With a history of working in IT departments and jobs where the majority of my colleagues are male walking into the Women in Business and Tech Expo was an exciting experience. I’ve been to a number of IT conferences in my time and at every one the majority of delegates (and speakers) have been men. That wasn’t the case at Karren Brady’s 4th Women In Business & Tech event.

IN my 20s I went to events from large sales conferences to invite only Gartner management events. I was rarely approached by people wanting to talk to me. Networking sessions? I had to make the first step. What would a young female have that these older men might possibly be interested in (of a work nature). I was dismissed quickly based on my appearance. 

Working in IT it’s not just the events which have an over representation of men. In most meetings at most companies I worked the meetings were male dominated. It wasn’t unusual for me to be the only woman in the room. 

A crowded conference room listening to Karren Brady talk to women about business and technology
A crowded keynote session listening to Karren Brady OBE

Why You Should Attend Conferences As A Freelancer or Small Business Owner

So it’s from that background that I visited the Women In Business and Tech Expo.  It was brilliant to be in the company of ambitious women. The diversity of people in the ExCel London conference hall (other than gender) was wide ranging with attendees looking to be in their 20s through to 60s, many ethnicities, women over flowing with confidence and quiet listeners. Some people were dressed smartly and looked polished, others wore trainers and jeans. If you are female you would have found someone there that you thought might be like you. It felt fully representative and empowering because of that.

One of the opportunities of the event was the chance to network with big companies looking to recruit. Companies like Thales, Capital One, Accenture, Cisco, Experian. I’m sure all these exhibitors were brilliant for those looking to progress their careers in the corporate world, but for me there was a different value.

There were many women like myself who have moved away from busy companies and office politics to running their own business. Having an event that truly recognises the capability and strengths of women as business owners is really exciting. I am part of a generation that grew up believing I could have it all and then realised that I could, but it would be harder than I thought and I needed to find an unconventional route. I can have family, children, time off and a career I am passionate about, but to get that balance I need to make my own path. Your 'all' might look different to my 'all', but whatever it is women don’t necessarily fit into the traditional business structure that is out there which motivates us to carve out our own business.

I believe it’s important to attend events you can identify with every so often because when you aren’t part of a large company you don’t get team building away days and you don’t get staff conferences or regular training session. The benefits to a sole trader or small business owner can be huge though. It gives you the ability to network, learn new things, hear different ideas and perhaps most importantly it can reinvigorate your passion for your business. 

Of course you need to balance the cost of attending courses and conferences with the value you are likely to get. The Women In Business & Tech Expo is free (which I think is brilliant) but it’s not just the cost of tickets you have to consider, but the time opportunity cost. You need to ensure that you get enough out of it to make up for the time out. So research the event, plan your sessions and get everything you can out of your time there. The ideas, motivation and fresh look at your business an event can provide means it is absolutely worth it. This event was definitely worth it for me and I would encourage women to attend next year. (If you are a man you might want to look for an event more relevant to you).

Take Home Thoughts From The WIBT Expo

I was only able to attend 1 of the 2 days between school runs, but I managed to attend 5 talks, 4 of which I found really resonated and inspired me. With 5 stages there was a lot of choice so check out the agenda before you visit to find which are best for you.

Here are some nuggets to think about from the sessions I enjoyed:

Why Marketing Isn’t Enough by Karen Lambert-Gorwyn

  • You need to choose between delivering to the mass market (high volume, transactional sales) or a premium service (low volume and all about the relationships). Avoid falling into the gap between the two.
  • Only give things away if people know the value. When people pay they pay attention.
  • Instead of fighting for a slice of cake with others lets work together to make a bigger cake: lift each other up.
  • Who you spend time with is who you become. 

How To Build An Authentic Personal Brand by Yota Trom 

  • What is the one word you want people to use to describe you?
  • Do a life brand audit: is your life matching how you want to be?
  • If you don’t define yourself someone else will define you.
  • Before posting think “why am I doing this post? What am I giving people?”

The Importance of Humanising Neurodiversity in a Neurotypical World by Dr Rachel Craddock

  • If you are neurodivergent you are not broken, don’t let people make you feel like you are broken. Rachel says ADH rather than ADHD because she doesn’t see it as a disorder.
  • 1 in 7 people in the UK have been diagnosed as neurodivergent (this includes dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, Autism and Tourettes syndrome).
  • When a neurodivergent person is masking they can be using around 70% of their brains effort to appear “normal”, this obviously has a big mental, emotional and sometimes physical cost. Not to mention the impact on productivity at work etc.
  • Rachel has ADH, Autism and is (amongst many other things) the neurodiversity lead at Thales.

Be Smart, Be Silly & Take Control of Your Career by Zara Janjua 

  • There is a humour cliff. After the age of 23 people people laugh significantly less each day (check out Aaker and Bagdonas's TED talk to hear more about this).
  • Use of humour has been linked to: higher productivity, better health, more resilience, better problem solving  and being more creative.
  • 1 minute of anger weakens your immune system by 5 hours.
  • Buyers can spend 18% more when they are engaged with humour.
  • Create something tangible for your ideas: no one can see what is in your head.

I did try to get into Karren Brady’s keynote speech, but it was incrediably busy even 10 minutes before and I couldn’t hear properly

I recommend looking out for the conference next year or if it is too far away for you see if there are any local conferences or networking events that can help inspire you.