Business leaders love to point to the "face-to-face" benefits of in-person events. It's all about seeing key contacts and catching up with them.
But one of my favorite parts of the Women Breaking the Mold Networking Forum each year isn't about connecting with people you already know; it's about connecting with people from branches of the industry that are completely new to you. In fact, one of the highlights each year at the forum is a "speed networking" event where attendees are told to sit next to someone they've never met.
In one room, you meet someone in sales from a materials company or a health and safety expert who works on the shop floor for a film maker. During the Nov. 14-15 event in Nashville, Tenn., I overheard a discussion on employee retention between one woman from a mold maker specializing in caps and closures and another from an industrial thermoformer. Those cross-industry connections are less likely at a packaging conference or a medical trade show or a recycling event.
It's not just that people from different branches of the plastics industry are finding common ground. One international company had executives there from the corporate office along with a leader from one of its manufacturing plants — two branches of the same company who'd otherwise never connect.
Despite all of those different points of view, there are some very common threads, especially coming out of a pandemic that saw women in the workforce continuing to maintain high job performance while also making sure the kids were paying attention during remote school, taking care of elderly relatives and of course the day-to-day responsibilities of laundry, cooking and cleaning. (According to a 2020 Gallup poll, chores are being shared more among men and women: 58 percent of women handle laundry now vs. 70 percent in 1996.)
A United Nations Women survey in 2020 found that women went from devoting 26 hours per week to unpaid family care before COVID-19 to 31 hours during the pandemic's first year. (Men also increased their unpaid time for family duties, to 24 hours per week from 20.)
"As women, we are collectively exhausted," said Danielle Cannata, Sabic senior manager for international trade & regulation. "It's tiring.
"It feels really good to be connected and together with people who feel the same thing, [but] we shouldn't only have this feeling when we're at a conference for women."
Sabic's Women's Network, which also invites men to participate and hear their coworkers' concerns, provides opportunities to connect within the company, she said. "We have a ton of talent and knowledge," Cannata said. "Having this inclusive safe space is a way to help our businesses achieve."