FORGET austerity and po-faced über-networking – get a bunch of ladies in a room together and we all know what’s going to happen. It was gossip galore up at the top of the Lloyds Banking Group headquarters on Gresham Street yesterday morning, as the sunlight streamed through the ninth floor windows and the City’s most successful women gathered to celebrate, well, their success.
The event – the launch of the First Women Awards, taking place later this year – saw inspirational speeches made by the likes of FTSE 250 chief executive Ruby McGregor-Smith, the boss of outsourcing firm Mitie; the CBI’s first woman president Helen Alexander; and hostess Diana Brightmore-Armour, the chief executive of corporate banking at Lloyds Banking Group (pictured at the podium below).
Overwhelmingly, the women in the room felt that being defined by their very femininity would be the next frontier of change on the gender equality front in the City. (As McGregor-Smith – a fun-loving boss who recently judged the finals of a talent competition within her firm, “Mitie’s Got Talent” – put it succinctly: “I, like so many other women, just want to be recognised for what we do in our business lives as opposed to the simple fact of being a woman.”)
Yet what’s not to love about an event championing the success of the City’s growing female contingent – especially at Lloyds, whose top ladies freely admit that the one bit of good news to come out of the bank’s disastrous acquisition of HBOS was a increase in ladies in management positions and a new special programme for gender diversity, soon to be launched.
Every cloud, as they say.
There’s nothing we girls like more than to swap tips – and it showed at yesterday’s event, where compliments were paid and advice given about everything from clothing to capital raising.
“It’s a great way to network and discuss business,” Lloyds’ Diana Brightmore-Armour told the gathered ladies, a smile playing around her lips. “And of course, have a gossip about what suits and accessories to wear – we don’t get too much time to talk about things like that, as we all know…”
The CBI’s reserved Helen Alexander could certainly have given us all a few pointers in that direction, in a chic black trouser suit and flaming red Hermes silk scarf.
Speaking of pointers, here’s one for when it comes to striking that crucial balance between friendliness and professionalism.
Sandi Rhys Jones, one of yesterday’s panel speakers, is something of a rare beast in business, as a woman with 40 years of experience in the property and engineering sector, latterly as a non-executive at construction company Simons Group.
But she’s certainly honed the networking balance to perfection, judging by her self-invented “6 o’clock rule”.
“For many years, I’d be the only woman at these events in my sector, and there would be some people in the room who I knew very well and others who were purely business connections,” she tells me.
“I used to hate the assumption that those who knew me would just kiss me on the cheeks as a greeting at daytime events, setting the wrong tone and putting up a barrier to others around us.
“So I developed a system to combat it – I always walked into a room with my arm out ready to shake hands, and made it quite clear to those contacts I knew socially that I only kiss after 6pm!”
That savvy little gem could put us all at our ease in tricky situations, I’m sure.