Are networking events for everyone?
By Tiffany Mallen, member of the Women in Planning LondonCommittee.
Within planning consultancy’s networking is generally encouraged and I regularly enjoy attending planning events with other colleagues. However, after inviting some old colleagues to a planning event, it made me realise that there is unwillingness for some planners, particularly within local authorities, to attend social planning events in London.
After chatting with friends who work as planning officers within local authorities it is clear that networking events can carry a stigma as being just for ‘private planners’. I know from experience there is reluctance to attend networking events for fear of being targeted by consultants and the intimidation of not knowing anyone. Because of this, I used to avoid organised planning events or try and leave as soon as the ‘networking’ drinks began.
This led me to question what actually happens at planning networking events and whether these events can be beneficial to planners in all sectors.
When I first started as a junior planner working for a local authority, the thought of going to networking events after work seemed intimidating and uninteresting. There was the fear that I knew too little about the profession to join in with conversations or that nobody would be interested in what I had to say. Furthermore, I didn’t understand what benefits networking with other planners would give me.
I got dragged to my first networking event by a colleague, it was a summer social event and she persuaded me with the promise of free drinks and a chance to make some new friends. Upon arrival, I realised that there was a real mix of people, including public/private planners, urban designers, students and researchers. Of course there were people who knew each other, however, people seemed friendly, approachable and open to chat and meet new people.
Following this, I began attending more planning events, where I made new friends and new contacts as a result. Personally, I used these events as an opportunity to informally chat with planners about their experiences and to learn more about the different opportunities in planning, not only to find out what planning consultants did on a daily basis!
I find that these events, particularly Women in Planning events, can also be a great way to chat in a relaxed environment with often inspirational and influential people in planning, of which you may not otherwise meet.
Having had a chat with two of my colleagues, it is clear that they also felt networking events were daunting but beneficial for different reasons. As an international planner from Australia, Analeise attended planning events in order to make friends in a new country and expand her knowledge of the UK planning system.
For my colleague Chris, who has worked in both the public and private planning sectors, he considers that attending organised planning events broadens his knowledge on how both sectors operate. Chris considers that often ‘insular attitudes’ in both sectors can prevent planners from understanding each other and these events help break barriers and can create a more positive relationship between sectors.
Among planning consultants networking events are generally acknowledged as being beneficial for expanding contacts and improving communication skills; however, I think they can certainly be beneficial for all sectors for different reasons.
For those who want to get involved, it’s important to know that these events are attended by a variety of professionals in all sectors, including students and people who just have an interest in planning. The majority of people there have no specific agenda other than to make new friends, learn new skills or even just to have a glass of wine and chat with interesting and like-minded people after a day at work.
For people, like myself, who would like to make use of networking events but feel intimated by them, why not drag a friend or colleague along for confidence, or grab a drink and introduce yourself to a couple of people following a talk, you never know what you might gain as a result.