Paula Grizzard is working hard to revitalise the practice of networking for the hardworking businesswomen of Leeds and Yorkshire.
Paula Grizzard is bored of ‘networking’: “I went to an event recently and everyone was just talking to their friends and not making connections. For me, that’s not what it is about. I was also quite shocked to see that in the 21st century, that it was 95% male too. I felt like an interloper!
“For me, networking is meeting new people, listening to what they do and finding out about common areas of work or business.”
A stalwart of business development, working for many local authorities in Yorkshire over the years, Paula has clearly sat in on a few stale business clubs and networking lunches in her time, some more fruitful than others. That’s why, after realising there was a gap for a women-only business network in Leeds, she decided to put herself forward to oversee one. The Women in Business Network (WIBN) was a mainly London and Midlands-centric membership organisation that created forum opportunities for women in business to network their business and meet likeminded individuals, until Paula stepped up.
The Yorkshire network now has 14 groups across the region. The Leeds events meet in various venues across the city such as the Dakota hotel and Banyan Leeds and is maintained thanks to the yearly member subscription. Paula co-runs the North Leeds and Harrogate group with local entrepreneur Kate Bunney, with the group frequently meeting at the Convive restaurant at Weetwood Hall.
All this has led to the creation of She Business, Paula’s own business events company focusing on personal development for those working in the industry and promoting unique issues and entrepreneurial know-how. As well as the monthly “business club” meetings, She Business also organises Women in Property and Women in Finance meetings for people working in those industries too.
Paula started her professional career working in local and later central government. Headhunted as the first director of the Rotherham Economic Partnership, she spearheaded the redevelopment of the town after the coal closure programme. Speaking from experience: “It’s not a straight journey, it’s full of ups and downs. Particularly in the economic and political climate now you have to be resilient and determined to succeed.”
She also worked extensively in central and eastern Europe advising governments after over 25 years running her own management consultancy practice for economic development. When the economic crash of 2008 hit, she decided to downsize her business and look for different areas of opportunity: “The business network came at just the right time. She Business grew from that. We’re now looking do some work in developing women in leadership roles too.
The Women in Business Summit is the accumulation of the year’s work and collaboration, which took place on 21st November at Elland Road: “We’re very excited about it and we have some amazing speakers this year,” Paula reveals, adding that Channel 4’s involvement, namely in a panel alongside Leeds Jewish Welfare Board’s CEO Elizabeth Bradbury, is a real boost to the event: “The fact that we managed to bring Channel 4 to Leeds is fantastic and the impact of them coming to Leeds will really be very important to the city, as they really want to reach out and connect to businesses in the area. That will be great for us all!”
Speaking about the challenges that women in the industry face, Paula is frank in explaining that there is still a long way to go, and notes that business clubs like hers are vital in helping to rally those in challenging roles to reach their potential. The summit itself, is offering a workshop with makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury MBE for example, called ‘wake up makeup: empowering through confidence’, while Nicky Campbell, a specialist business coach, will help attendees to understand themselves better and to look out for signs that they or other people might be struggling in the workplace, be it mentally or physically:
“Womens’ lives are still incredibly complicated. Along with work, women are often still the primary caregiver at home and elderly care often falls to women too. So, there’s never a break from responsibilities and with that comes additional stress and a culture to ‘put up and shut up’. The summit and the groups are aiming to challenge that mentality.”