In January 2019, as Helen Wycherley stepped into her role as President of Network Ireland, she put out a bold and encouraging call to the women of Ireland to ‘step up.’ Helen’s approach was designed to empower female professionals throughout Ireland to fulfil their potential, to put themselves forward, and to stand as role models for future generations.
Network Ireland is the largest and longest standing women’s business network in the country. The organisation aims to support, promote, and lead the personal and professional development of women in business by facilitating conversations, collaboration, and mentoring between like-minded, ambitious women.
We spoke to Helen to find out how the dynamic network uses events to champion women in business and help them find the confidence to take their careers to the next level.
Helen explains that Network Ireland was established in 1983.
“Women were already meeting together in Cork and Dublin and they decided to formally set up Network Ireland as a networking organisation for women in business, because at the time they didn’t feel there was anything there for them. It was a national organisation and the branches developed from there.”
Since then, the network has grown to over 1,000 members, 15 branches, and hosts over 200 events every year around the country.
Helen explains that the network hosts two national events each year – an International Women’s Day Celebration and the Network Ireland National Conference and Awards. Other events take place at a branch level and include everything from informal breakfasts and workshops to more formal dinners including motivational speakers, with opportunities for networking at the heart of every event. Network Ireland try to bring as much variety as possible to their events to make sure that there’s something to interest everyone.
As a working Mum of three children and a long-standing member of Network Ireland, Helen can speak directly to the challenges facing women in business today and the impact the network has had on her career. Without Network Ireland, she may never have found the confidence to step up to the role of president of the organisation.
“I would not be where I am without Network Ireland.10 years ago I joined the Cork branch and started attending the events. The people that I met and the speakers at the events have helped me get to where I am today.”
That’s why Network Ireland’s theme for 2019 is #StepUp. Helen explains that this involves asking women to step up and take on the challenges and opportunities that come their way. Helen stresses how this isn’t just important for women in Ireland today, but to create role models for future generations of female leaders in Ireland.
“My theme for this year is ‘step up.’ It’s not about doing more work. It’s about taking on the challenges and opportunities that you want to. We’re all role models for future generations and we need to help and inspire others. It’s slow progress when it comes to women stepping up – there are not enough women on boards and in senior positions – so we need to keep talking about it so that women will inspire the younger generations coming up. We have a responsibility to step up.”
Of course, this is easier said than done. And that’s why Network Ireland works to give women the support and encouragement they need to put themselves forward. While there are many challenges for women in the workplace today, from balancing families to industry stereotypes, Helen cites confidence as a massive roadblock for female professionals. She shares that, as women, we tend to overthink putting ourselves forward for that sought after promotion, or fighting for a well-deserved pay rise. We ask ourselves if we really deserve it or whether we are good enough.
That’s why Network Ireland places a big emphasis on confidence-building for members.
“Confidence is always a key element when it comes to women pushing themselves forward and taking on more challenges and opportunities. We try and build on that through our membership and events. Women can also build their support network which is really important. When you realise that other people are going through the same issues professionally or personally, there’s support and comfort in the knowledge that others have similar challenges. The more we talk about it, the more women will find the confidence they need to put themselves forward.”
Of course, achieving this means creating a safe and welcoming space for women to network and speak openly – a space that women want to return to to learn new skills, build on their professional development, and act as a support network for one another.
One of the ways the organisation achieves this is by having moderators who circle the room to make sure no one is standing alone. They also make a point of introducing any new attendees to a longer-standing member to make sure they feel immediately welcome. Helen explains that the concept of networking can be daunting for new members, so it’s important to keep the environment as relaxed and informal as possible.
“People get phased by the word networking. They think it’s a really strict business thing to do. It’s not – it’s about having a conversation with somebody. It gives women the chance to talk to like-minded people and understand that they’re not alone. Somebody may have just gone through a similar challenge and can give advice. It’s relaxed and informal and that’s what works. It’s all about connecting with people.”
Helen explains how the Eventbrite app has been a key tool in creating this relaxed environment. Organisers use the Eventbrite app to register attendees which has helped to make the process a lot more seamless. Helen notes that it feels more informal than ticking names off a list and allows the moderators to speed up the registration process so they can start circulating the event more quickly.
Along with creating a relaxed environment, the network helps members to build confidence through coaching workshops, inspirational speakers, mentoring, and soapbox opportunities. Helen shares that more and more women are stepping up to become mentors and taking part in soapboxes and she can see this confidence translating into their businesses too.
“Our members are achieving more – their companies are growing, employees are stepping up at work, and they are giving back through our mentoring programme at Network Ireland.”
For Helen, it is getting the opportunity to meet all these incredible and ambitious women (and occasional men) that makes her truly passionate about her role at Network Ireland. She loves hearing members’ stories, helping them to connect to the right people, and seeing how the network has helped members to build the confidence they need to step up.
“What I love most about the events is getting to meet the other women there. You never who you’re going to meet or the conversation you’re going to have. I find it fascinating how you can connect with somebody. You feel energised! You get so much out of it and it’s all down to the women that you’re meeting there and how you can connect with each other.”
When it comes to advise for other event creators who want to turn their passions into purpose-driven ventures, Helen stresses the importance of organisation, event technology, and getting the support from the right team and sponsors. Here are Helen’s top tips:
- Being organised
Helen notes that event creators should be rigid when it comes to running events to time. This involves very clear communication between organisers and speakers to ensure everyone is on the same page. She also highlights the importance of sharing details on how exactly the event is going to run, especially with new attendees – and make sure you stick to it!
“It’s important that the events run to time. People appreciate that. If people can depend on how you run an event, they will come back again.”
2. Leveraging Event Technology
Not only has the Eventbrite app played an important role at event registration, but it has been a key tool for all stages of event planning. Helen and other executive members use the app to send notifications and key information to attendees, send out pre-sale and coded tickets to members and organisations, and collect valuable attendee information and reports to inform and improve on future events.
3. Building your team
You’re only as good as the people you have around you – and this certainly rings true when it comes to planning an event. Helen highlights the importance of getting the right team on board with the right skill set and delegating accordingly.
“Get a good team behind you. Identify who can help you do it and what skills you need. When it comes to getting people to help, it makes a huge difference if their skills are in a particular area.”
4. Working with the right sponsors
Helen shares how brand alignment and genuine support is key when it comes to choosing the right sponsor. AIB have been Network Ireland’s partner for the last 5 years and they continue to offer invaluable support to the network:
“They support women in business and truly support us in what we do. We interact with them at branch level and a national level which is really important. They support our events, attend our events, and host events as well.”
The incredible work that Helen and the rest of the team at Network Ireland are doing demonstrates the power of events to drive change and create a meaningful impact on individual lives and society as a whole. Network Ireland has created a powerful space to connect like-minded people and built a network that not only supports women in Ireland today, but empowers future generations of women to come.
“We want Network Ireland to be a place where women can meet other women in business and develop themselves personally and professionally. We want to see our women achieve the goals that they want to in their businesses and their lives and ensure we are role models for future generations. They’ll see what we’re doing and it will eventually become the norm for women to stand out and step up. It’s an honour to be president of the organisation for this year.”
Want to learn more about creating events to make a difference? Download our guide to creating purpose-driven events of your own.