Women who make the connections

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Men may traditionally have access to the old-school-tie network, but what about the women? Is there a gymslip network? Apparently not, but there are thousands of alternatives - from "Women in Dentistry" through the "National Federation of Women's Institutes" to the "British Federation of Women Graduates".

Networks are invaluable to anyone who wants to meet others with a common interest and, in the business arena, to find new leads, clients, information and even skills. Some meet monthly, others less frequently. All provide the chance to get to know other women with similar interests and most provide training, information and support.

Juliet Motley-Wilcock is currently working as marketing manager for The Holiday Company near Lincoln. She also works as a life coach to individuals and as a motivator to businesses of all sizes.

"Networking is absolutely essential," she says. "I used to pay for advertising, but now all my business comes from networking and third-party referrals. I spend my advertising budget on network memberships."

When Juliet was running a nursery school a few years ago she filled all her places within one week through networking.

"I tend to find that women's business groups comprise women offering relatively similar services," she says. "There are lots of trainers, artists and complementary health practitioners. If you are serious about using networks for business purposes you should consider joining some mixed groups too."

In 1969 the Women's National Commission was set up under the government of Harold Wilson. Its role was to be an advisory body providing the government with women's views. Its 50 or so full members came from organisations such as charities, women's divisions of the political parties, pressure groups and networks such as Gingerbread and Fawcett.

At the start of this year WNC decided to change and open its doors to women's groups of all kinds. It has knowledge of thousands of groups, yet at present full details of only about 300 are in its directory.

Christine Hellicar is press officer for the WNC, which sends out fortnightly newsletters listing consulting documents that may be of interest. "WNC is not an organisation interested in women's issues full stop, but in issues that women are interested in," she says.

The group has decided to widen its membership because that will enable it to consult women more efficiently, targeting relevant sectors specifically.

"We are currently having a big drive to get more women into public life," Ms Hellicar says. "Our members do not have to pay to join, and are known as `partners'. Our role is to do what our partners want at the same time as meeting government objectives."

In 1996 Ruth Dance, then aged 24, and working as a partner in a Peterborough publishing company, decided to join a local network.

"All I could find was the local business network," she says. "So I went along and found that not only was I the youngest person there, but that I was also the only female. It was at that moment that I decided to start my own business network for women and The Women in Business Society was born."

Ms Dance called upon her publishing experience and created Women's Business magazine as a tool and a voice for its members. Three years later WIB has become a national organisation, features in the WNC directory and had its national launch last June at the House of Commons.

Women's National Commission: 0171-238 0386; Women in Business Society: 01780 784647.