTiuDlAGAC&lpg=PA1&dq=double%20bind%20dilemma&lr&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q=double%20bind%20dilemma&f=false
During the coffee break I met with some friendly delegates from Queen's University and we chatted about how a group of students from Assumption Grammar had been invited to attend and how inspiring this must be for them as they start their own careers and paths into business. I wondered whether if I had seen a conference like this would I have had Business or Management as first place on my UCAS form.
The Deputy High Commissioner from Canada did a quick Q&A with our host and talked about reflecting on actively seeking out new opportunities to upskill and gain experiences which will help you in the future. She talked about goal setting and "going for it!". There was a similar theme running through Vicky Davies speech which focused on determination and almost embodying the post you want, almost active visualisation. She talked about understanding your 'personal impact' inside and out, and acting on feedback.
Elaine Birchall was our final speaker and I enjoyed listening to her talk frankly about her experiences and her simple but powerful message to 'work hard, say yes and turn up'. I also imagined how entertaining the variety of swear words in 14 languages would be during an argument.
As the conference was drawing to a close Roseann Kelly reflected on the themes of the day, determination, the importance of self belief and self care, and the role of mentoring and encouragement. Her mottos which she has taught to her own children are relevant to us all "if you don't ask, you don't get" and "never give up". Looking around the tables at lunch there was lively chatter, business cards being swapped and I am sure a lot of new 'to do lists' and 'five year plans' being written. I know I have taken so much away from today and left with a tad more self belief than when I walked in.
Thank you to all the speakers for sharing their stories with honesty, integrity and humour.